49ers blowout Steelers 30-7 in 2023 season opener; Five burning questions answered

The San Francisco 49ers opened their 2023 season by blowing out the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-7. San Francisco’s victory marks just the third time in Kyle Shanahan’s tenure the team has won its season opener.

San Francisco wasted little time showing how the game was going to play out. After the 49ers defense forced its first of five consecutive three and outs, the offense took over. Opening its first possession near midfield, Brock Purdy capped off a quick seven play, 54-yard drive when he found Brandon Aiyuk alone in the endzone from eight yards out.

A field goal on its second possession gave San Francisco a ten-point lead. This was followed up by a nine play, 68-yard drive which was capped off by a 19 yard touchdown strike from Purdy to Aiyuk. Steelers cornerback Patrick Peterson had good coverage on Aiyuk, however Purdy put the back shoulder throw on the money and the receiver hauled it in.

After taking a 20-7 lead into the half, San Francisco wasted little time getting on the scoreboard again. On the second play of the half, Christian McCaffrey busted through the line scrimmage for a 65-yard touchdown run to open the lead up to 20.

From that point on the second half was all about getting out of Pittsburgh healthy. The 49ers got a brief scare when Trent Williams was forced to leave the game. However, the All-Pro left tackle was back on the field when San Francisco took over possession of the ball.

Let’s look at the answers to my burning questions for the big week one contest.

1 Can Brock Purdy handle the pressure? YES

Purdy was outstanding on Sunday, completing 19 of 29 attempts for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan called Purdy “the real deal this offseason. On Sunday, the quarterback proved his coach correct. Throughout the first half Purdy consistently got the ball out of his hands quickly. This helped the offensive line in pass protection and allowed his playmakers to do what they do best.

As he did last season, Purdy was particularly impressive when targeting the intermediate area of the field. He also showed his quick feet, moving in the pocket before making a throw or taking off on a scramble to make something positive out of a tough situation.

With his two touchdown throws on Sunday, Purdy became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw multiple touchdowns in each of his first six regular season starts. With a passer rating of 111.3, Purdy also became the first QB in NFL history to register a passer rating of 95.0-or-higher in each of his first 6 career regular season starts. By scoring 30 points, the 49ers have now scored at least 30 points in five of Purdy’s six regular season starts.

2 Does Colton McKivitz keep T.J. Watt off the quarterback? NO

Making his first start at right tackle, McKivitz allowed three sacks to Watt and five hits on Brock Purdy.

McKivitz played well early on but began to struggle late in the second quarter. Some of that was due to obvious passing situations. Also, as the game went along it seemed that Purdy had to hold on to the ball longer and Watt is flat out one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

  1. Can the 49ers offensive line generate push in the running game? YES

The 49ers offensive line dominated Pittsburgh in the running game. This allowed Christian McCaffrey to rip off several chunk plays, including a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play after halftime. McCaffrey finished with 152 yards rushing on 22 carries.

In addition to his 65-yard run early in the second half, the offensive line created space for several chunk runs by McCaffrey. For example, gains of nine and 17 yards on the first possession of the game put the 49ers inside the Steelers ten. Ten of McCaffrey’s 22 carries went for at least five yards.

4 Will the San Francisco defense step up against the run? YES

The 49ers defense was dominant in this game. It seemed as though every time a Steelers offensive player moved, he had someone in his face to knock him down.

Any concern about San Francisco’s ability to stop the run faded away early in the game. The 49ers defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, holding Pittsburgh to just 41 yards rushing, 24 coming late in the first half when Najee Harris took off on a draw.

Except for the one burst, San Francisco limited Pittsburgh to just 1.9 yards per rushing attempt.

5 Can the 49ers pass rush get to Kenny Pickett? YES

With the running game nonexistent, the onus for moving the Steelers offense was placed on Kenny Pickett. He didn’t stand a chance against the 49ers pass rush.

On Sunday, Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead, Clelin Ferrell, Drake Jackson and Kerry Hyder Jr. were all over Pickett. Throughout the game it seemed like everywhere a Steelers player turned there was a 49er ready to make the hit.

The Steelers quarterback was hit nine times. Jackson led the way with three and Ferrell was next with two. The others all had one apiece.

Jackson also led the way with three sacks, tying the total from his rookie season in just one game. The second-year defensive end doesn’t win on his own, but his closing speed allows him to make the play and clean up the chaos created by his teammates. Hargrave and Hyder Jr. chipped in a sack each.

