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Antonio Brown Will Shine In the Steelers-49ers Defensive Struggle

Something’s got to give when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to San Francisco for a Week 15 Monday night game. And Antonio Brown might be the one to help blow it open for the Steelers.

The San Francisco 49ers have the No. 1 rushing defense in the league at 70.5 yards allowed per game and no touchdowns surrendered. No back has eclipsed 64 yards rushing this season. But they also bring just the 19th-ranked passing defense that allows 234.5 yards per game with 18 touchdowns allowed and 18 interceptions. The Steelers are ranked sixth against the run (97.0 YPG) with six TDs allowed and No. 1 against the pass (179.1 YPG).

San Francisco brings the seventh-ranked rushing offense (126.9 YPG) and 29th-ranked passing offense (182.1 YPG). Pittsburgh brings the ninth-ranked passing offense (257.1 YPG) with 21 TDs and 11 interceptions and the 17th-ranked rushing offense (114.5 YPG).

Advantage: Steelers passing game.

However there are two BIG question marks heading into the game. First, whether Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) will start and secondly, whether he will have enough time to be productive behind a beat up offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey has already been declared out. The 49ers are ranked 14th in the league with 32 sacks.

So let’s assume the 17th-ranked run game of the Steelers is shut down by the top-ranked run defense of the 49ers as we all expect and Pittsburgh will be able to have success through the air. If it’s Roethlisberger, the deep ball can still be there, if it’s Charlie Batch in for Big Ben, then Brown can still be productive as the receiver that can catch passes all over the field.

In PPR leagues, Brown should thrive. And in non-PPR leagues, he showed that if you wait he will pay off — see his 79-yard TD catch in the closing minutes to help the Steelers beat the Browns two Thursdays ago.

Brown has been targeted 24 times in the last four weeks for 16 catches, 385 yards and one score. That’s just the last month, In the three games before that, Brown was targeted 35 times — 35 TIMES — for 21 catches, 278 yards and a score.

Since Week 10, the 49ers have allowed four receivers to eclipsed 60 yards — Mario Manningham (6-77-1), Victor Cruz (6-84-0), Anquan Boldin (4-63-0) and Larry Fitzgerald (7-149-1) and have given up six total touchdowns to receivers in those five weeks.

You hope that Big Ben can play and be mobile enough to keep his solid connection going with Brown, but even if it’s Batch it is hard to sit a top-12 fantasy receiver over the last four weeks, on a team that is ninth in passing, going against a 49ers team that gives up the pass and will struggle to find any offense — ground or air.

By Corby A. Yarbrough @Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter