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Steelers Week 1 wishlist vs. 49ers

Dear Santa…

Isaac Seumalo #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during the preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Acrisure Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off their 2023 season with a whole lot of hope, but unfortunately, they’ve got one of the toughest matchups all season long in the San Francisco 49ers right out of the gate. With their gears always at 110%, there won’t be much time to get warmed up.

The ultimate wish for Week 1 is, of course, a win. Even if the Steelers don’t nab one, however, there are still several things this unit could indicate that this team is trending in the right direction.

Here’s my Steelers Week 1 wish list.

Competence on the offensive line

Even if the 49ers defensive line with Nick Bosa and former Steeler Javon Hargrave is one of the league’s best, there’s still some hope that this newly revitalized offensive like with Isaac Seumalo at left guard and a fitter Dan Moore Jr. at tackle could be a winning combo. The couldn’t ask for a bigger test to open the season, however. Even without Hargrave on the interior in 2022, the 49ers managed a 22.9% pressure rate, ranked 11th in the league, posting 69 total quarterback knockdowns (third-most).

To ask for perfection against this defensive front would be a tall order, but what feels reasonable is a show of competence against one of the toughest teams in the trenches they’ll face all season. Two or fewer sacks for Pickett feels like it would be a huge win against this unit.

Limiting yards after the catch

As HC Mike Tomlin noted several times in Tuesday’s pregame press conference, the 49ers have one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. What makes the 49ers offense so dynamic is their ability to generate yards after the catch. It’s what Kyle Shanahan’s scheme was made for. Limiting yards after the catch has not always been what the Steelers defense has been made for, unfortunately.

Tomlin hinted that this game plan might feature some different matchups than you’d typically see, as the coaching staff aims to matchup up defenders with similarly skilled athletes, presumably to help limit some of these chunk gains after the catch where Pittsburgh’s found themselves in trouble before.

Poise from Pickett

Perhaps one of the best indications of second-year QB Kenny Pickett’s growth this offseason has been just how comfortable he looks executing the offense. Of course, that’s just been over the course of five drives through the preseason, but it’s a good sign of what’s to come. After all, looking poised under pressure and not allowing that pressure to force unwise throws is a skill that not all quarterbacks possess.