This article has 41 Comments

  1. Jack,
    I just watched G. Cohn’s post game vlog. He said that it is obvious that BP’s arm is weaker than last year. He described his passes as wounded ducks. Did you observe the same thing?

    1. GC is an idiot. Not only does BP consistently prove him wrong, but he’s probably also pissed that Bradshaw said Lance is a career backup.

      1. He is idiotic and I don’t get why people listen to him. Listening to stupidity isn’t entertaining to me.

    2. OC, reading Giant Clown’s puerile diatribes is an act of futile blasphemy.
      Please keep that to yourself.
      GC helped Jack get this jig, don’t ask him to contradict someone who writes for clicks.

      1. I just wanted Jack’s opinion. I know BP didn’t have a full TJ but his procedure is in the same vein and a number of baseball players have said they didn’t recover their velocity until the 2nd year at which time they said they gained velocity.

    3. I’m not sure what Cohn’s angle is, but as in every business, you can only get away with fooling people for so long. Eventually it catches up to you, and instead of learning the game and putting the work in, he’s gone completely bat shit crazy and decided he’ll just put up the most nonsensical garbage and generate clicks. As much as I get his dad Lowell stirred the pot to some extent, at some point you’d expect him to have a talk with his son about trying to fake it. Because the son is well beyond crossing the line.

    4. OC, please stop mentioning the puerile diatribe from a disgruntled provocateur.
      It’s only for clicks and adds nothing to Jack’s blog.

      1. OC, sorry about the double post. My computer was glitching and didn’t show my first post. Wasn’t badgering you but now it looks like it.
        I didn’t see BP flubbing passes, I did see some TD’s though!

    5. First off why in the world are we talking about Grant?? Second, Brocks second touchdown pass to B.A.
      was a thing of beauty, dropped it in a bread basket. I don’t know about arm strength, but those balls
      are (often) exactly where the receiver wants them.

    6. Hey OC,

      Sorry I missed this earlier. Purdy’s arm is every bit as strong as it was last year. The TD throw to Aiyuk, 20 yards to the sideline from the far hash shows it.

  2. My observations are as follows. The O looked unstoppable early. The O line opened consistent holes for CMC but not for Mitchell. Mckivitz may be a serious weak spot against the top teams especially come the playoffs. The Wrs and TEs looked excellent. Purdy looked very good but he needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball.
    Moody looked very good hopefully he can get back to kicking off soon. Wishnowski is the best punter in football in my opinion. D line was great especially versus the run. LBs out standing although I didn’t notice Burks like I would Al-Shaair. The DBs give up too much underneath, with the pressure on the QB that our D line produces the DBs need to jam at the line more. Ambry Thomas looks as bad as ever. One thing I don’t get is every time I see Womack play he looks good but the 9ers continue to use Thomas and Oliver. Well lets get the Rams they looked alot better today than most of us thought they would.

    1. Are you still predicting that the Seahawks will win the Division. They were blown out today by the lowly Rams on their home field.

      1. Felix, didn’t you confidently tell us the 49ers are keeping all three of Purdy, Lance and Darnold all year?

        Everyone has their takes..

  3. GC’s attempt to be out-the-box is his shtick. It’s gritty and even annoying for me, but it has also garnered him a big following.
    Good for him.

    1. Cohn has certain biases that make his anti-Purdy comments predictable as his mistaken trey statements are wrong. Cohn is a dark complicated figure at times. That said, he can be entertaining and can raise legit. points.

      1. I dont think Cohn is as much anti Purdy, as he is anti Kyle..Kyle made the choice, naming Purdy the starter over Cohns beloved Mr Potential High Ceiling Huge Upside…so nothing Purdy does will garner any complimentary dialogue from Cohn…he’ll condemn the passing yards as being too little…the distance the ball travels downfield before a receiver catches it, as not enough..incompletions as making the wrong read…interceptions as ineptitude…to him, Lance was the only viable option for the 9ers to have a ‘franchise qb’..so he’ll get on his YT channel and whine about how Lance was ‘mistreated 😭😭😭’ by the team..and especially Kyle and Lynch…just to keep his minions of Lance jock swingers happy

  4. I’m concerned that Mitchell’s straight-up running style will cause fumbles as well as leaving him more succesible to upper body injuries. I believe that we will see more of Davis-Price going forward.
    I believe that Kittle only had one catch today, and that could be due to his injury.

    Lenoir made a bone-head play hitting a WR when he was out of bounds. Then he followed that up with another flag that led to Pitts only TD. Lenoir has to be smarter going forward.
    Still a very nice win. Hearing the “let’s go Niners” chants was sweet!

