Overreaction Monday: 10 Takeaways from 49ers’ 30-7 season opening win over Pittsburgh

The San Francisco 49ers opened their 2023 season with a 30-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Here are my ten takeaways from the victory:

1 Brock Purdy is the real deal.

When questioned about Purdy’s ability to be the 49ers starting quarterback over the offseason, Kyle Shanahan stated “Brock’s the real deal.”

Purdy proved his coach right during a season opening win which saw the quarterback reach several firsts. On Sunday, Purdy became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw multiple touchdowns in each of his first six regular season starts. Purdy posted a passer rating of 111.3, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to post a passer rating of 95.0 or higher in each of his first six regular season starts.

In addition to the NFL firsts, Purdy continued to show dominance when throwing into the intermediate area of the field. As a rookie Purdy completed 80.4% of his passes when targeting receivers 10 to 19 yards from the line of scrimmage. That percentage is far and away the best by any quarterback since Pro Football Reference began tracking the stat in 2003.

On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Purdy finished 9-10 with two touchdowns on throws into this area of the intermediate area.

Purdy also showed off his ability to use his legs to make plays. On one play a blitzer came free off the left side, Purdy spun to avoid the rusher and ripped a throw to Deebo Samuel while running to his left. In addition to his quickness, this throw showed that Purdy’s surgically repaired UCL in his throwing arm is just fine.

One last thing, there have been several questions about Purdy’s velocity over the offseason. His 19-yard touchdown throw to Brandon Aiyuk answers those. Purdy had more than enough power and pinpoint accuracy on that throw, one of the best in the NFL over week one.

2 Christian McCaffrey’s vision changes the running game.

McCaffrey’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield overshadows how good he is as a runner.

What separates McCaffrey from the rest of the 49ers backs is his vision. He sees the hole opening before it does and has the acceleration to quickly get through.

McCaffrey’s vision was on full display when he burst through the line for a 65-yard touchdown on San Francisco’s second play after halftime. The score gave McCaffrey at least one touchdown in 10-consecutive games. This is the longest active streak in the NFL and ties Freddie Solomon (1984) for most by a member of the 49ers.

3 Brandon Aiyuk was perfect.

Aiyuk was perfect on Sunday, catching all eight passes which came his way. His 129 receiving yards were a career high. Sunday marked the third time in his career that he registered at least two touchdowns in a game.

The combination of Aiyuk, McCaffrey and Kittle creates mismatches for the 49ers offense. Each can stretch defenses vertically and horizontally, forcing opponents to cover the entire field.

4 Drake Jackson cleans up the mess.

Jackson recorded three sacks against Pittsburgh, tying the sack total from his rookie season.

While Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, and Arik Armstead created a mess in the pocket, Jackson was able to use his closing speed to take down Kenny Pickett. Jackson looks ready to be the 49ers breakout performer this season.

5 Strong up the middle

Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave dominated in the trenches. The duo held the point of attack in the run game, allowing Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw free runs to Steelers ball carriers.

The duo also showed off their pass rushing abilities. Hargrave registered a sack and quarterback hit. Armstead finished with a quarterback hit and pressured Pickett repeatedly.

6 Fred Warner was everywhere.

Warner lived up to the nickname “All-Pro Fred” on Sunday. The linebacker was all over the field. He went from blowing up Najee Harris on a run resulting in a tackle for loss, to nearly coming away with at least two interceptions.

The first near miss for Warner came after Clelin Ferrell pressured Pickett into a bad throw. Warner likely could have taken the pass back for a touchdown, but he could not hang on.

In the second half, Warner had perfect coverage up the middle of the field. Again, he got his hands on the ball, this time deflecting it directly to Talanoa Hufanga for an interception.

7 Talanoa Hufanga and Charvarius Ward take the ball away.

San Francisco’s defense recorded 20 interceptions in 2022, the most in a season since Kyle Shanahan took over. With the help of constant pressure up front on Sunday, Charvarius Ward and Talonoa Hufanga each registered an interception.

Tight coverage on Diontae Johnson led to Ward’s interception. Hufanga was in the right place at the right time to come away with a deflection from Fred Warner.

The 49ers secondary had tight coverage across the board. It looked as though every time a pass went to a Steelers player a San Francisco defender was waiting to make a play.

8 Jake Moody

Missed field goals in the preseason by Moody had many 49ers fans worried about the kicker the team selected in the third round.

However, the rookie kicker had been strong throughout the offseason and training camp. This finally showed in a game on Sunday as he split the uprights on each of his six attempts, three field goals and three extra points. Moody connected from 41, 40 and 32 yards out.

