SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Part of the reason Ben Roethlisberger was able to make big play after big play against the 49ers Sunday was because he had plenty of time to throw.
The 49ers were unable to sack or hit Roethlisberger, while only registering four pressures on 27 passing plays. He gashed San Francisco's new-look defense for 267 of his 369 yards passing on six game-changing plays that went 20 yards or longer.
With the Cardinals and Carson Palmer up next Sunday, the 49ers have a similar test. Arizona's offense prides itself on taking deep shots downfield to a slew of talented receivers. San Francisco must find ways to pressure Palmer, who has yet to be sacked through the season's first two games.
"Between the offensive line and the protections and him getting rid of the ball quick, the way (the Cardinals) are playing football, we got to get it going," 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula said. "I haven’t tried to fool anybody. We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve got guys that are willing to work and we’re working."
The Cardinals won in each of Palmer's last eight starts, while he's 15-2 in his last 17 games.
Coming off a 48-23 win over the Chicago Bears, Palmer leads the league's top scoring offense, thanks to seven touchdown passes with just one interception. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald is pacing the team, once again, with 14 catches for 199 yards and three scores.
The Cardinals were forced to play backups along their offensive line to start the year with injuries to left guard, and former 49er, Mike Iupati, while right tackle Bobby Massie is eligible to return from a suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Earl Watford started in Massie's place, giving the Cardinals good production during the first two weeks.
It remains to be seen who will start at right tackle for Arizona on Sunday.
"We’re going to approach it the same," defensive lineman Quinton Dial said. "(Palmer's) a great quarterback, we just got to get Mangini to dial up some stuff and we’re going to be alright. "
Linebacker Aaron Lynch and rookie defensive end Arik Armstead were the only players to register pressures against Roethlisberger Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, which didn't help a new-look secondary that found itself in a mismatch with Steeler's speedy receivers.
"We just got to better on both ends," Dial said. "If we put pressure on the quarterback, then he won’t make those plays. It’s a combination of things that we just have to adjust and get down."
The 49ers were able to sack second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater five times in the season opening win against the Vikings before getting shut out in Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals face the prospect of sticking new players into an offensive line that's been successful to this point. But part of that success, head coach Bruce Arians said, is because of what Palmer's been doing under center.
"I think a lot of it’s on him. We have given up some hits, and he’s gotten rid of the ball," Arians said. "He’s probably playing at a level right now probably as good as anybody I’ve ever coached."
New to the offense is rookie running back David Johnson, who became the first player in league history to score on a running play, kick off return and reception in his first two NFL games.
Johnson, a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, only has seven touches on offense, but they've gone for 100 yards combined. Johnson's role could increase given the injury to starting running back Andre Ellington. Ellington is expected to return Week 4 after spraining an MCL in the Cardinals' season opening win over the Saints.
"(Johnson's) a big, active running back," Arians said. "He’s done a lot with his few touches. He’s made a lot of out them. Any time you can do something for the first time in the history of the game, it’s very special. And he maximizes opportunities. Maybe want to give him a few more opportunities."
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
E-mail Niners Digest: NinersDigest@gmail.com