    1. AES,
      Kittle had 3 catches today one was an important 4th down play. that being said I do agree with you Kittle didn’t look 100%. As to Lenoir, the personal foul was a dumb play but the 2nd penalty for illegal contact I think was a bad call. I think the contact was inside 5 yards.

      1. Thanks Coach. He did have 3 catches. I don’t watch fox sports until the football season starts. The freaking fox sports (chanel 40 in Sac) apparently is in a contract dispute and I missed half of the 1st Qrtr until I found another alternative. 😫!

        The C’boys looked pretty good tonight in beating the helpless NYGs. They may give the Eagles their biggest test in 2023. The 49ers will be in the mix for the NFC Championship likely against one of these teams.

  5. The team looked good for this time of the year.
    Always nice when they are undefeated.
    First goal , get into the playoffs .
    Go 9ers

    1. I thought the team looked really good and for all the hype that Pittsburg was getting, a very impressive win. I have no doubt they will win the division and make the playoffs I don’t see Seattle being a threat nor the Rams. Now I think the goal should be best record so they have home field advantage.

  6. Someone in the live blog commentary — It may have been Cubus — nailed it when he said KS doesn’t take a strategic overall perspective to the season. Leaving star players in the game too long. Letting offensive lineman sink or swim against the best pass rushers in the league. He’s absolutely right and why despite the win today, I’m still of the belief the 49ers will never win a Super Bowl under KS.

    1. And oh yes. Less I forget, Cohn is razor on in his commentary on Purdy’s arm. As a senior citizen, I could zip a football considerably better than Purdy did today. If Purdy’s arm doesn’t get him this season, McKivitiz and that offensive line will. This blog is sowing unwarranted hope.

      1. Oh please, really? You honestly think you throw a football faster than an NFL quarterback? Thats just beyond laughable. On a more realistic note, arm strength is one of many skill sets a quarterback needs and one of the least important. To rate a quarterback, don’t look at their physical attributes, look at how they play the game. Purdy is setting records so having an average arm, if thats even true, is useless information. Talk about not seeing the forest through the trees.

        1. Trump threw those signed footballs of his out to his fans at the Iowa-Iowa State game yesterday better than Purdy did to some of his receivers today. And who would ever consider Trump as a quarterback. Gadzooks! Perhaps Purdy will regain some arm strength a year hence, as some ucl experts have suggested.

          And Jack. Really look forward to the information you are providing on this revitalized blog. Don’t always agree. But that said, you’re doing a terrific job of commentary and analysis, so much better than your immediate predecessors.

          1. Oh, yeah, DT throwing…he perfectly read the coverage and the routes up in the stands, with the same quickness and under the same pressure as an NFL QB. Now Arm strength or zip counts in QB rating formula?

          2. Oh, yeah, DT throwing…he perfectly read the coverage and the routes up in the stands, with the same quickness and under the same pressure as an NFL QB. Now Arm strength or zip counts in QB rating formula?

          3. First off why in the world are we talking about Grant?? Second, Brocks second touchdown pass to B.A.
            was a thing of beauty, dropped it in a bread basket. I don’t know about arm strength, but those balls
            are (often) exactly where the receiver wants them.

          4. 49ersUnderKSraBust, Well you are right about Jack at least. The rest of it, not so much.
            Go back to the second touchdown to B.A., how could that throw be improved?

  7. The Niners were superior until they built a 20 point lead, and then they flattened out with some disinterest. Overall this was a fine game for the team and the fans, and likely more are coming. Meanwhile, I agree with critics who wished the starters had been pulled out as the one-sided game was evident.

    (Iggy Cohn is a jerk and should not be mentioned in this blog.)

  8. Great way to start the season. Getting a W on the road was fantastic – especially in Pittsburgh. I really don’t think CMC gets enough credit for his field vision. His ability to navigate traffic to maximize runs is really fantastic. Very few backs in the NFL see the field as well as CMC. Purdy looked good as well but give credit where credit is due. Brandon Aiyuk is uncoverable. The number of throws to Aiyuk where he was wide open was astounding. On the O-line, I would give them a grade of incomplete. Burford did not play well. McKivitz did not play well. The one thing that really chaps my hide about Shanahan is – How many times are you going to leave your OT 1v1 against TJ Watt? Curious how many of those were mistakes by Brendel or Purdy where they needed to rotate protection. Also, why in the world was Bosa and CMC still in the game so late in the 4th qtr. That was stupid.

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