Analyzing the Steelers Week 1 loss to the 49ers, by the numbers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were in front of their home crowd to start the NFL regular season for the first time in eight years. Unfortunately, the setting did not factor into the game’s outcome and the Steelers defense struggled to slow down the San Francisco 49ers while the offense didn’t make much noise the entire day. To say it was not a good start to the season would be a huge understatement regardless of the quality of the opponent.
So without further ado, here are some of the numbers involved in the Steelers Week 1 loss to the 49ers.
While the turnover margin is often a measuring stick to the success of a team, this one did not play into it as much as other times. When the Steelers are playing high quality opponents, this number can’t be negative and expect to win. But even if the number were positive, it would have had to be significantly higher in order for it to affect the outcome of the game. The 49ers did turn both Kenny Pickett interceptions into field goals yet the Steelers came up empty after T.J. Watt’s strip sack and fumblerecovery.
The Steelers offense starting slow has been something that has plauged them for several seasons. The Steelers started the 2023 season with more of the same as they did not achieve their first 1st down of the game until there was less than two minutes to play in the first half and they were already trailing 20–0.
Because of the way the game played out on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers only had 10 rushing attempts in the game for 41 yards. Although a 4.1 YPC isn’t terrible, the fact that the Steelers only had nine scheduled runs is troubling as one of the rushes came when Kenny Pickett escaped the pocket and ran for 4 yards. To say the Steelers rushing attack was non-existent cannot be determined based on their quality but is more a product of the quantity.
After some much was made of the Steelers going five for five when it came to scoring touchdowns on offensive drives by the first unit throughout the preseason, the numbers didn’t even come close to equating in the Steelers first regular season contest. I’m just as guilty as everyone else by being impressed with what the Steelers first offense did in the preseason, but having 11 drives in the game and only scoring a touchdown, or any kind of points, on one drive is not going to win many games in the NFL.
4th & 1
After the Steelers went three and out on their opening drive and gave the ball to the 49ers close to midfield, Steelers had an opportunity to get the ball back with good field position early in the game. After stuffing Christian McCaffrey on a 3rd & 1 for no gain on the 49ers third offensive play, the Steelers had the opportunity to make a statement when the 49ers went for it on 4th & 1 at the Steelers 45-yard line. Unfortunately, the pass completion from Brock Purdy to George Kittle for 11 yards was too easy and three players later the 49ers had their first touchdown of the game.
After cutting the game back to only a two score lead before halftime, the Steelers defense needed to make a stop to give the offense an opportunity to crawl back into things. But on the second play of the second half, the Steelers gave up a 65-yard touchdown run to Christian McCaffrey which could have been stopped after only a few yards gained. Instead the Steelers gave up 35% of the rushing yards surrendered on one play and and crushed any momentum the team possibly could have had rolling into the second half.
Although it seems like the Steelers couldn’t stop the 49ers offense, it’s not as though they spread the ball around to a lot of people. In fact, only four different players caught passes in the game for the 49ers. Brandon Aiyuk lead the way with 129 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions followed by Deebo Samuel with 55 yards on five catches, George Kittle with 19 yards and three catchers, and Christian McCaffrey with 17 yards on three catches. The 49ers simply didn’t need to spread the ball to any more than these four players in the passing game.
Just about the only positive thing coming out of the game was the pass rush of T.J. Watt. Getting three sacks in the game, Watt is now tied for the Steelers franchise record in sacks with 80.5. It is a pretty impressive pace for a player who did so in the first game of his seventh season. Watt had the only sacks for the Steelers in the game and also had five of their seven quarterback hits along with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The Steelers are coming out of this matchup banged up from a physical 49ers team. Players such as Cam Heyward, Diontae Johnson, and Chuks Okorafor did not finish the game. The Steelers also had injury concerns with DeMarvin Leal and Pat Freiermuth. Having five starters dealing with injury (DeMarvin Leal was announced as a starter with the defense in the pregame), the Steelers may have to make adjustments in the next matchup for these players who may potentially be unavailable.
There’s no game to add to the win column this time, but the more significant number is the Steelers have eight days to get their act together, get healthy, and come out with much higher quality play when they face the Cleveland Browns next Monday night in Pittsburgh.
So there are some numbers to help put the Steelers Week 1 loss in perspective. With the exception of T.J. Watt putting up some numbers, there was nothing positive to take from the game.
So what numbers from Sunday’s game stand out to you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.