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Steelers Stock Report: Whose stock is falling after the loss to the 49ers

Well, that was disappointing. The Steelers were thoroughly beaten from pillar to post all game Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh by the San Francisco 49ers.

I wanted to see a Steelers squad ready to compete, and to execute. Sadly, the Steelers weren’t prepared to do either. The Steelers were out coached by a large margin. The first play of the season was a 6 yard completion to George Pickens. The second play was a telegraphed jet sweep to Calvin Austin III for no gain. The Steelers had the perfect opportunity to impose their physical mindset by running the football on second and short. The failed jet sweep play call set the tone for the day.

The Niners looked like contenders, and the Steelers looked like pretenders. The Steelers were inadequate and subpar on every level of football. Some articles are fun to write. This isn’t one of those articles.

Steelers Stock Trending Up: T.J. Watt

Watt is truthfully the only Steeler worthy of inclusion on any section labeled trending up. Watt played his heart out Sunday, as he was obviously motivated to make a statement with the defending NFL DPOY Nick Bosa watching on the Niners sideline. Watt was a one man wrecking crew. He totaled 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Bosa might be the highest paid defender in the league, but Watt showed why he is the best defender on the planet.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Pass Coverage

Before I call out Teryl Austin and company for their passive aggressive pass coverage concepts, I would be remiss if I failed to mention how badly Levi Wallace stunk up the joint against the Niners. Wallace was consistently out of position throughout the game, and extremely slow to read and react. His biggest miscue happened when he totally whiffed on Christian McCaffrey’s long touchdown run on the second play of the second half. You simply can’t miss that tackle if you have outside containment.

As bad as Wallace was on Sunday, the defensive game plan didn’t do Wallace and his teammates any favors. The Steelers coverage concepts were maddening. The Niners are a run after the catch passing attack, focusing on getting the ball to their playmakers in rhythm and in position to run with the pigskin. To slow down the Niners passing game, you have to disrupt their timing. The Steelers secondary offered absolutely no resistance.

The Steelers inexplicably adhered to the passive zone concepts we have seen for years. The contest turned into a simple game of pitch and catch between Brock Purdy and his receivers. Rookie CB Joey Porter Jr hardly saw the field on a day his press abilities were desperately needed. The Steelers should have mixed up their coverages, with plenty of aggressive press coverages, daring Purdy to beat them over the top. Maybe he would have, maybe not, but you better believe that the Niners were going to decimate those passive zone concepts, and they did. Death by a thousand papercuts.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Offensive play calling

I already touched a little on this subject a little earlier in this article, so I will be brief. The offensive game plan made no sense. I believe that the Steelers were blinded by their preseason success.

This offense is built to establish the running game, and work play action and misdirection off an efficient rushing attack. The Steelers appeared ready to build on the late season formula of success they achieved last year, but they apparently become enamored with the splash play potential they showed during the preseason.

Who knows, maybe they will develop into a big play offense, eventually. But odds are that wasn’t going to happen in Week 1, against the best defense in the NFL last season. Matt Canada’s game plan was shaky at best. The players definitely didn’t execute, but he didn’t put them in position to be successful. Basically, the Niners know exactly who they are, while the Steelers are still trying to answer that question. The Steelers need to find their identity, quickly.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Observations

Cameron Heyward’s groin injury is extremely concerning. These types of injuries can linger, especially for a 34 year old defensive lineman. So much depends on the severity of the strain, which makes the Steelers decision to put him back into a game they were getting dominated in that much more questionable. Yet another bad decision by the Steelers coaches on a day full of them.

On a dark day all of us would rather forget, there were a few individual bright spots:

Anthony McFarland Jr was so effective on kick returns early in the game that the Niners started kicking away from him. His blockers were creating seams, and he was hitting them with authority. Solid job all around.

The Steelers front seven played hard throughout the game under difficult circumstances. They were stranded on the field far too long due to the offense’s inability to possess the football. The depth was further tested due to numerous injuries. I thought DeMarvin Leal, Keeanu Benton, and Isaiahh Loudermilk showed plenty of heart and consistent effort throughout the contest. The inside linebackers were more impactful than at any point in 2023. The defensive front seven competed, but the aforementioned secondary and game plan did them no favors.

I purposely saved this observation till last. When I turned on the television, I saw RED, literally. The stadium was filled with Niners fans, to the point that all the red attire was easily visible. Not just in certain sections either. All over Acrisure Stadium. It reminded me of all the times that Steelers Nation has overwhelmed opposing stadiums with lackluster fanbases. Right down to the “Let’s go, Niners!” chants that inevitably broke out in the second half. A truly embarrassing day for the Steelers franchise, both on the field and in the stands. The standard is the standard. Apparently some have forgotten.

In conclusion, the Steelers must rediscover their identity, on both sides of the ball. This offense was constructed to play off it’s running game. As a second year QB, Kenny Pickett is a talented game manager who is not yet ready to carry an offense. He needs an efficient running game, and game plan, to be effective. He had neither on Sunday.

The defense needs to utilize their impressive depth according to the weekly matchups. Teryl Austin’s game plan was totally inadequate against the Niners offense. We saw more of the same from the Steelers game plan, on both sides of the ball. Eerily similar to the early stages of last season. Unacceptable, with multiple weeks to prepare. Yes, that criticism includes Mike Tomlin.

Burn the game tape. Throw away the film. Whatever you got to do to move on. Look in the metaphorical mirror, and find your identity. Keep climbing, or die on the vine.

Go Steelers! Beat those freaking elves.

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