Monday night the Steelers travel to San Fran to take on the 49ers, a team that has had a much better season than most expected, as they have jumped to the NFC West title, but are coming off a slip up against the Arizona Cardinals last week on the road.
The Steelers are banged up, and come Monday night they will know where they stand as they will be able to sit back and watch the Ravens-Chargers on Sunday night to see if they can overtake the AFC North with a win Monday night.
Here’s our preview of the contest, and some of the keys to getting the Steelers to their 11th win against just three losses.
1. Protection – It goes without saying that Ben Roethlisberger is going to need all the protection he can get on Monday night, as if he gets hit a few times, he’s going to be taking a seat for Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon. The line did a nice job against Cleveland last Thursday, but don’t think for a minute that the Niners are not going to try to get to Ben and bring the house a number of times in trying to knock him out of the game. The line will have to have its game of the year against the Niners.
2. Turnovers – The defense has started to finally come up with turnovers, and it happened again on Thursday against Cleveland, as Willie Gay had a huge pick late that saved the game before the offense finally got a huge play to win it. The D is going to need to get to Alex Smith, and they need to get him to make some bad decision. Smith has had a very good season, throwing just five picks, but has thrown two in his last three home games. Against the Cards, Smith had one of his worst games of the season, completing 18 of 37 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns. If the Steelers can force him to have one of those lines again, it will give them a great shot to get a win.
3. Get to Gore – 49ers running back Frank Gore is the biggest weapon to the Niners offense, and if the Steelers can hold him down, they will have a great shot to get to 11 and 3. Gore has had his issues as of late, as his struggles down the stretch could be worsening the Niners recent red-zone difficulties. After averaging 126.8 yards in five straight victories between Oct. 2 and Nov. 6, he hasn’t topped 88 yards in the five games since, averaging 54.4. Gore suffered a knee injury in a win over the New York Giants on Nov. 13, and coach Jim Harbaugh says his top rusher is “not 100 percent,” without specifying further. It’s time for the run D to make a stand and stop him cold Monday night.
Prediction – The injuries really are killing the Steelers right now, and this has the makings of a very low scoring affair between two pretty good defensive teams. I have a feeling that Ben is not going to be able to finish this game, and that could be the death blow to the Steelers in this affair. No James Harrison, a banged up Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey, and a trip out west. Doesn’t line up good for the Steelers, who may get a favor from the Chargers Sunday night, but won’ have a chance to build on it Monday night. San Francisco 12 Pittsburgh 10
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