This week, I contacted the editor of the FanSided team blog – Eric Melendiz of Niner Noise. I wrote five questions regarding his thoughts on the Niners and what to expect during tonight’s game. Check out what he has to say after the jump, and be sure to visit his site and let him know what you think about what he has to say.
1. How big a game is this really for the 49ers with the division already locked up?
For the 49ers this is the biggest game since they were last in the playoffs back in the 2002 season. That season was also the last time the Niners won the NFC West. Since then, and before this season, Niner fans have not had a lot to cheer about let alone seeing the team play meaningful games in December and January. Niner fans want to see the team win in the playoffs and not just clinch a spot and fizzle out in the first game with a loss. Securing the number two seed in the NFC will give the 49ers the best chance to win their first playoff game in eight years. The 49ers are tied with the Saints currently and hold the tiebreaker; however the 49ers need to win out the rest of their games which starts with a win over the Steelers.
2. Has Harbaugh really been the difference in the dramatic turnaround for this team?
Jim Harbuagh is not the only reason why the 49ers have had such a huge turnaround after last season, but a very big reason. He has erased the culture of losing in the locker room that previous head coaching regimes of Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary could not do. Harbaugh has accomplished this by instilling confidence in his players, especially Alex Smith who is thriving under his leadership. The 49rs were picked by a lot of people to return to the playoffs last season but Singletary proved to be in over his head. Harbuagh has taken almost the same roster from last season and won 10 games with them this season.
3. What’s the biggest thing the 49ers should be focusing on against the Steelers on Monday?
On offense for the 49ers it is scoring inside the red zone which the 49ers are one of the worst in the NFL. If the 49ers settle for field goals instead of touchdowns inside the red zone the Steelers will win the game. On defense the 49ers need to focus on stopping the passing game. With how well the 49ers defense is at stopping the run, stopping the passing game is a weakness. The 49ers have a good secondary but somehow teams have been able to complete long passes against them. With Roethlisberger starting on a hobbling ankle the 49ers should be able to stop the deep passes.
4. Do you think the 49ers have fallen victim to the ‘defense will carry the offense’ philosophy?
Yes, they have but only to a certain extent. This was true in the first half of the season with the offense still adjusting and learning, and it worked well to their advantage. In the second half of the season Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have tried unleashing the offense by passing more with mixed results. The 49ers want to show teams they are talented on offense and not just on defense. In the last three games the 49ers have come out passing when they usually establish the run first. This worked out well only in one of those games with the other two resulting in losses. In the two losses the 49ers were forced to have the defense carry the offense after it could not score touchdowns inside the red zone. Opponents have figured out how to use the ‘defense will carry the offense’ philosophy against the 49ers.
5. What is the biggest matchup you feel the Steelers need to be watching out for?
49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio loves to unleash his defense against a hurt quarterback, so watch out for the defense vs. Ben Roethlisberger. The 49ers will be able to stop the Steelers from rushing on offense so that is not a concern. With starting center Maurkice Pouncey out for the game and Roethlisberger playing with an ankle sprain, the advantage is titled the 49ers way stopping the passing game.
Steelers 18 49ers 20
The game will be close throughout with the first half being dominated by defense and the second half giving way to most of the scoring. With the 49ers struggling on offense recently and the Steelers banged on offense, turnovers and big special team’s plays will determine the winner in the end.