Game plan and matchups

Strategy and matchups as the Niners prepare to take the national stage for Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers


The 49ers will have to stick with what has worked best for them this season. Defensively, the 49ers have done a great job of turning up the heat on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive coordinator Jim Mora has been much more aggressive this season with his calls. The 49ers rank third in the league in sacks, while the Steelers have experienced some problems protecting Tommy Maddox. The Steelers will probably be without starting left tackle Marvel Smith, so expect even more pressure to come from that side of the 49ers' defense. The 49ers expect defensive end Andre Carter to be back in the lineup after missing the Nov. 2 game against the Rams with two bulging disks in his lower back. Carter is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. A good portion of the 49ers' pass rush comes from their linebackers. Julian Peterson has recorded four sacks this season, while Jamie Winborn has three, Derek Smith 2.5 and Jeff Ulbrich one. A neck problem discovered late last week will keep Winborn out for the season.

Offensively, the 49ers will stick with the recipe that has worked for them this season. It does not matter if Jeff Garcia or Tim Rattay is the starter, the 49ers are still going to try to win the game with their ground attack. Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow will share the rushing load. The 49ers plan to be stubborn with the run game. Then, when the 49ers have forced the Steelers to bring an eighth defender in the box to stop the run, that is when they will use play-action pass to create opportunities on the outside for their receiver. Terrell Owens did not play well for the 49ers for the first nine games of the season. He needs to do a better job of catching the ball and running after the catch. Owens needs a big final seven games of the regular season to get his value up to where it was when the season began. Owens is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.


--- 49ers RT Scott Gragg, who has been up-and-down this season as a pass protector, vs. Steelers LOLB Jason Gildon, who leads the team with five sacks and is the all-time franchise leader with 76 in his career.

--- C Jeremy Newberry, the 49ers' best offensive player through the first nine games of the season, vs. NT Casey Hampton, who is a key in the Steelers' sixth-ranked rushing defense.

--- WR Terrell Owens, who has seen 33.2 percent of the team's passes go his way, vs. CB Chad Scott, a seventh-year professional who has two interceptions this season.

--- DE Andre Carter, who returns from missing a game with two bulging disks in his lower back, vs. LT Alan Faneca, who is likely to make his fifth straight start in place of injured Marvel Smith.

--- LB Julian Peterson, who is a candidate for defensive player of the year, vs. TE Jay Riemersma, who has been used mostly as a blocker.

--- CB Mike Rumph, who has played well in his second season in the league, vs. WR Hines Ward, the team-leader with 60 catches for 717 yards and eight touchdowns who is apt to line up in the slot in three-receiver sets.

Niners Digest Top Stories