It's no secret that the San Francisco 49ers are in a tough spot right now. Well, as tough a spot as you can be in with ten wins and a division title. They're sitting at 10-3 and looking to pick up a big win on Monday Night Football over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that is among the AFC's best. The 49ers are also coming off a very bad loss this past week to the Arizona Cardinals, a game in which they should have won, by all accounts.
There is a lot they need to work on. The offensive line will need to up its game and the coaching staff needs to call a much better game offensively. Running back Frank Gore can't carry the ball only ten times when he has over 70 yards with those ten carries. The coaching staff can't call pass plays on 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 at the end of the game, when the passing game hadn't picked up and Alex Smith was being sacked.
But on Monday, they could have one less extremely important thing to worry about: Ben Roethlisberger. He's got a high ankle sprain, though it's only a minor one. Still, that sprain has been acting up lately and it's going to be tough for Roethlisberger to return. With the extra rest, it would be no surprise to see him play on Monday, but it doesn't appear to be healing on schedule, certainly a good thing for San Francisco.
Roethlisberger has been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks this season. Sam Lam of Examiner.com recently had some questions for 49ers linebacker Tavares Gooden, who is very familiar with the Steelers from his time with the Baltimore Ravens, AFC North rivals. Gooden noted one specific thing about how the Steelers have been so good this year:
He just extends the play. The guys that are coming after him, he's able to avoid them. That's the part of their livelihood, that's how they eat on offense. They're just making great plays. ... They just find ways to win games and I think it's all based on Big Ben's ability to get free on third and long down situations and he makes a lot of plays with his feet.
It's definitely apt. Roethlisberger's greatest asset has always been his ability to extend the plays. If he's not playing, that makes defending the Pittsburgh offense a whole lot easier, and Charlie Batch certainly lacks that ability. Not to mention that, if Roethlisberger were to play, he might be pretty limited in his mobility - perhaps a giant target for 49ers rookie linebacker Aldon Smith?
Regardless of whether or not Roethlisberger plays, the ankle injury should help them on Monday night. Now about that Pittsburgh defense ...