Pittsburgh Steelers newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick smiles as he warms up during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes over Seattle Seahawks nose tackle Bryan Mone (79) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at the scoreboard as he walks off the field as time runs out in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Roethlisberger did not play the second half of the game. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida (22) runs the ball during the first half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrates his touchdown during the first half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Two straight losses to open the year, a season-ending injury to the franchise quarterback, and a West Coast trip to face an undefeated team all add up to many people writing off the Pittsburgh Steelers before the end of September.
That's just the way coach Mike Tomlin likes it.
''I don't care about many people's eyes and things of that nature, man,'' he said. ''We're used to living in the eye of the storm in this business at this level. I do enjoy the challenges and the adversity that the game presents, so from that standpoint it does create a sense of urgency that's a good fuel. But in terms of perceptions and what people are saying outside our organization, it would be tough for me to care less.''
The Steelers (0-2) are counting on that urgency to make up for the loss of Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury and help Mason Rudolph succeed in his first career start when Pittsburgh takes on San Francisco (2-0) in the 49ers' home opener on Sunday.
Rudolph, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2018, beat out Josh Dobbs during training camp to be the primary backup. He played well last week during a half of work against Seattle, completing 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that came off a tipped pass.
Rudolph said he was ready for his moment even if he hadn't even gotten on the field in his first 17 games as a pro.
''There have been plenty of quarterbacks who hadn't played immediately. I was encouraged by that,'' he said. ''I tried to have a long-term mentality and understand that hopefully we play in this game a long time. And as long as I am ready for my opportunity, that's kind of all that matters.''
While the message for the Steelers is hope isn't lost despite the rough start to the season, the 49ers are trying to avoid complacency after opening the season with double-digit wins at Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
It has been rare success for a team that took until December to win its second game in coach Kyle Shanahan's first season in 2017 and until November last year.
''I think our team is smart enough and knows the deal. There's not one person in our building, at least that I've noticed, that feels like we've arrived by any means,'' Shanahan said.
Here are some other things to watch:
The Niners are dealing with their own significant injury with star left tackle Joe Staley out for at least six weeks with a broken leg. Sixth-round rookie Justin Skule will get his first career start in place of Staley, who has started all but four games since 2011.
''It's still the game of football,'' Skule said. ''Just take a deep breath, and don't let anything get too big for myself.''
IF THE SAFETY FITZ
Pittsburgh expects to start newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick just days after acquiring him from Miami. The Steelers parted with three picks, including a first-rounder in 2020, for the opportunity to bring in the versatile 22-year-old Fitzpatrick. Though Fitzpatrick played multiple positions with the Dolphins, Tomlin expects to ''anchor'' Fitzpatrick at free safety until he gets acclimated.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
The Niners had a big day on the ground last week, rushing for 259 yards in the team's' sixth-most productive rushing day of the past decade. Making that even more impressive was that the three halfbacks in the game - Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. - all entered the league as undrafted players. That trio combined for 238 yards, the third most by undrafted players in a game since the merger.
Steelers wide receiver Donte Moncrief could be out of a starting job just two games into his time with Pittsburgh. Moncrief struggled with drops in the opener against New England and was targeted just once last week against Seattle, a third-quarter pass from Rudolph that smacked off Moncrief's hands and helmet and led directly to an interception. Moncrief, signed as a free agent shortly after the Steelers traded Antonio Brown to Oakland, said he has been pressing.
''I know that we haven't been able to depend on him to this point, so he's got some challenges, and we have some challenges moving forward,'' Tomlin said.
The Niners won back-to-back road games to open the season for the first time in 30 years. Now they come home for their first game at Levi's Stadium with a winning record since losing to Seattle on Thanksgiving night in 2014. The 49ers haven't had a great home-field advantage since moving into Levi's Stadium five years ago, with empty seats a regular occurrence for a team that has won only 17 games the previous four seasons.
''I don't think we've given our fans a lot to be excited about in the two years I've been here at home or the years prior,'' Shanahan said. ''But, when we have, I think our stadium has been loud.
