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Scouts Inc. Preview: 49ers @ Pittsburgh Steelers

As we did last week, I thought I'd roll out the Scouts Inc preview of the 49ers road trip to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.  It's a tough matchup and as expected the 49ers are heavy underdogs.  Our friends over at Scores and Odds opened the 49ers as +9 point dogs to the Steelers, although the line has dropped to +8.5, with an over/under of 38.5.  Personally, I think the 49ers either squeak by Pittsburgh with a win in a defensive struggle, or get slapped around by double digits.

49ers-Steelers Scouts Inc Preview (Insider protected)

When the 49ers have the ball

Rushing: compact, powerful, has outstanding vision and the burst to accelerate through the hole...didn't dominate in Week 1, but was better a week ago and should be starting to hit his stride. However, running room is going to be difficult to come by in Pittsburgh.

...RDE Brett Keisel is a fine player who is very athletic, but his ability to hold the point of attack will be challenged this week. NT Casey Hampton is sure to cause San Francisco's inside-rushing attack a lot of problems. He is an anchor in the middle of the field who makes the entire Steelers defense work. San Francisco will try to set up the pass with its rushing attack, but it will not be easy this week.

Passing: Alex Smith is an intelligent, mobile quarterback who can be effective on the move...He is a good decision-maker for a young quarterback, but doesn't have a powerful right arm to fit the ball into tight windows...attempted just 17 passes in the 49ers' win last week, but was efficient without turning the ball over...

The Steelers defense has allowed some big games from opposing tight ends over the past few seasons and San Francisco must utilize the great talents that TE Vernon Davis brings to the table. He caught just two passes last week, which will not cut it in Pittsburgh. Davis has adequate size, but a fantastic athletic build that makes him extremely fast for a TE. He also drips with big-play ability, particularly after the catch.

The Steelers' 3-4 linebackers are big and not real nifty in coverage. SS Troy Polamalu certainly has the tools to keep up with a player like Davis, but Pittsburgh prefers to use Polamalu in a variety of ways to keep quarterbacks on their heels and guessing.

The 49ers' offensive line allowed four sacks last week and did a poor job of recognizing and picking up blitzes against the Cardinals in Week 1. This could be a fatal flaw against this Steelers' defense.

When the Steelers have the ball

Rushing: Parker isn't huge, but he is powerful for his size and never shies away from contact. Of course, Parker's best asset is his blazing speed because he only needs a small crease to break a big play.

...TE Heath Miller is usually the one (TE) who motions to a receiver position, but no matter which TE motions out they make the offense very big with a lot of versatility because all the Steelers' TEs are in the 6-foot-5 range. Pittsburgh doesn't spread the field horizontally with their personnel groupings, but instead they often keep their receivers and tight ends closer to the ball to provide favorable blocking angles in the running game to get Parker to daylight.

...There should be interesting battles between San Francisco's linebackers and Pittsburgh's tight ends in the run game.

Passing: San Francisco has a very good set of starting cornerbacks in Nate Clements and Walt Harris, who allow the 49ers to be aggressive with their blitz packages without fear of giving up the big play. Pittsburgh will use a lot of three wide receiver sets, which should give Roethlisberger more options than continually throwing in Clements' or Harris' direction. San Francisco's nickel back is Shawntae Spencer, who has struggled and can be exploited. SS Michael Lewis is a physical player, but he is better against the run than the pass...Miller has the edge in a matchup against Lewis or against San Francisco's bigger outside linebackers. In the red zone, Pittsburgh will look to their tight ends and utilize the great size they bring in close quarters.

Special Teams
I was kind of bugged by this, but the Special teams section discusses the Steelers, but never mentions the 49ers.  This in spite of phenomenal return coverage the first two weeks.  The return game isn't there yet, but I'll take great coverage every day of the week.