San Francisco 49ers at Pittsburgh Steelers
SAN FRANCISCO (15-5) at PITTSBURGH (9-8)
LAST MEETING: 49ers beat Steelers 24-20 on Sept. 22, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.
49ERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (5) ,RUSH (8), PASS (13), SCORING (6)
49ERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (1), RUSH (2), PASS (20), SCORING (1)
STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (23), RUSH (16), PASS (24), SCORING (26)
STEELERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (13), RUSH (9), PASS (19), SCORING (10)
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: 49ers plus-13; Steelers plus-4.
49ERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Brock Purdy went from the final pick of the draft last season to leading the Niners to the NFC title game. He won his first seven starts before injuring his elbow early in the NFC title game loss at Philadelphia. He underwent surgery in March, but appears back at full health for the start of the season. He will look to build on last season when his 108 passer rating in the regular season and playoffs was highest of any QB with at least 200 attempts and his 8.3 yards per attempt ranked second.
STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR George Pickens. The talented 6-foot-4 Pickens tantalized as a rookie last season and appeared to develop a rapport with QB Kenny Pickett as the season wore on. The Steelers insist they want to be more explosive offensively as Pickett settles in. If they are serious, Pickens figures to be a major part of the plan. He averaged 15.4 yards per reception in 2022, a number that could tick up in 2023.
KEY MATCHUP: Pittsburgh’s offensive line against San Francisco’s defensive front. The Steelers signed G Isaac Seumalo away from Philadelphia in the offseason and drafted tackle Broderick Jones and tight end Darnell Washington out of Georgia with the idea of wearing down opponents. The 49ers are not most opponents.
KEY INJURIES: AP Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa ended his holdout on Wednesday and is expected to play, but could have his snaps limited. ... K Jake Moody (quadriceps) and returner Ray-Ray McCloud (wrist) returned to practice this week and are hoping to be ready to play Sunday. ... The Steelers are healthy to start the season. DT Larry Ogunjobi (foot) was limited during the week but is expected to play.
SERIES NOTES: The home team has won each of the past five meetings. ... The 49ers are 6-5 all time in Pittsburgh, but haven’t won in the Steel City since Dec. 15, 1996.
STATS AND STUFF: The 49ers have made the NFC title game the past two seasons and will try to be the first NFC team to reach three straight conference title games since they did it from 2011-13. ... The Steelers won seven of nine to end 2022 and extend coach Mike Tomlin’s streak of non-losing seasons to 16. Expectations will be higher in 2023 with Pickett entering his second season. An excellent preseason by the first-team offense (five touchdowns in five possessions with Pickett on the field) showed signs Pickett may be ready to make a significant step forward after a steady but not spectacular rookie campaign. ... San Francisco is 2-4 in season openers under coach Kyle Shanahan. ... Niners 49ers LB Fred Warner is the second player since at least 2000 with at least 115 tackles in his first five seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Kirk Morrison also did it for the Raiders from 2005-09. ... San Francisco ranked first in the NFL the past four seasons under DCs Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans in fewest yards allowed per play (5.0) and per game (301.8). Steve Wilks makes his debut as Niners defensive coordinator on Sunday. ... RB Christian McCaffrey averaged 114.8 yards from scrimmage per game with 10 TDs in 10 starts for San Francisco last season. ... DT Javon Hargrave is set to make his 49ers debut after having 11 sacks last season for Philadelphia. San Francisco didn’t have a DT with more than two sacks last season. ... The Niners led the NFL last season an average of 6.63 yards gained after the catch. The Steelers were last at 4.05. ... Pittsburgh is opening at home for the first time since 2014, a 30-27 win over Cleveland. ... The Steelers are 47-38-5 all time in openers, including an 11-4-1 mark under Tomlin. ... Pittsburgh’s 31 victories in Week 1 since 1970 are tied for fourth highest in the NFL during that span. ... The Steelers’ 122 wins against NFC opponents is the most in the AFC since the AFL-NFL merger. ... Pickett set rookie franchise records in completions (245) and attempts (389) last season. The former Pitt star also had just one interception over his final seven games, a span in which the Steelers went 6-1. ... Steelers WR Diontae Johnson is one of six active players with at least 85 receptions in each of the past three years. Johnson, however, failed to get a touchdown in 2022. ... Pittsburgh DL Cam Heyward and OLB T.J. Watt both figure to surpass former OLB James Harrison’s career sack total this season. Harrison had 80 1/2 sacks with the Steelers. Heyward begins 2023 with 78 1/2 sacks. Watt is right behind him at 77 1/2.