PITTSBURGH — Here is how the 49ers graded in Sunday’s 30-7 season-opening win over the host Steelers:
PASS OFFENSE: A
Two plays on the opening drive explained a lot about how this became a rout. First, rather than run on fourth-and-1, George Kittle caught Brock Purdy’s pass in the flat and charged 11 yards to the Steelers’ 34-yard line, which Purdy said went “exactly how we drew it up.” The other play: Purdy’s 8-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Brandon Aiyuk dead center of the end zone, after Deebo Samuel distracted the defense, which center Jake Brendel described as “the way it was drawn up, which was sweet.” To summarize, the 49ers had months to prepare and practice for this opening drive, and they executed it into a 7-0 lead to neuter a hostile environment. Purdy (19-of-29, 220 yards, two touchdowns; 20 rushing yards) showed last season was no fluke and his elbow is no problem. Aiyuk had eight receptions on eight targets for a career-high 129 yards and two touchdowns, both against Patrick Peterson.
RUN OFFENSE: A
Christian McCaffrey crushed the Steelers’ comeback hopes when he spun free and raced 65 yards for a touchdown on the second snap of the second half. He was averaging 5 yards a carry before that run. Running to the left makes a lot of sense when Trent Williams is your left tackle, and also when 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt lurks on the other side. Elijah Mitchell had just 10 yards on five carries. The 49ers’ 188 yards rushing were their sixth-most in a season opener.
PASS DEFENSE: A
The first of Drake Jackson’s three sacks was the most important, because that third-down takedown came on the opening series. Charvarius Ward positioned himself well to nab an interception at midfield on the next series. Talanoa Hufanga got his own interception, and as for his attempted lateral to Tashaun Gipson that was deemed an illegal forward pass, Hufanga said he was trying to emulate a feat his mentor Troy Polamalu did on the same Pittsburgh field. Kenny Pickett, aside from the first half’s closing touchdown drive, looked inaccurate and flustered while completing 31-of-46 passes for 232 yards. Pickett wised up on that touchdown drive to target cornerback Ambry Thomas for four completions; Thomas left for a concussion evaluation and was cleared, Shanahan said.
RUN DEFENSE: A
This was lost in the hoopla but the Steelers’ first rushing attempt saw Fred Warner level Najee Harris for a 2-yard loss with Patrick Willis-type force. Harris managed only 31 total yards on six carries, and his 24-yard run gave the Steelers their initial first down with only 1:16 left until halftime. Deommodore Lenoir drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on that Harris run, which wasn’t smart but reflected how physical and punishing the 49ers’ defense is. Remember, no team won last season the week after playing the 49ers.
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SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Jake Moody was perfect in his NFL debut, making all three of his field-goal attempts (41,32 and 40 yards) plus his three point-after kicks. Mitch Wishnowsky pinned all three of his punts inside the 20-yard line, and his game-opening kickoff resulted in a touchback, which in retrospect was a bigger positive because the Steelers later had kick returns of 25, 32 and 34 yards.
Yes, Shanahan’s offense was impressive from the opening script. Don’t overlook how well defensive coordinator Steve Wilks debuted, with his unit not allowing a first down through the Steelers’ first five possessions. Only 19 more wins to go.