This coming Monday, we are likely to see the PIttsburgh Steelers bring some serious heat against the 49ers. This should not really surprise anybody in part because it is the Steelers and in part because the 49ers have had tremendous struggles keeping Alex Smith upright in recent weeks. Even when Smith is not hitting the grass, he has found himself in the old familiar run back to the right and heave it out of bounds play. It prevents a sack, but it doesn't actually move the ball forward either.
Alex Smith currently leads the NFL with 39 sacks. The last time he played a full 16-game schedule in 2006, Smith took 35 sacks. That was also the year Frank Gore set single-season franchise records in rushing behind an offensive line that did some great things.
Earlier today, Mike Sando put together a chart of how certain quarterbacks have performed against 5+ pass rushers. In 2011, Smith has a 103.1 QB rating when facing 5+ pass rushers and completes 59.8% of his passes. The problem with that QB rating is that it does not reflect the 18 sacks he has taken. The QBR of 47.4 does reflect that to some extent, but QBR has its own set of issues as well.
Although the Steelers will mix things up to some extent, we can probably suggest with some certainty that they will blitz a lot. The question now is how will the 49ers beat that blitz? When Alex Smith is facing a huge blitz, will the team mix in some screens and more slants? Or will they just try and beat them with the combination of Frank Gore rushes and Alex Smith running for his life?
What about some designed runs? Alex Smith is not the fastest man in the NFL, but he has proven he can scramble when needed. Some have suggested (Maiocco, Grant Cohn) the 49ers work Colin Kaepernick into the mix, particularly down in the red zone. He can run, but do you really want to roll him out there against a world-class pass rush in the hopes that he doesn't get completely destroyed? I suppose if they have confidence in him, why not mix it up a bit. But, it does not strike me as the wisest of ideas.