(UPDATE: Listen here for the 49ers Edition of The Grueling Truth Podcast with myself, former 49er Dexter Carter and special guest 49er beat writer Ryan Sakamoto)
While the media and many fans figured the San Francisco 49ers were headed for a 4-12 season, the Niners ignored everything and showed everyone that they’re not going away.
The first quarter didn’t go very well, despite a good opening drive. The blocked field goal and the Jarryd Hayne fumble definitely gave fans the feeling like maybe all the media predictions were going to end up to be true.
Nobody told Navorro Bowman and the defense. All they did was go out and completely shut Minnesota down in every way. Adrian Peterson was held to 31 yards on 10 carries. Teddy Bridgewater was under pressure much of the day and only converted one 3rd down conversion. It would be the defense that set the tone and gave the offense time to adjust and settle down.
Colin Kaepernick was efficient and looked good in the pocket. His eyes are staying downfield and he is clearly going through his progressions. There was a 3rd down play where he could have picked up a first down with his legs, but because he was looking downfield, he was able to find Vernon Davis for a longer gain.
While the Niners did not go deep, they were able to use a short passing game to frustrate Minnesota and keep the chains moving. Then there was Carlos Hyde!
Hyde ran for a league high 168 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns. He looked fast, made excellent cuts, and chose the right holes time after time as he helped San Francisco run the clock and ultimately build a lead.
On defense, Bowman set the tone, stopping the run, but it would be the pass rush led by Aaron Lynch and aided by the many blitz packages by Defensive Coordinator Eric Mangini.
Minnesota looked confused again and again as the 49ers sent different personnel like Antoine Bethea, Jaquiski Tartt, Jimmy Ward, Michael Wilhoite and even Tremaine Brock en route to 5 sacks.
It was a complete performance.
Now the 49ers are preparing to play the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday at Heinz Field.
When the Steelers have the ball:
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a very good quarterback and he has arguably the best receiver in the NFL to throw to in Antonio Brown. However, the Steelers will need all of their depth in order to have an effective offense this Sunday.
Le’Veon Bell is suspended. Center Maurkice Pouncey is out for the year. Big-play receiver Martavis Bryant is also suspended. Without these weapons, Pittsburgh will definitely not be at full strength and could be vulnerable, especially on the offensive line.
The key for the 49ers will be to stop DeAngelo Williams who had 127 yards against New England last week. If they can make Pittsburgh one-dimensional, like they did against Minnesota, they will be able to utilize those exotic blitz packages that Mangini will dial up.
This will be a much more difficult test for the secondary, but the pass rush should be able to have success and keep Big Ben from picking them apart.
The linebackers and safeties will also have to ensure that Tight End Heath Miller doesn’t kill them over the middle.
When the 49ers have the ball:
Pittsburgh will likely be going all out to slow Carlos Hyde and make Kaepernick beat them. The 49ers need to not abandon the run and continue to pound with Hyde and rookie Mike Davis, who will be active in place of the Reggie Bush, who is week to week with a calf strain.
If the Niners can keep Pittsburgh honest with a ground game threat, this will likely be the week that the downfield passing game can take flight.
Torrey Smith and Vernon Davis should be able to feast on the Steelers secondary and make a few big plays. Pittsburgh doesn’t have anyone that can cover a tight end as big and fast as Davis, who could have a breakout game.
Expect another balanced attack from the offense, but more big plays from the passing game.
The game will not be easy, but if all goes well, the 49ers could win by double digits, and if that happens, expect even more shock and crow-eating by the national media!