NFL: 49ers-Steelers preview

The Examiner breaks down the 49ers-Rams game.

THREE KEYS TO A VICTORY

1. 1 For the first time in nine years, the 49ers are 2-0. But a lot of that had to do with their revamped defense — not to mention a little bit of luck down the stretch. If the Niners want to improve to 3-0 against the 2005 Super Bowl champions, they need a much better performance from quarterback Alex Smith. So far, Smith is 26-for-48 for 252 yards (which is considered under par for just one game). He also has a 69.1 passer rating. So clearly, he’ll have to do something remarkable against the league’s No. 3 defense.

2. Just when he was starting to break out and become the type of player the Niners knew he could be, outside linebacker Manny Lawson must sit out the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Lawson’s ability downfield kept pass-catching tight ends from making plays. Now, the Niners will be turning to either Hannibal Navies or Parys Haralson to try and contain Heath Miller.

3. The matchup falls heavily in favor of the Steelers — particularly when the Niners have the ball. Despite missing some practice time due to the death of his mother, running back Frank Gore must have a great day to simply keep the Niners in the game.

KEY MATCHUPS

PATRICK WILLIS VS. WILLIE PARKER

Willis: Rookie LB goes from sideline-to-sideline and can attack the line of scrimmage.

Parker: Fast running back averages 4.7 yards per carry. Can have his way against Niners’ young “D.”

VERNON DAVIS VS. TROY POLAMALU

Davis: No question about it — Smith must find a way to get him involved in the offense.

Polamalu: Hard-hitting safetyanchors defense and is everywhere. Could have a hair-raising game.

BRYANT YOUNG VS. BEN ROETHLISBERGER

Young: Once again, he’s B.Y. Among team leaders in tackles and leads Niners with four sacks.

Roethlisberger: Big Ben is back. He has a 101.3 passer rating and has thrown for five touchdowns thus far.

COACHES' CORNER

Though Mike Nolan insists he’s not being conservative with the offense, he may not be able to afford that approach. The Niners must apply pressure on Roethlisberger and get Gore and Davis involved right away.

After two lopsided wins to start the season, it appears the Steelers have already bought into first-year coach Mike Tomlin’s philosophy, which isn’t that much different than Bill Cohwer’s smash-mouth ways.

THE EXAMINER PREDICTS …

Despite this being a battle between two undefeated teams, one of them has a less-than-attractive offense going up against a top-tier defense — in hostile territory. This will be a great game — for Pittsburgh. STEELERS 20, 49ers 13

49ers at Steelers

Sunday, 10 a.m.

TV: KTVU (Ch. 2)

Radio: KTCT (1050 AM)

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