NFL Week 1: Keys for Steelers defense vs. 49ers

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons
Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages
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The Pittsburgh Steelers open the 2023 regular season with an interesting task against the San Fransisco 49ers. While the Steelers' young offense will take on a daunting San Fransisco defense that will employ Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, the Steelers' own talented defense will take on a 49ers defense praised for its efficiency.

Not without its own star players, all eyes immediately fall on Brock Purdy, last year's Mr. Irrelevant who went on to win every game he started sans the one he didn't finish in the NFC Championship. How is his throwing elbow? Was last year a fluke? Important questions for the second-year quarterback with full control of head coach Kyle Shannahan's offense.

Those star players certainly help his production. Running back Christian McCaffrey is still one of the best the league has on offer while receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are incredibly dangerous. George Kittle is a top-3 tight end in the league and a groin injury doesn't seem to hold him back from playing in Sunday's game.

The Steelers defense has its own stars that we know well. But a top-10 defense from a year ago will have its hands full at Acrisure Stadium nonetheless. Here are three keys for that talented defense to help ensure the Steelers walk away from Week 1 1-0.

Steelers Must Pressure Purdy

It goes without saying, but the Steelers biggest strength needs to be the biggest influence in the game.

Purdy was fairly comfortable in his five regular season starts last year. He was sacked just 11 times, an average of just over two times per game. Trent Williams is his left tackle, but the third-highest paid blind side protector can't stop T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith at the same time.

Right tackle Colton McKivitz has just five NFL starts in his three-year career. His prize for being the Week 1 starter is facing Watt most of the day. Kittle and the 49er running backs will assist, but Watt is known for being the biggest headache in Week 1. He's usually good for at least a sack and turnover apiece. His impact is necessary and can't be understated.

How the Steelers generate extra pressure will be the bigger task. Cam Heyward, Keanu Benton, and Larry Ogunjobi will each be tasked with opening up rushing lanes for the new interior backers for the blitzes while generating an interior push of their own.

In the end, taking advantage of some slight inexperience on the 49ers' offensive line and with Purdy under center will be the Steelers' best chance at containing the explosive skill players on the San Fransisco offense. We haven't seen Purdy affected by much pressure in his short career outside of the NFC Championship game, and even then, he left the game too early to see how it truly affected him. It's time for the Steelers to prove whether a relentless pass rush makes this unproven quarterback crumble.

After all, Purdy can't get the ball to Samuel, Aiyuk or Kittle if he's on his back.