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.
Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison carried 14 times for 63 yards in Week 7's 38-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He only received two fewer carries than Dalvin Cook even though this was a relatively pass-heavy game and he outgained Cook on the ground by 22 yards. Mattison is emerging as a desperation RB3-play and remains one of the top handcuffs in fantasy football. He still shouldn't be started in standard leagues in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen caught 6-of-8 targets for 57 yards and one receiving touchdown in Week 7's 38-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Thielen and Kirk Cousins connected on a six-yard touchdown in the first quarter but it was all Stefon Diggs and his career-best day from there (seven catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns). Thielen and Diggs feasted on the Eagles' weakened secondary but will face a much stiffer test against Darius Slay and the Detroit Lions in Week 7. Start Thielen as a high-end WR2 in that matchup.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaron Brown got the chance to step up on Sunday, and he took full advantage. With Seattle losing tight end Will Dissly to an Achilles injury early in the game, Brown's number got called multiple times in the red zone. He gathered up three passes on the day, two of which came while he was standing in the promised land. After Brown became one of Russell Wilson's favorite red zone targets last year following an injury to Dissly, he had basically been an afterthought so far in 2019. While Dissly's injury is heartbreaking and painful in the fantasy community, it wouldn't be a shock to see Brown get the valuable bump once again this year.
Seattle Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson must practice sprawling tip drills at home. A week after making an unbelievable bobbling interception to help put away the Rams, Thompson was on the receiving end again when he laid out in the his own end zone to snag a tipped pass just before it landed on the turf. This time, the refs gave him the benefit of the doubt and let him run it out to the 17-yard line. The Seahawks Defense didn't hold Cleveland to a pretty number of points, but they racked up the extracurriculars in the form of three interceptions, a fumble recovery, and a blocked punt. They're no Legion of Boom, but they're also 5-1 on the season, so they're doing something right.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook carried 16 times for 41 yards and a touchdown in a Week 6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Cook also caught both of his targets for 13 receiving yards. The Vikings opted to win this game through the air and it worked, though Cook's fantasy owners would've liked to see him a little more involved in the passing game. Cook remains an elite RB1 play moving forward and should be started with confidence against the Detroit Lions in Week 7.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers had an exciting day on Sunday as he put the team in a bit of a tough spot. Myers sliced the extra point on the team's first score of the day, forcing Seattle to make some difficult choices as the ballgame wore on. The Seahawks would fail on a two-point conversion after their second score and end up winning the game by four, an awkward amount. Fortunately, Myers was money on field goal tries, as he nailed a pair of easy kicks. Myers is now 5-for-7 on field goals this season with his longest make coming from 42 yards out, and he's knocked down 18 of 19 extra point tries.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf hauled in another pass longer than 25 yards when he brought in a 30-yarder on the team's first drive of the day. This time, instead of a bomb falling gently into his arms in space, Metcalf caught a short slant and fought his way through a couple of tacklers before a gang of Browns defenders pushed him out of bounds. Metcalf also caught four of five passes slung his way this week, his highest catch percentage this season. Metcalf is showing some growth for Seattle, and when combined with his ridiculous measurables, he could be a superstar in the league if he can regularly catch the ball.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett continues to be the pride of possession receivers. Lockett brought in all five passes sent his way in Week 6, tallying 75 yards. Lockett has now caught 24 of 27 passes thrown to him this year, and he deserves quite a bit of credit for Russell Wilson's ridiculous efficiency numbers. Lockett still struggles to find the end zone on a regular basis because Wilson excels at spreading the ball all around, but he's as dependable a receiver as exists in the league. Expect Lockett to continue to put up rock solid performances from here on out, and he'll get some scores eventually.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis secured three of six targets for 45 yards in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams. The stat line is trivial for most wideouts but this was Pettis highest yardage total in 2019. The Niners have leaned heavily on the rushing attack all season, rendering all pass-catchers marginal outside of tight end George Kittle. Positively, Pettis has played progressively more each week and should continue seeing the field regularly. But until it translates into fantasy relevant numbers, Pettis shouldnt be owned outside of the most desperate rosters.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught 7-of-11 targets for 167 yards and three touchdowns in Week 6's 38-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He also had two carries for 18 yards in the win. Diggs and Cousins were feeling the chemistry today as they connected for scores of 62 yards and 51 yards in addition to a gorgeous toe-tap touchdown for a red-zone score in the third quarter. This week served as a reminder that Diggs is a weekly WR1 threat, but he still remains a volatile play in an offense that likes to lean on the run. Diggs should be viewed as a solid WR2 heading into Week 7's matchup against the Detroit Lions and their tough secondary.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson carried the ball 24 times on Sunday, tallying 124 yards and a touchdown. It makes the third straight game where Carson has cleared the century mark, and the 5.2 YPC was his best mark of the season. Carson also caught four passes for another 35 yards, and his touchdown was the crucial game-winning score late in the fourth quarter. Carson has already racked up 504 yards on the ground this season, and his 19 receptions are just one shy of the total number he had all of last year. Seattle's offense has been rolling this season, and Carson is a critical part of why. Expect him to continue to carry the rock often.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 24 of 33 passes for 243 scoreless yards in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams. He also threw a pick and lost a fumble. Jimmy G was once against careless with the football, committing his seventh turnover in five contests. Fortunately, the Niners secured the victory. The sixth-year signal caller has been extremely shaky this season but his team remains undefeated. With the offenses heavy emphasis on the run game, Garoppolo is a tough trust in fantasy. Hell be a QB2 with upside against the Washington Redskins in Week 7.
