Thekicked off Week 1 of the NFL regular season by losing to the defending champion . The closed it with a win over the . Now the two teams head to Heinz Field for an important inter-conference showdown.
Pittsburgh had the unenviable task of taking on the Patriots in the first game following Tom Brady's suspension repeal by a federal court. Making matters worse, the Steelers had to take the field without, one of the premier running backs in the NFL today. The results were unsurprising; New England raced ahead to a 21-3 start, ultimately emerging with a one-score victory after quarterback connected with wideout for a touchdown in the game's closing seconds. The Steelers expect to have one of the league's better offenses once Bell and emerging second-year receiver return from suspension.
However, the Pittsburgh defense might struggle throughout the season. The unit -- now led by defensive coordinator Keith Butler after more than decade under Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau -- failed to cover All-Pro tight endon a number of occasions. The defense also seemed to have no answer for running back , who sliced through Pittsburgh for 69 yards on just 15 carries. Part of the failings relate to the team's youth movement -- , and Stephon Tuitt have taken on larger roles this season. They'll need to improve if the Steelers are to compete for a playoff berth.
As for the 49ers, few expected much from a team that lost so many important players during one of the most tumultuous offseasons in NFL history. While the talent drain might ultimately catch up with San Francisco, the offense looked better than expected with second-year running backgalloping for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn't post huge numbers, but he avoided mistakes, something that new head coach has stressed this season.
While many players left the 49ers for a variety of reasons, the team did regain the services of one its best players. Inside linebackerplayed in his first game since blowing out his knee in the two seasons ago. Bowman looked like an All-Pro again, collecting seven tackles and a sack in his return. San Francisco also received quality play from veteran safety , who amassed seven tackles and a sack of his own along with a batted pass. More than that, fans were happy with the play-calling on both sides of the ball, which was a massive complaint during the Jim Harbaugh era, even when the team was winning games.
The 49ers no longer have a defense replete with field tilters, but they might not be the pushovers many assumed they'd become in 2015. If their young prospects -- such as defensive tackle-- continue to make plays, perhaps the national perception of San Francisco will shift in the coming weeks and months.
How to watch:
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Commentators: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin