Serious questions arise after Steelers were served a slice of humble pie in Week 1

Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

After all the talk about how well Omar Khan's first draft went and all the discussion about how the Steelers upgraded their offensive line and how it will improve the passing and rushing game, we saw the results in action in the home opener against the 49ers. Pittsburgh was just handed one of their top five worst season-opening home losses in team history. What did we learn from this debacle, and where do the Steelers go from here?

It's too early to press the panic button; we still have 16 more games left to play. However, when comparing this performance to Pittsburgh's first half of the 2022 season, it leaves some fans scratching their heads. Last season, we knew Kenny Pickett was on the bench if Mitch Trubisky faltered. Now, if Pickett falters, okay, we go back to Mitch Trubisky? Not exactly a promising prospect.

We do need to temper this just slightly. It’s not unusual for the Steelers to start slowly and have some bad games in September. They typically begin gelling as the season goes on. Thus, the Steelers should have some better performances before the end of the season. Yet their performance in the opener leads to more troubling questions about whether the Steelers have improved from last season.

The problematic questions

When the Steelers 2023 draft was over, everyone seemed impressed that the Steelers had massively improved their offensive line by adding Nate Herbig and Isiah Semulo through free agency. Meanwhile, Darnell Washington and Broderick Jones through the draft.

Judging the Steelers' offensive performance against the 49ers Sunday, Pittsburgh's offensive line didn't look like it had improved much. They gave up five sacks and only recorded 198 passing yards, per ESPN stats. while the 49ers' defense was in Kenny Pickett's face all day.

Add to that a dismal rushing performance. The Steelers only managed 41 rushing yards on ten carries. In fact, the Steelers only had one rush of significant value. Take away Najee Harris' second-quarter rush of 24 yards on their only scoring drive, then the Steelers had 14 rushing yards on nine carries. It's not a performance people had in mind with the Steelers efforts to bolster their offensive line.  

Another lingering question is a holdover from last season. How long will it take before people pull out the torches and pitchforks to run  Matt Canada out of town, assuming the problems of week one continue? The Steelers only running ten times doesn't help them win many games, especially if the offense seems as vanilla as it did last season.

Some online discussions questioned whether Canada finally had all the pieces he needed to make his offense work. After Sunday's performance, one wonders if Canada could make his offense work even if he had Bradshaw, Franco, Rocky, Swann, Stallworth, Webster, Kolb, Mullins, Davis, and Randy Grossman.

When we look at the defense, the Steelers brought in Patrick Peterson and drafted Joey Porter Jr., Keanu Benton, and Nick Herbig. Then the 49ers passed for 220 yards and two touchdowns while Christian McCaffery shredded the Steelers defense for 152 yards and one touchdown.

The only defensive highlight was T.J. Watt tying James Harrison for the Steelers all-time sack record and causing a fumble at the same time. It could be a long season allowing the opposition this much offensive production.

Another injury plagued season?

If their performance wasn't bad enough, the Steelers lost Cam Heyward for up to eight weeks to a groin injury, Diontae Johnson to a hamstring, Chukwuma Okorafor went into concussion protocol, DeMarvin Leal suffered an upper arm injury, and Pat Freiermuth got roughed up with a chest injury despite returning to the game.

If any of these players are out for any length of time, then rookies and backups will have to step up early if they have any hopes of salvaging the season. It's not a position that helps the Steelers going forward.

While fans shouldn't have any knee-jerk reactions to the result of the Steelers season opener, there are certainly some areas of concern if the Steelers can not make any necessary adjustments after Sunday’s game.

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