Seattle Seahawks running back C.J. Prosise stepped in as the change-of-pace back for Chris Carson on Sunday when Rashaad Penny couldn't go, but he only got to touch the ball four times. Given such limited opportunities, he'd want them to count, but unfortunately, it bit him this week. Prosise was called on to power forward to a first down late in the third quarter, but instead of picking up the necessary yard, Prosise coughed up the football in Seattle territory. Prosise has shown flashes of serious potential in the past, but he always seems to have something go wrong, whether it be an injury or a mistake. He's not fantasy relevant for now, and it's questionable whether he ever will be.
Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher made three field goals and an extra point in a Week 6 loss to the New York Jets. Maher made field goals from 50, 62, and 32 yards out, but missed a 40-yard kick. Players in long field goal bonus leagues were likely thrilled with Maher's performance in this one. He'll continue to be one of the stronger fantasy kickers going forward.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman handled 18 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams, adding two grabs for 16 yards. Coming off his second game from an ankle ailment, Coleman took the reins and out-touched backfield mate Matt Breida 18 to 13. Despite averaging just 2.5 YPC on Sunday, Colemans usage is encouraging for all fantasy investors. He could flirt with RB1 status in a cake matchup against a weak Washington Redskins rush defense in Week 7.
The Dallas Cowboys Defense didn't play very well despite matching up with the New York Jets in Week 6. They allowed 24 points in a losing effort, recording one interception and two sacks. It was considered a cake matchup, with many lists counting the Cowboys as the top defense of the week, but they disappointed as most of the Cowboys did. They'll take on the Eagles next week in a Sunday night divisional matchup.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had another fantastic day on Sunday as he not only led Seattle to their third road win, but he also upped his total to 14 passing touchdowns while still remaining free of interceptions. Wilson completed 69.7% of his passes against the Browns, and he also ran in a touchdown. Wilson has always been a model of efficiency, but he's taken his game to the next level this season. After six games, Wilson has a 14/0 TD/INT rate, three rushing touchdowns, a completion rate of 72.5%, 1,704 passing yards, and a passer rating of 124.7. He's having a phenomenal season, and if he can keep this type of performance up, he could be hoisting his first MVP trophy at the end of the year.
The New York Jets Defense had a good game against the Cowboys on Sunday, but didn't put up many fantasy points for their effort. The Jets didn't force a turnover in the game and only had one sack, even with the Cowboys starting two backups on the offensive line. The Jets defense should be getting healthier with the return of middle linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin) and Jamal Adams is a star at safety, but they are still not a recommended start in Week 7 against the Patriots.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida toted the rock 13 times for 36 yards and caught four passes for 27 yards in Week 6 against the Los Angeles Rams. Breida was mostly stuffed on Sunday and yielded the lions share of work to Tevin Coleman, but he still posted a serviceable line with his opportunities. With Coleman looking fully healthy from his ankle injury, Breida has become a clear first mate. But with the Niners deploying a structural rushing committee, Breidas still a recommended RB3 and has major upside in Week 7 against a terrible Washington Redskins Defense.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold completed 23 of 32 passes for 338 yards in his return to the lineup Sunday. Darnold threw two touchdowns and one interception in his first game since Week 1. Darnold missed three games with mono, but provided a huge boost to a Jets offense that had averaged the fewest yards per game in the league coming into today. The big play from Darnold was a 92-yard touchdown to Robby Anderson after the Jets stopped the Cowboys on fourth-and-short. Darnold faces a tough matchup next week vs the Patriots, but looked good enough today to warrant consideration as a bye week replacement starter in deeper leagues or two-quarterback leagues.