Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

1 Winner and 7 Losers after the Steelers 30-7 loss to the 49ers

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday for the 2023 regular season opener when they played the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 of regular season action. The Steelers were losers in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good or bad performance.

Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.

Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the latest game…

Winner

T.J. Watt
Stat Line: 5 tackles, 5 solo, 3 sacks,1 pass defense,1 TFL, 5 QB Hits, 2 FF, 1 FR

On a day when not much went well, Watt is always the player who shows up. Watt’s three sacks tied him with James Harrison for the Steelers franchise record, yet not one was talking about this milestone being reached. Instead, Watt was answering questions after the game talking about missed tackles, blown assignments and overall poor play. Watt is a Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, and hopefully he’ll be able to get his teammates back on track in a hurry before the Browns come to Acrisure Stadium in Week 2.


Losers

Kenny Pickett
Stat Line: 31/46, 232 yards, 5.0 ave.,1 TD, 2 INTs, 5 sacks for 34 yards, 68.4 rating

There will be a lot of fans who will be calling for Matt Canada to be fired after the 30-7 drubbing. It’s understandable, but you also have to point out when a player doesn’t play well. That is exactly what you have to do with Pickett after Week 1. Was the play calling good? No, but neither was the accuracy or execution of the quarterback. Pickett is capable of more, we’ve all seen it, but this was a new dimension of ugly we’ve never seen. To be honest, Pickett never looked that bad his entire rookie season. The fan base will give him a one-off for a bad performance, but if this becomes a trend there will be some ready to depart the Pickett bandwagon.

Offensive Line
Stat Line: 41 yards rushing / 5 sacks allowed / 9 QB Hits

If there was a group which caused a lot of excitement for the Steelers fans this offseason it would be the offensive line. Additions of Isaac Seumalo and Broderick Jones had fans hopeful for the future of the line, and while one poor performance doesn’t signify a dreadful season, it wasn’t a good start. There were no rushing lanes for any running back, the 49ers defensive front lived in the backfield. Not pretty from start to finish.

Rush Defense
Stat Line: CMC 152 yards, 49ers total rushing 188 yards

Making teams one-dimensional is priority No. 1 for every NFL defense. Stopping the run, limiting the damage on the ground, makes the opposition forced to beat you on your terms. In this game, the run defense was porous, especially after Cam Heyward left the game, and allowed the 49ers to do whatever they wanted on offense.

Levi Wallace
Stat Line: 0 PD, missed tackles and assignments

I hate to single out one player in a dismal performance across the board in the secondary, but Levi Wallace was the one who was noticeable when it came to things like missed tackles and overall sub-par play. The Steelers stuck with Wallace of Ahkello Witherspoon, and I’m not suggesting they made the wrong choice, but if Wallace isn’t careful he’ll be seeing Joey Porter Jr. enter the game for him sooner rather than later.

Whoever is responsible for covering Brandon Aiyuk
Stat Line: 8 rec., 129 yards, 16.1 ave., 2 TDs, 23 long, 8 targets

If the Steelers were planning to take Deebo Samuel out of the game, they did an okay job there. The problem with this plan was they like Aiyuk run wild on them. Purdy never threw an incompletion when he targeted Aiyuk, and fans will have nightmares with Aiyk running wide open through the Steelers secondary. Whatever the plan was, was a failure. As for execution, miscommunication was the theme of the day.

Coaching Staff
Stat Line: Two weeks to prepare

As a staff, they had two weeks to prepare for this game. I used to always say “give Mike Tomlin an extra week to prepare and he’ll cook up something good. While this was true the last two seasons, it wasn’t in 2023. The Steelers were never in this game, and never even showed a pulse. From top-to-bottom it was a disaster, and a lot of that falls on the coaching staff. Is it all on the coaches? Absolutely not, they aren’t the ones tasked with making plays. Nonetheless, it isn’t as if they are absolved from blame.

Injuries
Stat Line: Laundry list of injuries

They say adding insult to injury, well this was injury to an absolutely insulting performance. The Steelers injuries to Cam Heyward (groin), Diontae Johnson (hamstring), DeMarvin Leal (elbow/triceps), Chuks Okorafor (concussion protocol) and Pat Freiermuth (chest) was a lengthy list after Week 1. Throw in the fact you had a player like Larry Ogunjobi not 100% with his foot injury and the Steelers have some serious injury concerns heading into Week 2.


If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast in the player below where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!

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