The Pittsburgh Steelers took one on the chin in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. Despite playing at home for the first time in the season opener since 2014, the Steelers were flat to start the game and fell, 30-7, to the 49ers.
One of Pittsburgh’s lone bright spots was edge rusher T.J. Watt. He posted 3 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and 1 tackle for loss. With his 3 sacks, Watt tied James Harrison for the most sacks in Steelers history.
But Watt wanted no part of discussing the historic significance of the Steelers’ sack record during his postgame press conference.
“I don’t want to diminish what it is, but I’m just super upset about the results of today,” Watt said. “Not happy with it. Not acceptable on many levels.”
Despite Watt’s efforts, the Steelers allowed 391 total yards and 5.5 yards per rush. The 49ers scored touchdowns on 2 of their 3 redzone possessions and converted 6 out of 13 third-down attempts.
Steelers’ T.J. Watt Calls on Himself, Teammates to ‘Improve Quickly’
Watt was arguably the only member of the Steelers making any plays in Week 1. But as is the case with every elite NFL player, the bar is high, and Watt said he needs to make more plays next week.
The rest of the Steelers defense also needs to follow his lead.
“There’s so many more plays to be made out there, myself included,” Watt told reporters. “Just looking at a lot of the runs. What we can do better. What I can do better.
“We need to improve quickly. We have a tough opponent coming up this week, so we need to get in the lab.”
The Steelers will host the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football in Week 2. Cleveland upset the Cincinnati Bengals on September 10, holding quarterback Joe Burrow to a career-low 82 yards in a 24-3 victory.
The Browns averaged 5.2 yards per rush.
After allowing Christian McCaffrey to gain 152 rushing yards, run defense will likely be a focal point for Watt and the Steelers in practice this week.
Steelers Defense Starts Slowly in Both First & Second Half
Breaking away from their strategy last season, the Steelers won the coin toss and took the ball to begin Week 1. That decision backfired tremendously.
Pittsburgh’s offense went three-and-out, and after a 34-yard punt, the 49ers began their first drive at their own 46-yard line. San Francisco reached the end zone in just 7 plays.
The start to the second half for the Steelers defense was even worse. The Steelers scored just before halftime to pull within 13 points. But McCaffrey ran for a 65-yard touchdown on the second play of the third quarter.
“We were able to start fast in all three phases of the game and today was definitely not like that,” Watt told reporters. “Even to be able to stop the bleeding come out of halftime and have them have a 2-play 70-plus yard drive is not acceptable at all.”
Watt stressed starting faster to begin both halves in his postgame press conference.
“It’s a matter of starting fast not just in the first half but also coming out in the second half, going as hard as we can, giving the offense the ball back, which we were not able to do.”
T.J. Watt Ties James Harrison’s Steelers Sack Record
Heading into the season, it was a race between Watt and Cameron Heyward to see who could break the Steelers’ sack record first. Heyward entered Week 1 this year 2 sacks behind Harrison’s record while Watt sat 3 back.
With his performance against the 49ers, Watt reached Harrison’s mark first. Both Steelers legends have 80.5 sacks in the record books.
Only Watt amassed 80.5 sacks in 89 fewer games than Harrison did.
The 28-year-old also finished third or better in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2019 and 2020.
Watt’s hot start has him again positioned to make a run at the NFL’s most prestigious defensive award. But he and the Steelers will be aiming for more team success in Week 2.