KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern
SITE: Heinz Field in Pittsburgh
RECORDS: Steelers 2-0, 1-0 in AFC North; 49ers 2-0, 2-0 in NFC West
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES HISTORY: 19th meeting. 49ers lead the series that began in 1951, 10-8. This will be the 49ers' first visit to Heinz Field. They last played in Pittsburgh in 1996, when the 49ers prevailed 27-6. The Steelers have not beaten the 49ers in Pittsburgh in 20 years, with two games since then in Three Rivers Stadium, both San Francisco victories. The 49ers have won four of the past five games against the Steelers, including the most recent, 30-14, in San Francisco in 2003. The Steelers upset the 49ers in San Francisco in 1984, 20-17. It was the 49ers' only loss that season on their way to a Super Bowl victory and 18-1 record. Sunday will be the first time the Steelers play San Francisco since they won Super Bowl XL. Each team has won five Vince Lombardi Trophies, tying Dallas for top honors.
KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers offensive coordinator Jim Hostler can't hope to move the ball against a defense as fast and aggressive as the Steelers' without opening up the playbook more. RB Frank Gore is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry in large part because opponents are overplaying the run until QB Alex Smith proves he can hurt them downfield. ... The Steelers have been balanced offensively thus far, but the 49ers are the first opponent with enough quality depth in the secondary to contend with coordinator Bruce Arians' multiple receiver looks. San Francisco needs its cover men to hold up so safeties Mark Roman and Michael Lewis can lend a hand in trying to contain RB Willie Parker.
FAST FACTS: The Steelers have outscored their first two opponents a combined 60-10. ... The 49ers are 2-0 for the first time since 1998. ... In 26 possessions, the 49ers have gained one or no first downs 21 times.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Number of games this season the 49ers offense failed to produce 200 yards of total offense. The 49ers were held to fewer than 200 yards twice all of last season. 603 -- Steelers winning percentage since 1970 (343-225-2), second best in the NFL to Miami's .621.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"I think this team realizes what a big opportunity this is. Yeah, we are 2-0, but we can let everyone know around the country what's going on around here -- what we have going on. This is a big, big opportunity."-- 49ers QB Alex Smith
"I talked to my brother last week; he has me on his (fantasy) team but he didn't start me. He said he'll start me the rest of the year." -- Steelers rookie TE Matt Spaeth, who has two TDs on three of his first NFL catches
49ERS GAME PLAN: The 49ers have been held to under 200 yards total offense in their first two games of the season, and Hostler has to come up with some answers against the Steelers. There is not one area of the 49ers offense that has shown any semblance of consistency. Gore is not finding the holes as he did a year ago. The offensive line has not fared well consistently in the run or pass games. Smith has not seen some open receivers, and when he does deliver the ball, there have been a few dropped passes along the way. The 49ers have had 26 possessions in two games, and 21 times they have recorded one or fewer first downs on their drives. Hostler has to find a way to push the right buttons with play-action and getting Smith outside the pocket.
Although the 49ers have five new starters on defense, it looks as if that area will be the strength of the team. Cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris have the confidence of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and head coach Mike Nolan. The 49ers aren't afraid to get after the quarterback. Last week, the 49ers blitzed quarterback Marc Bulger 19 of the 32 times the Rams threw the ball on second or third downs. The 49ers will want to apply the pressure this week to Ben Roethlisberger.
STEELERS GAME PLAN: The Steelers' priority on defense Sunday will be to stop Gore. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 26 games, and pride themselves on that. On offense, they will strive for what they've done in the first two games -- balance. The 49ers defense is neither good against the run or the pass and coordinator Bruce Arians will try to mix it up against them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- 49ers CB Nate Clements, a physical player in run support, vs. Steelers WR Hines Ward, who is regarded not only as a No. 1 receiver but also one of the game's top blockers at the position.
--- 49ers RB Frank Gore, who has scored three of the 49ers' four touchdowns, vs. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu, who figures to cheat up in the box to give the Steelers an eighth defender against the run. Another top matchup will be Polamalu vs. 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who is looking to get more involved in the offense.
--- 49ers FS Mark Roman, who has gotten off to a strong start this season with better corner play in front of him, vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has started this season strong with five TDs and one interception after tossing 23 picks last season.
--- 49ers LDE Bryant Young, who shows no signs of slowing down in his 14th NFL season, vs. Steelers RG Kendall Simmons, a sixth-year pro who'll be facing Young for the first time.
--- 49ers C Eric Heitmann, who has struggled at the point of attack in the first two games, vs. Steelers NT Casey Hampton, a 325-pounder who has made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.
--- 49ers ILB Patrick Willis vs. the cutback runs of Steelers RB Willie Parker, who is third in the AFC with 235 yards rushing.
WR Arnaz Battle (groin) is expected to be ready to play Sunday.WR Darrell Jackson (back) sustained a slight injury while blocking last week. He missed practice this week but the team expects him to be ready to start. C Eric Heitmann (ankle) missed practice time early in the week but should be available to start. S Michael Lewis (ribs) practiced this week and will start. TE Billy Bajema (ankle) missed the game last week against the Rams, but should be available for this week's game.
STEELERS: LB James Harrison (neck) returned to practice Wednesday after leaving last week's game. Starting OG Kendall Simmons (shoulder), RB Najeh Davenport (hamstring) and TE Matt Spaeth (thigh) all missed practice during the week, but none of their injuries are serious and each will be ready to play.
Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Steelers
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