9 Too many penalties

San Francisco committed 11 penalties on Sunday totaling 85 yards, second most across the NFL in week one.

Penalties stalled two offensive possessions, forcing a field goal and punt. On the defensive side, a pair of penalties against Deommodore Lenoir helped extend a Pittsburgh drive at the end of the first half leading to the only points allowed.

Although San Francisco dominated on Sunday, they need to get this cleaned up moving forward.

10 Colton McKivitz has up and down debut.

It was a mixed bag for Colton McKivitz. Making his first NFL start at right tackle against T.J. Watt, McKivitz allowed three sacks, one quarterback hit and one pressure. That is the down.

San Francisco had a 20-point lead before Watt garnered his first sack. That is the up.

That McKivitz won’t be facing players with the ability of Watt every week is of little consolation. San Francisco’s top opponents in the NFL each has edge rushers who will do have that ability. McKivitz will need to show marked improvement before facing Cowboys pass rusher Mikah Parsons or Hassan Reddick of the Eagles.

This article has 32 Comments

  1. Agreed on all ten points, particularly #9. But TJ Watt makes plenty of OTs look sketchy.
    PS: I read that McGlinchey had a rotten day in pass protection.

    1. Maxx Crosby made McGlinchey look like the human turn-style that he is.

      I guess it was a revenge game of sorts for Crosby who struggled a bit against McGlinchey (no sacks, 5 pressures) in the 49ers/Raiders matchup last season.

  2. Great game! I didn’t think the score would be like it was. But two things need to be straightened out. They have got to vastly improve their mental game in the form of minimizing those lousy penalties! Spencer Burford got three by himself! And Colton Mckivitz allowed three sacks by himself. I know TJ Watt is their version of Nick Bosa and is very good, but I think it makes no sense that he can’t hang. He better learn because the Niners will be facing tougher teams than Pittsburgh. Like the Dallas Cowboys with Micah Parsons. Philly Eagles with Hasson Reddick. They should have Kyle Juszchec help him out at times. I don’t think I spelled Kyle’s last name right. Then in next year’s draft, get a technique-wise better versatile right tackle to replace Colton if he does not improve. Hope that’s not a big if.

  3. it is just incredible how ks doesn’t want to help out the OL when they are facing elite players, it is a violent game but things can be done to protect the qb

    1. Agreed. I don’t get it either. It’s about winning and trying to keep your players as healthy as possible. KS is great at the Xs and Os and other aspects of football (like an OC should be) but doesn’t seem to understand the overall strategical awarenss that a head coach should have. I also don’t understand why he can take the stars out of the game earlier when the game is in hand. These are simple changes and modifications that he could make or if he has a mental block due to his genius, hire someone to manage game issues like that. He’s the best coach we’ve had in a long time, but seems to lack perspective on some big picture items.

  4. I’m on squad rotation watch. I like that we pretty much killed the game once McC scored his TD. However, player availability may be what decides how high the ceiling is on our season. I think the front office agree to some extent; hence, the signing of Sam Darnold. However, we have some players who are practically irreplaceable so where the load can be shared, I hope it will be. It’s good for the starters and it’s good for the back-ups should we need to rely on them.

  5. I thought Ferrell and Hyder looked good as well as Jackson. The 9ers rotation at DE looks solid. How did Kinlaw look? Who else rotated at DT and how did they look? Are there any trade targets out there for McKivitz? If McKivitz doesn’t show big improvement soon I don’t think they can hang with him too much longer unless they really want to see Darnold. If Burford can’t handle Donald and McKivitz struggles again the Sunday it could be along day for BP.

    1. McKivitz is their best option so they will stick with him. Good tackles don’t grow on trees so no one is going to trade away a good tackle. It’s only been one game and against JJ Watt. It will get better.

      1. McKivitz is who we have. It seems like the solution is to help him when he goes up against elite DEs. Utlimately the goal is to protect Brock.

        I wonder if they are having Bosa work with McKivitiz. It would only make McKivitz better or alternatively show that he currently is at his ceiling and they better replace him after this season.

  6. I agree with you, Old Coach. I think that the right side of the O-line possibly could be our Achilles heal. A weakness. And if KS doesn’t do something we’re in trouble going against tougher teams. Smart defensive coordinators will take notice of the weaker right side and exploit them. I.G. Going against the Cowboys, Micah Parsons is up there with Fred Warner. He will have a field day against Mckivitz unless they get him some help. Otherwise Brock Purdy will be running for his life.

