Why Steelers season-opener vs 49ers is a critical game

Steelers / Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
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The Steelers offense

The 49ers will be much the same team as they were in 2022. They will still have Brandon Aiyuk, Samuel Deebo, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffery offensively. Brock Purdy returns as the starter, backed up by Trey Lance, though we must wait out the pre-season to see if Purdy gets the nod as the starter.

This offense will be a major test for the Steelers newly improved defense. Their defense will be just as challenging, led by Justin Hargrave and Nick Bosa. Thus the Steelers offense and defense will have its work cut out for in the first week.

Given the upgrades the Steelers got through the draft, they want to have a good showing in this game, and it undoubtedly will set the stage for the rest of the season. It will let fans see how well Kenny Pickett performs with the addition of Broderick Jones at left tackle. Will Pittsbugh's running game fare better with the Steelers new offensive tackle as they utilize Darnell Washington as a blocker as well?

If the Steelers go out and their offense ends up being anemic as it was in 2023, struggling to score, then there may be questions as to whether Pickett is the true franchise quarterback for the next decade. If Najee still can’t find any open lanes well, then we may need to look at whether the Steelers draft was as good as it looked on paper or if the Steelers have a Najee Harris problem. On the other side of the spectrum, it could re-ignite fans' cries to run Matt Canada out of town.