The Steelers and 49ers are led by second year quarterbacks, giving a lot of hope for each squad. The Steelers were listed as almost everyone's "breakout candidate" going into the 2023 season. Conversely, the 49ers reached the NFC Championship in 2022 and are considered Super Bowl contenders again this season. This matchup was highly anticipated and many saw it as a potential defensive showdown.
The game started off slowly for the Steelers with 4 punts and an interception in the Steelers first 5 drives. On the other side, the 49ers scored in each of their first 4 drives. The game immediately felt out of control and the Steelers simply looked unprepared. The Steelers offensive line took the heat of the stacked 49ers defensive line. They allowed 5 sacks, 3 of them by the hands of Drake Jackson.
This game was an embarrassment for Tomlin and the Steelers and they will look to gain back some confidence against the Browns on Monday Night Football against the Browns next week. Practice and film this week will be filled with many corrections to gear up for the Browns coming off of a huge 24-3 win.
What went right
T.J. Watt was absolutely amazing as advertised in week 1. He recorded 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. He was the Steelers lone bright spot in a devastating blowout loss to start the season. Watt tied James Harrison's sack total of 80.5 in 90 fewer games than it took Harrison. Watt will be the foundational piece on this defense once again and seeing him get off to a hot start is encouraging for the Steelers.
With surrounding edge rushers Alex Highsmith, Markus Golden, and Nick Herbig on the other side of T.J., Watt, opportunities will be open for their performance with the dominance of T.J. Watt on the opposite side of the line. Every gameplan against the Steelers will be focused around T.J. Watt, allowing the other edge rushers to have a bigger role.
What went wrong
Everything starts with the quarterback and Kenny Pickett simply did not play up to expectations today. He faced a lot of pressure taking 5 sacks, but when he was clean, he missed his throws. The offense looked to attack through the passing game early but struggled to get anything going until it was too late. This was a huge surprise after Kenny Pickett had a perfect preseason by scoring a touchdown on all 5 preseason drives he played in while posting a perfect QBR. Today Kenny Pickett and the Steelers didn't gain a first down through their first 5 drives.
The Steelers defense as a whole was a major disappointment, as the Steelers identity is found in them. It didn't help that team captain Cam Heyward exited the game to not return. The secondary play was poor beyond measure. Brandon Aiyuk appeared uncoverable as he went for 129 yards on 8 receptions. On the ground, Christian McCaffrey shredded the Steelers for 152 yards on 22 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. The defense will need vast improvement if they want to compete in an electric AFC filled with elite offenses.
The offensive line for the Steelers is still suspect as it was last year after adding Isaac Seumalo and drafting Broderick Jones. Broderick Jones; after being drafted 14th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft; did not start for the Steelers today. Dan Moore Jr. started in his place. It will be interesting to monitor the development of Broderick Jones.