2023 Steelers Season Recall: First home opener in years results in embarrassing beatdown by San Fran

Steel City Underground presents our 2023 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

Steelers Nation was brimming with anticipation for the start of the 2023 NFL season following Pittsburgh’s explosive 3-0 start to the preseason.

The offense appeared to be trending upward with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett looking to take the next step in his career. Unfortunately, the first home opener during kickoff weekend at Acrisure Stadium in years turned into a disaster for the Steelers.

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Despite touting a top-level defense, the Steelers ran into a juggernaut of a 49ers offense to open the game, while the Steelers offense was unable to move the ball nearly at all. For a quarterback who went perfect passing through three preseason games (five drives) it was hard to believe that Pickett played so poorly.

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.

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Behind RB Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco smoked the Steelers defense for 188 yards on the ground. 152 of those, including an early third quarter 65-yard run, came from McCaffrey. The 49ers would jump out to a 20-0 lead before the Steelers finally put points on the board with ten seconds remaining before halftime.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was squarely blamed, once again, for not having his team ready for a season-opener, as it was a total collapse by the Steelers in every phase of football.

Punter Pressley Harvin III was his usual inconsistent self too. A 34-yard punt setup San Fran at their own 46 but then Harvin would boot a 54-yard punt followed by a 57-yard punt. Then he’d shank a 36-yarder that wouldn’t land within the 20.

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The Steelers rookie draft class would all see action in this game, but with very few snaps to go around for top picks Broderick Jones (who didn’t start) and Joey Porter Jr., the 32nd overall selection in 2023, 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%).

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It was as if the entire team collapses with the exception of one player: T.J. Watt. The Steelers linebacker 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.)

However, Watt’s efforts weren’t enough for the whole team as the Steelers would lose their first game of the season by a margin of 30-7 to start with a 0-1 record. Next up would be a Week 2 AFC North encounter with division rival Cleveland. Stay tuned next week as we revisit that game and others throughout our weekly recall series.

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