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.
- 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.