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.