After starting the season 2-0 with back-to-back road wins, the San Francisco 49ers return home to Levi’s® Stadium in Week 3. San Francisco will face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers for first time since Week 2 of the 2015 season. Here are five key matchups that could decide the home opener.
1. T Mike McGlinchey vs. LB T.J. Watt
With Joe Staley on the mend, Mike McGlinchey will be looked upon to step on the right side of the offensive line. The second-year pro currently hasn’t allowed a single sack in 2019. Lining up across from McGlinchey will be Pro Bowl linebacker T.J. Watt. Coming off a 2018 season where he posted 13 sacks and 21 quarterback hits, Watt has recorded one sack and four quarterback hits in two games this season.
2. TE George Kittle vs. LB Devin Bush
George Kittle continues to be a threat that defenses will look to neutralize. Through the first two weeks of 2019, Kittle leads the 49ers in receptions (11) and yards (108). The third-year tight end currently posts a 93.1 overall grade per Pro Football Focus which ranks second among tight ends through two weeks. Trying to slow him down will be rookie linebacker Devin Bush. Bush is tied for the Steelers lead in tackles through two games (18). The rookie has played 51 coverage snaps per PFF, and will be a key in trying to slow down the 49ers tight end.
3. DL DeForest Buckner vs. OL David DeCastro
DeForest Buckner looked reminiscent of his 2018 campaign in Week 2. The Pro Bowl defensive lineman posted one sack, one tackle and two quarterback hits in the 49ers 41-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2. Buckner and the rest of the 49ers defensive line will be tasked with limiting quarterback Mason Rudolph in his first-career start. Blocking his path will be two-time All-Pro offensive lineman David DeCastro. DeCastro currently holds an 86.8 pass blocking grade according to PFF and will be pivotal in helping their inexperienced quarterback with a clean pocket.
4. CB Richard Sherman vs. JuJu Smith-Schuster
The leader in the 49ers secondary will have his hands full on Sunday. Richard Sherman has had a strong start to his 2019 campaign with nine total tackles, two passes defensed and one interception on through the first two weeks. The nine-year pro will be entrusted with slowing down Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers in receptions (11) and yards (162). The third-year pro recently became the youngest wide receiver in NFL history to reach 2,500 career yards.
5. LB Fred Warner vs. TE Vance McDonald
Fred Warner leads the 49ers with 16 total tackles through two weeks. Warner will be in charge of limiting Rudolph’s safety valve from a week ago in tight end Vance McDonald. In Week 2 against Seattle, McDonald led the Steelers in receptions (seven) and touchdowns (two). McDonald’s contributions were key in the Steelers comeback attempt a week ago.