WEST COAST WOES
Pittsburgh has struggled in recent years when the team plane has pointed toward the Pacific. The Steelers have lost each of their last four games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones dating back to 2015, including road losses to Denver and Oakland in 2018, teams that combined to go 8-22 against the rest of the league.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks didn't get anything going in the loss to the 49ers on Sunday, finishing with three catches for only 18 yards. To Cooks' credit, the entire team fell victim to the smothering 49ers Defense, and while it was good to see him back in the lineup after suffering a concussion in Week 5, it was a disappointing performance, to say the least. The veteran will look to get back on track against the struggling Falcons in Week 7.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (quad) suffered a quad injury late in the Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams. Samuel had just three grabs on five targets for 18 yards prior to exiting. The rookie played in 60 percent of snaps on Sunday, which has been his normal range, so the severity of the ailment is unknown. With wideout Dante Pettis starting to dominate snap share and the Niners leaning heavily on their running game, Samuel is fading as a fantasy factor. Hell be a bye week WR5 filler in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins.
Coming off a bye week, Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake seemed finally set up for success in Week 6, with the Dolphins facing a Washington Redskins Defense that was allowing over 400 yards of offense per game. However, Drake only set his owners up for another dud, rushing 10 times for forty yards in a 17-16 Miami loss, and failing once again to score for the first time in 2019. He was slightly more valuable in PPR leagues - catching six balls for 30 yards - but was also out-gained by backup Mark Walton totaling 75 yards on 11 touches. Drake may have been drafted as an RB3, but he isn't giving his owners any reason to start him going forward, particularly facing a tough Buffalo defense in Week 7, and seemingly in a partial timeshare with Walton.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff played miserably in the loss to the 49ers, finishing with just 78 yards on 13-for-24 passing, and while he didn't throw an interception in this one, he did fumble twice on the day. The 24-year-old had a day to forget for sure, and though Goff has an abundance of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, he continues to struggle. The good news for Goff, however, is that he has a chance to turn things around in Week 7 against the struggling Falcons. Goff should continue to be started in deeper formats, especially if Todd Gurley (thigh) is back in the lineup.
Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell made his only field goal attempt and all three extra points in Sunday's 24-17 win over the Chargers. Boswell hasn't missed a kick in 23 attempts this season, which makes him an extremely reliable fantasy option. However, on bye in Week 7, Boswell can be dropped this week. You can pick him back, up as a streamer, for a Week 8 contest with the Miami Dolphins, where he should have plenty of opportunities to continue his solid start.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate scored his second touchdown of the year during a division battle against the Panthers Defense overseas in London, England. Jameis Winston did spread the ball around a bit more during this contest but still looked for Mike Evans or Chris Godwin on nearly every drop back. Brate caught two of his four targets for 47 yards, and Winston's only touchdown pass of the day. This is encouraging, but he is still a touchdown-dependent player on a talent-heavy team. The Bucs are on a bye Week 7 and will return Week 8 to face the Titans Defense in Tennessee. Brate is a TE2 for that matchup and can be used in an emergency.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard finally made an exciting play during the Bucs Week 6 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Since the start of the season, Howard has been relegated to nothing more than a blocking tight end. However, during a 30-yard reception and near touchdown against the Panthers Defense, you can still recognize the immense talent he possesses. Howard finished the day with two receptions for 35 yards. He is unfortunately still an afterthought in this offense, which makes him a TE2 with upside when the Bucs face the Tennessee Titans in Week 8, after their bye.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin continues to dominate the NFL. Jameis Winston force-fed Mike Evans all day with 17 total targets during the Week 6 London game against the Panthers Defense; however, Godwin was the more efficient receiver, finishing with 10 receptions on 12 targets for 151 yards. He did not catch a touchdown for the first time in three games, but it has been a career year so far for Godwin, nonetheless. Week 7, the Bucs are on a bye, but Godwin will be a low-end WR1 when he returns to face the Titans Defense in Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson hauled in both of his targets for just 14 yards in Sunday's 24-17 win over the Chargers. The rookie had 14 receptions over his previous three contests, but this one was definitely disappointing. However, it's important to note that quarterback Devlin Hodges heavily favored check-downs to James Conner in his first career start. As the Steelers go on bye in Week 7, it will be important to pay attention to who is starting at quarterback for the team's Week 8 game against the Miami Dolphins.