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Old 12-19-2011, 06:57 AM   #1
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Default Steelers Key Matchups: at 49ers

Steelers Key Matchups: at 49ers
By Mike Bires mbires@timesonline.com | Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2011 10:32 pm

WALLACE & BROWN vs. ROGERS & BROWN: Perhaps as early as tonight, the Steelers will have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in the same season for just the fourth time in franchise history.

Mike Wallace upped to his total to 1,034 last week with a four-catch, 57-yard performance in a win over the Browns. Antonio Brown, the most productive Steeler in the past seven games, needs 75 against the 49ers to reach the 1,000-yard goal he set for himself in training camp. Brown caught five passes for 151 yards against thr Browns, including a 79-yarder for a touchdown.

A second-year pro who hardly played wide receiver last year, Brown has emerged as a star partly because teams are so determined to stop Wallace, one of the NFL's most feared deep threats. With Wallace often drawing double coverage, Brown has taken advantage of his opportunities. He's averaged 94.7 receiving yards in the past seven games.

This evening, whomever plays quarterback for the Steelers will probably look to Wallace and Brown often as they try to generate points. With the 49ers leading the NFL in rushing defense (70.5 yards per game), running the ball might be tough, especially if gimpy-legged Ben Roethlisberger tries to play as he fights his way through a Grade 1 high ankle sprain.

Although the 49ers have intercepted 18 passes and have sacked opposing QBs 32 times, the Steelers may find success throwing the ball if Wallace and Brown can win their battles with cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.

Rogers, picked in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Redskins, has been rejuvenated since signing with the 49ers this season. He's tied for fourth in the NFL with five interceptions. Tarell Brown only has one pick but he's a solid corner who finally became a starter in his fifth pro season. And lending help to Rogers and Brown is free safety Dashon Goldson, who also has five interceptions.


One of the reasons the 49ers have been so successful is they consistently win the battle of field position. They lead the NFL in starting field position. On average, the Niners' offense starts a possession at its own 33.4. By comparison, the Steelers' offense starts on average at its own 27.6. Obviously, the 31 takeaways by the San Fran defense is a huge factor in field position. But so, too, is the excellent play of their special teams.

"They got a Pro Bowl kicker, a Pro Bowl punter and in Ted Ginn Jr., they have a return man who's capable of taking it to the house any time he touches the ball," said safety Will Allen, one of the Steelers' best special teams players. "The 49ers have great special teams personnel."

Andy Lee, who punted at Pitt, has been to two Pro Bowls. He's tied for second in the league in punting average (50.7) and he's first in net punting (43.7). By comparison, Steelers punter Jeremy Kapinos is 17th with a 45.6 average and 25th in net punting (37.7).

Kicker David Akers, a five-time Pro Bowler, leads the NFL in field goals (36) and points (135). He's also booted 56.0 percent of his 75 kickoffs so deep into the end zone that they couldn't be returned. By comparison, only 39.3 percent of Shaun Suisham's kickoffs have been touchbacks.

Ginn ranks second in the NFL with a 28.1 yard average on kickoffs. He's fourth in the NFL with a 12.3 average on punt returns. He's scored twice this season on returns -- a 102-yarder on a kickoff and a 55-yarder on a punt.

"Ted Ginn Jr. can score any time from any place on the field," Allen said. "He's got world-class speed. Seriously. I've seen him run in high school. I've seen him run at Ohio State. He's just a phenomenal athlete. We have to stay in our lanes and be disciplined against him. You make one breakdown and he'll make you pay for it."

Beside his exploits at wide receiver, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has fared well as a return specialist, too. He's fourth in the league in kickoff returns with a 27.5 average and fifth on punt returns at 12.2. Brown has scored on a 60-yard punt return
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