Monday, December 19, 2011

Gameday: San Francisco 49ers

Mr. Green in the Library with the Candlestick Park

What To Watch For 

 1. Edge of Glory

 Week 15 couldn't have been better for the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Wednesday, we were sitting in the #5 seed needing a loss by Tennessee (to Indy), Oakland (to Detroit), Denver (to New England), or the Jets (to Philly) in order to clinch a playoff spot. We were tied with the Ravens atop the division but since Baltimore swept us, they owned the head-to-head tiebreaker. By the time the clock struck 11pm last night, not only did all four of the Wild Card contenders lose, but San Diego delivered a whopping to Baltimore that made the Ravens defense look like The Citadel playing against Alabama. To top it all off, Houston also lost, giving them 4 losses. Now, the Steelers control their own destiny, not only in the division race but also for the #1 seed in the conference, which would give us homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. As things stand right now, Both the Steelers and Patriots have 3 losses with the Steelers holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Ravens and Texans have 4, and if we wind up tied with the Ravens we will be a Wild Card, regardless of record.

 2. Roll Up

 With Ben Roethlisberger's injury and Alex Smith's inaccuracy, both teams will be looking to run the ball tonight. The 49ers offense is built on Frank Gore establishing the run then busting teams down the middle with play-action passes to TE Vernon Davis. The Steelers D has been stout against the run since Arian Foster ripped them in Week 4 and will have to be strong tonight in order to put the onus on Alex Smith to win the game. For the Steelers, they face one of the best

 3. The One That Got Away

 Rashard Mendenhall has had the best stretch of the season over the last few weeks. Even though he hasn't broken the 100-yard mark since October, he has run hard and kept his legs moving to grind out the extra yards. The 49ers have the best run defense in the league and haven't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Mendenhall has been hot lately, finding paydirt 5 times in the last 4 games. The 49ers will be without all-world inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who is a key component of their ability to stop the run. Mendenhall and Redman will need to have another big game to keep the pressure off Ben. On the other side, the Steelers will be without James Harrison due to his 1-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Colt McCoy.

 4. Rolling in the Deep

 Mike Wallace hasn't posted a 100-yard game since October, but he has been solid in taking intermediate routes and turning them into big yards. The 49ers are a Cover-2 team so there will be gaps in the middle of the field for Wallace and Brown to exploit on crossing routes. If Ben is able to hit these guys in stride, they can use their speed to create some big plays. With Ben's injury, look for a lot of quick slants, bubble screens and hitch routes to allow Ben to get the ball out fast and avoid having to scramble or take big hits.

 5. Pumped Up Kicks

 The 49ers have won a lot of close games this season thanks to David Akers having a monster season. He leads the league with 36 field goals and has made 86% of his field goals, missing only once from inside of 40. Possibly more impressive, Akers is 6 of 7 on kicks over 50 yards. Of his 6 misses, 3 of them have been blocked. Akers has at least 6 points in all of San Francisco's games this year and has made 4 field goals in 5 different games. The Steelers defense has bent at times this season, but they're going to have to be even better to keep the 49ers out of field goal range given the monster year Akers is having. The 49ers also have Pitt-grad Andy Lee who leads the league in punting with a 50.7-yard average.

Monday Night Football.

Bring your A game.

No comments: