New-Look Niners Face Dangerous Steelers

Kaepernick and Hyde hope to keep things rolling in Pittsburgh, but defense will be tested by Steelers' potent and balanced offense

The 49ers posted some gaudy numbers in winning their season opener against the Vikings.

They held Minnesota without a touchdown, sacked Teddy Bridgewater five times, rushed for 230 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

But there was also this: Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was sacked 52 times in 2014, was sacked just once by the Vikings in the opener.

In fact, Kaepernick looked like a much more efficient quarterback in Game 1, completing 17-of-26 throws for 165 yards, no interceptions and rushed for 41 yards on seven carries.

As the 49ers prepare to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh Sunday (10 a.m.), the rest of the NFL is now looking at Kaepernick and wondering if he indeed has polished his techniques in the offseason, become quicker with his reads and release and will silence the doubters who surfaced in 2014 when he seemed to regress.

Kevin Seifert, an analyst for ESPN, wrote this week that Kaepernick – even in the small sample size of just one game – looks like a much better passer in the pocket, and that the 49ers offense has changed to play to his strengths, with many more quick-read routes over the middle and play-action passes.

Plus, Kaepernick was quicker in throwing the ball in the win over Minnesota than in 2014, shaving his time before pass from 2.68 seconds to 2.46.

Said Seifert: “That should have a direct correlation to sack totals.”

Another ESPN analyst, former NFL player Todd Bowen, said he saw Kaepernick moving better within the pocket, buying more time to avoid sacks and find receivers.

“You saw him stepping up and not retreating or trying to escape immediately,” Bowen said. “You don’t have to do that (escape), not if you step up or make a quick slide in the pocket. It’s a small sample size, but you could see there has been a progression. You’d be crazy not to believe that.”

Now, Kaepernick goes against a Steelers defense that had its problems against the Patriots in Week 1. If Kaepernick has another strong game, and the running game with Carlos Hyde and Co. continues  to roll, the 49ers will show that the opening-game efficiency vs. Minnesota wasn’t a fluke.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, in fact, looked at video of Game 1 and sees a formidable offense.

“They’re a fundamentalist group,” Tomlin said on a conference call with reporters this week. “They won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They had high-frequency reps on offense. They had a base running game. They blocked a variety of looks well. They ran the ball collectively. Kaepernick made a few plays with his legs, like he’s capable of doing.”

Oddsmakers, however, are still in skeptical mode. They’ve made Pittsburgh a 7-point favorite.

One reason is the Steelers’ offensive capability. DeAngelo Williams ran for 127 yards last week and the pass combo of Ben Roethlisberger and wideout Antonio Brown is dangerous. Brown had nine catches for 133 yards and a touchdown vs. the Pats and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2014 with 1,698.

Young 49ers cornerback Kenneth Acker will likely be matched against Brown and said this week that, “He’s going to make it pretty hard” on San Francisco.

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