While the schematics in football are fun to discuss, the game often comes down to matchups. The 49ers and Steelers have hefty artillery on both sides of the football to create matchups that will make each other’s lives difficult. What are the three key matchups in the game that could decide it?
Nick Bosa vs. Steelers Tackles
Dan Moore Jr. and Chuks Okorafor each have a tough assignment this week. It’s Nick Bosa since he flips to each side. Moore is under more pressure with Broderick Jones on his back. However, in the book, Bosa can win through speed, power, and anyway. That is why he is one of the best edge rushers in the NFL if not the best right now. Moore and Okorafor have to prove they can raise their game to the next level and help Kenny Pickett get the time he needs to push the ball down the field.
It will be anything but easy. Despite Bosa only having two days of practice, T.J. Watt came out three days after his record-breaking deal in 2021 and dominated the Buffalo Bills to the tune of two sacks that day. Expecting a complete, ready-to-go Bosa should be the expectation. If the team can slow down Bosa a bit, the offense can push the ball down the field and make some magic happen. But they can not let him completely take over the football game.
T.J. Watt vs. Colton McKivitz
Conversely, Colton McKivitz will have to try and stop Watt. With only 68 snaps a year ago, McKivitz is stepping into the starting lineup after impressing the 49ers. They let Mike McGlinchey walk, but anyone who enters the conversation for their first start against Watt could be in for a long day. In these matchups repeatedly, it has been Watt who is the one dominating the line of scrimmage.
While George Kittle will likely come over and help McKivitz, the Steelers need Watt to wreck this game and create some turnovers. He did that against Joe Burrow a year ago to help them pull off the win in Cincinnati. Then, he did the same in Buffalo two years ago. Strong openers seem like something Watt is starting to build as a reputation now. McKivitz does not have to win every rep, but he can not let Watt wreck the game.
Both WR Groups vs. Both CB Rooms
I look at this on both sides of this 49ers and Steelers matchup, and for the most part, the cornerbacks seem slightly outmatched. Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, and Joey Porter Jr. against Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings is a hard matchup for the Steelers. That is a group that is elusive with speed on top of it. They need to tackle and get in space. Their physicality will be their most significant asset, but the Steelers’ group does not have the elite speed to match what the 49ers bring to the table there. I expect the 49ers to test Pittsburgh on the outside.
On the other side, Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir, and Ambry Thomas against George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Allen Robinson II favor the Steelers, just in a different way. If Ward doesn’t play, this becomes glaring. Ward and Pickens is a heavyweight fight, Johnson should have a mismatch no matter who he faces. Meanwhile, Robinson’s savviness and even Calvin Austin’s speed give the Steelers much to play with here.
The elite safeties in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Talanoa Hufanga will be vital in helping these guys out. But whichever cornerback room can hold up and stop the other team from getting critical explosive plays sees the best chance of holding the points down.