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans was a target-hog versus the Panthers Defense, receiving a total of 17 looks from Jameis Winston. He did drop a ton of catchable balls but still ended with nine receptions for 96 yards. After his three-target, zero-catch performance last week, this was an over-correction on the Bucs part to get Evans more involved. The Bucs essentially have two No. 1 wide receivers, with Evans and Chris Godwin, who both can take over a game at any time. The Bucs don't play again until Week 8 after their bye against the Titans Defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald caught his sole target for just five yards in Sunday's 24-17 win over the Chargers. McDonald and the rest of the Steelers' pass-catchers got phased out of the offense, thanks to a 21-0 lead before halftime. This was one of the 29-year-old's worst games since the Steelers traded for him in 2017. It's important to note that Nick Vannett logged 37 snaps to McDonald's 39 in the contest, so the team clearly will look to utilize two-TE sets. Pittsburgh is on bye in Week 7 before welcoming the Dolphins in Week 8, however, McDonald is nearing drop status, unless he sees an uptick in usage once Mason Rudolph (concussion) returns.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Defense held the LA Chargers to just 17 points, while also scoring a touchdown on a fumble, and intercepting two passes in their 24-17 win on Sunday. Rookie Devin Bush was a man on a mission in Week 6, returning a recovered fumble for the team's first score before intercepting a Philip Rivers pass on the very next drive. After trailing 24-0, the Chargers were able to make it closer by scoring two touchdowns in fourth-quarter garbage time. Its worth noting that Stephon Tuitt (pectoral) left in the first quarter and did not return. With a bye in week 7, this surging defense should be considered the top streaming defense in Week 8 when they welcome the Miami Dolphins for Monday Night Football.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner took 16 carries for 41 yards and a score, while also catching seven passes for 78 yards and another score in Sunday's 24-17 win over the LA Chargers. The third-year back was the offensive MVP in Week 6, but was again dependent on scoring touchdowns. It's also important to note that Benny Snell Jr. rushed for 75 yards on 17 carries. It's possible that was all up to game script, but to see the rookie outperform Conner on the ground might make you raise your eyebrow. The Steelers are on bye in Week 7, before hosting the Dolphins for Monday Night Football in Week 8, where Conner can be viewed as a low-end RB1 in what should be a positive game script.
Pittsburgh Steelers Running back Benny Snell Jr. took 17 carries for 75 yards in Sunday's 24-17 win over the Chargers. This was the largest workload to date for the rookie from Kentucky. While his usage was likely game script dependent, it was interesting to see him out-rush James Conner who totaled just 41 yards, but did score a touchdown. Snell Jr. is still just a stash candidate for the event of a Conner injury, but keep in mind that Jaylen Samuels will be returning in a little over a month. Pittsburgh is on bye for Week 7, so you might be able to scoop up Snell for cheap.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster caught just one of his four targets for seven yards in Sunday's win over the Chargers. Considering Devlin Hodges was starting at quarterback and with Pittsburgh getting out to an early 14-0 lead, the gameplan quickly shifted towards the run game. However, this is two clunkers in the last three games for Smith-Schuster, and he's quickly becoming a touchdown-dependent fantasy option. While the team is on bye in Week 7, a matchup with Miami the following week would be a good game for the USC product to bounce back.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges finished 15 of 20 for just 132 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Sunday's win over the Chargers. The Steelers jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to two takeaways by the defense. The big advantage allowed the offense to emphasize the run with James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. However, the Samford product threw for his first NFL touchdown in the second quarter on a dump-off to Conner. With the Steelers on bye in Week 7, there is a strong likelihood that Mason Rudolph will be ready to go for a Week 8 matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Michael Thomas hauled in 8 catches for 89 yards on 12 targets in Sunday's 13-6 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey wasn't active in Week 6, and Thomas went to work exposing the Jags secondary. Teddy Bridgewater didn't take many deep shots, and when he did, they mainly fell in Ted Ginn Jr.'s direction, which kept Thomas's ceiling capped. Thomas's stranglehold over New Orleans' target share won't be changing anytime soon, so expect him to continue dominating in the weeks to come.
Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley (quadriceps) has a chance to return in Week 7, and the team hasn't ruled him out. However, the injury is on the same leg as his troublesome knee, which doesn't allow for a lot of stability.
Fantasy Spin: The Atlanta Falcons have been good against the run, and Gurley would be a high-end RB2 if he's fit to go. Malcolm Brown would be a flex option in either event.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (thigh) was diagnosed with a thigh bruise, which can be painful, but isn't considered serious.
Fantasy Spin: Cooper was knocked out of the game after just one catch for three yards. He'll have a superb matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he'll return to WR1 status.
Atlanta Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu caught three of his four targets for 29 scoreless yards in Week 6 versus the Arizona Cardinals.
Fantasy Spin: Sanu had established himself a nice fantasy WR3 floor over the previous three weeks, so owners counting on him for another five or six catches and about 60 yards came away disappointed. Making matters worse is Matt Ryan threw for 356 yards. Nevertheless, Sanu makes for a decent floor play in the flex in Week 7 against the Los Angeles Rams.