    1. OH, THAT’S RIGHT!! Aaron Donald of the Rams next week! Oh, man, KS. Please get the right side some help BEFORE they get BP injured.

  7. That McKivitz won’t be facing players with the ability of Watt every week is of little consolation.

    Jack is overreacting here.

    It is of GREAT consolation because he won’t be facing players like Watt every week.

    Jack needs to stop nitpicking here.

    Colton will be fine.

  8. Good wrap-up by Jack. It is too soon to rejoice and feel comfortable, but the hints of a good season are there. Purdy looks fine-as good as last year and perhaps better. That TD pass over Peterson was a thing to behold. Ayuk is auditioning for a bag.

    Moody could be the gem we hoped we had. Too soon to know but he has a strong leg. CMC is the real thing. If he stays healthy, he is fall of fame caliber. His IQ and anticipation are off the charts. It is tempting to overuse him but do not! As for Purdy-Trey who?

  9. OC, Jack answered your question decisively: “this throw showed that Purdy’s surgically repaired UCL in his throwing arm is just fine.”
    It also shows why a dad would call his son ‘icky’…

  10. 2 more take aways:

    Kenny Pickett played truly awful. There were plenty of plays to be had against the 49ers defense but he missed them all. I don’t think this game is a true barometer of the 49er defense. 49ers front 7 is very strong but that secondary has some holes that can be exposed.

    Colton McKivitz was not good. He needs help. When facing an elite pass rusher, the 49ers need to chip or go max protect and double that pass rusher. The blocking scheme against Watt was a real head scratcher. Hopefully, thats just a beginning of year learning experience that can be fixed.

    1. Hey, 1.6 Patriot. I agree. Like I said in my above article, Colton is potentially an Achilles heal. KS needs to have somebody help him at least against elite passrushers before we end up having to have Sam Darnold in there if Brock gets hurt again.

  11. Jack
    I’m curious as to what you see as the biggest upset in NFL 2023 week one?
    * For me, I see the Jets beating the Bills 22 to 16 as the biggest! Especially after losing Rodgers 4 plays into Q1.
    * The 2nd biggest upset (and most satisfying for me ), was the Rams beating Seattle 30 to 13! Especially after all the hype and BS how the Seahags would win the NFC West over the 9ers!
    Separating the PRETENDERS from the CONTENDERS!

    1. Yes big upsets both but I agree the most satisfying was the Rams over the Seahawks. I think Seattle is a pretender but the upset of the Bills was likely a one off.

  12. All of this talk about KS giving McKivitz help has two sides. How KS draws up plays is masterful every player out in the pattern has a purpose and they are not all out in the pattern as an option for BP. One or two of the players are out there to draw the D in a way that opens things up for another receiver. If KS holds in an eligible player other eligible receivers won’t be as open or open at all. My point is holding in players to help McKivitz will protect BP better but it will also hamstring the offense. The 9ers went with an open backfield often Sunday. On those plays KS has to draw up 3 step drops with one option for BP, if that option is not open he has to have BP throw the ball away. If McKivitz needs consistent help they need to start looking for a replacement IE a trade. We traded in season for E. Sanders in 19 and CMC in 22 there is no reason they can’t make an in season trade for an OT this year. If McKivitz plays this week like he played last week I believe they need to start looking around or just get ready for Darnold and then Allen.

    1. OC, is it common to make in-season trades for a non-skill position? I just don’t recall those types of deals. Typically we think of fill the stat sheet guys like WRs, DEs, RBs, etc.

      Still, they should have just spent some draft capital on the offensive line again this year. It’s tough knowing you’re a Super Bowl contender and a rookie will likely not play along the line, and this would also be taking up a roster spot, but it’s also short sided to think the team can just ignore the Achilles heel of this offense.

      On the flip side I think the organization’s talent evaluation along the offensive line has been rather offensive anyway.

      Glad we’re not paying McGlinchey big money to be just average to downright mediocre at times. But we still need more bodies. Maybe McKivitz will get better as the season goes along.

      1. I agree. It’s easy to criticize Kyles decisions without understanding the full scope of what they are asking for. The Niners obviously believe McKivitz is their best option which is the only opinion that matters.

  13. I hope McKivitz looks better this week. As concerned as I am about McKivitz I am almost equally concerned with Burford. I believe the biggest mistake the 49ers made this off season was letting D. Brunskill go at a very cheap price. Brunskill was a better guard than Burford and a better tackle than McKivitz.

    1. Totally agree. Especially when he played tackle one season — he was really good.
      Wasn’t much run production on the right side, either.

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