SAN FRANCISCO (KDKA)- The 2019 season has gotten off to a rough start for the Steelers, who have lost both of their games and seen starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lost for the season due to an elbow injury.
This Sunday, the Steelers head west in search of their first win, when they meet the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers season has been the exact opposite of Pittsburgh’s so far, with the team pulling out two wins and avoiding major injuries for the most part. With Mason Rudolph taking over the offense’s reins, the entire team will need to step up and help the second-year player as he makes his first start.
“It is going to take all hands on deck, as Mike Tomlin likes to say,” said KDKA sports anchor Bob Pompeani. “Ben Roethlisberger has been there 16 straight years, he has never had a losing season, and he has been the centerpiece of their offense. Now, he is gone suddenly, but that is why they invested in Mason Rudolph.”
Rudolph, the team’s third-round pick in last year’s draft, put together a solid showing in relief of Roethlisberger last weekend, throwing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an interception and averaged just 5.8 yards per pass attempt. However, he will have had a full week to prepare as a starter this time around.
The offense surrounding Rudolph does have plenty of weapons, from wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to running back James Conner to former college running mate James Washington. The plethora of options should allow Rudolph to be fairly comfortable operating within the offense. Expect the coaches to play to his strengths.
It won’t be easy going against a 49ers defense that, through two weeks, ranks second in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric behind only the New England Patriots. San Fran has been good at getting to the passer, with seven sacks and an adjusted sack rate of 9.3 percent, which is good for fifth in the league through two weeks.
On offense, the 49ers have been even more of a pleasant surprise, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo turning things around after a poor preseason.
“I’m really surprised, and if I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan, encouraged by what they have been able to do,” said Pompeani. “Jimmy Garoppolo, after a real bad preseason, has turned it on. The run game has been spectacular. They have the one thing that has given the Steelers problems time and time again, which is a tight end over the middle. We saw it last week against Seattle, where Will Dissly got behind Devin Bush twice, and he is nowhere near the player George Kittle is. I expect that to be something San Francisco tries to attack.”
In considering all of these factors and the oddsmakers’ belief that the 49ers are 6.5-point favorites entering the game, it would seem the Steelers have their work cut out for them. But, Pompeani says there is one big factor playing in the Steelers’ favor.
“I’m going with a desperate team here. The Steelers have to win if they hope to get back on track,” said Pompeani. “It’s going to take a big effort, and I think they will squeeze one out 17-16. It may not be one of those games where you look back and say that was wonderful to watch. The ugly could be boring, but for them (the Steelers), they just need to get a win.”
The 49ers and Steelers are set for a 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time kick-off on CBS.