5 Steelers surprises in Sunday’s loss against the 49ers

Each week our SCU staff and contributors picks the “surprises” from the Pittsburgh Steelers latest matchup. Check out more below to see which plays and situations surprised us the most!

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the San Francisco 49ers for their Week 1 season opening matchup at Acrisure Stadium.

The Steelers would loss their first game of the season by a margin of 30-7 to start with a 0-1 record. Here are some of the surprises from that game.

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Kenny’s Accuracy

For a quarterback that went¬†perfect passing through three preseason games (five drives) it’s hard to believe that second-year pro Kenny Pickett was so off the mark on Sunday.

The stat sheet wouldn’t display the necessary passes that were high, low or behind receivers, as Pickett completed¬†67.4% of his throws. Yet, the possession charts would, as the Steelers failed to gain a third down until their final possession of the first half – and had only gained a single yard of offense total up to that point.

Pickett will have to work with his quarterback coach Mike Sullivan to improve on his slow start in the coming weeks.

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T.J. Watt

If there’s one player who always brings it, it’s Watt. The 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year terrorized the 49ers to the tune of three sacks, five quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles (with one of those recovered and another with a challenge upheld.)

He continues to be a one man wrecking crew that will keep the Steelers in any game.

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Rookies Playing

The top five picks from this year’s draft all saw playing time on Sunday for the Steelers, but the order – and amount – of which they played may perplex those who didn’t see the game unfold.

First round pick Broderick Jones did not start ahead of Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle, but was forced into action for four snaps near the end of the game when Chukwuma Okorafor was injured. Moore moved to the right side while Jones played on the left.

Pick 32 overall, Joey Porter Jr., saw seven total snaps in the defensive backfield.¬†Pittsburgh’s other second round pick, DT Keeanu Benton, also entered the game due to injuries to Cameron Heyward and DeMarvin Leal. Benton would see 29 snaps for 43% of all defensive plays.

Third round pick TE Darnell Washington played 24 snaps (38%) while fourth round selection LB Nick Herbig played 16 plays (24%).

It was a mostly good showing for the rookies who all had to step in due to various circumstances.

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Run Defense

I think I speak for most of Steelers Nation when we believed this was solved in the offseason. Yet, the 49ers, behind RB Christian McCaffrey, smoked the defense for 188 yards on the ground. 152 of those, including an early third quarter 65-yard run, came from McCaffrey.

It’s going to be a long season if the team can’t contain the run against ground-based attacks, including some within their own division.

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Special Teams

Steelers punter Pressley Harvin III was his usual inconsistent self. When the Steelers needed big punts, he would provide one… then not.

From the Steelers own 20? A 34-yard punt that setup San Fran at their own 46. Then you’d get a booming 54-yard punt followed by a 57-yard punt and then? A 36-yarder that couldn’t land within the 20.

The field position battle was lost on special teams before it the defense even entered the field (offensive struggles notwithstanding).

One bright spot, however, was Anthony McFarland Jr., who returned three kicks for 91 yards (30.3 average) including a 34-yard long.


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