Steelers Report Card for Loss to 49ers – Teeth Kicked in Edition

Taken from the grade book of a teacher whose students aced the practice test only kicked in the teeth on the real exam, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2023 opening day to the 49ers.

Javon Hargrave, Steelers vs 49ers

Javon Hargrave celebrates with an air kick after sacking Kenny Pickett. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review.

Quarterback
On the face of it 31-46-232 for 1 TD and 2 interceptions might seem respectable. But it was not. Kenny Pickett was off every time it counted. He didn’t shy away from the center of the field but that’s where he threw his worst interception (OK he had a far uglier almost interception.) Pickett can still make the 2nd year leap – at this point he can only go up. Grade: FSteelers, Report Card, grades,

Running Backs
Take away Najee Harris’ 24 yard scamper at the end of the 2nd half and he and Jaylen Warren totaled 13 yards rushing. The duo added 14 more through the air. Unacceptable by any measure. Grade: F

Tight Ends
Pat Freiermuth caught the only touchdown but missed a key block on a shove jet sweep on the second play of the game. Connor Heyward caught 2 passes. The Steelers needed more from their tight ends. Grade: F

Wide Receivers
Allen Robinson II had a respectable day and Calvin Austin caught 6 passes for a total of 37 yards – this is the kid who is supposed to spread the defense? Diontae Johnson contributed to Pickett’s first pick, and he and Pickett failed to connect on what should have been an easy touchdown pass. George Pickens had 5 catches for 36 yards. Grade: F

Offensive Line
Steelers running backs averaged 1.6 yards per carry if you control for Harris’ long run. 49er defenders recorded 8 tackles for losses. Kenny Pickett was sacked 5 times and hit a total of 9 times. It’s as if the second half of 2022 never occurred. Grade: F

Defensive Line
San Francisco 49ers average 5.5 yards rushing. And that’s including two kneel downs. That isn’t entirely on the defensive line’s shoulders, but it starts there. Grade: F

Linebackers
T.J. Watt was a man on fire. The rest of the unit got burned. This was the first time the inside linebacking group played together in a game that counted and it looked like it. Both Elandon Roberts and Alex Highsmith authored some good places, but as a whole the unit was below the line. Grade: D

Secondary
Brandon Aiyuk had his third best outing in terms of catches and his best one measured by yards. Patrick Peterson defended a few passes nicely, but he was on coverage for some of those plays against Aiyuk. Levi Wallace took a poor angle and missed a tackle on Christian McCaffrey’s 65 yard run. Minkah Fitzpatrick took a poor angle on a key blitz. Brock Prudy very well may prove that he’s the next Tom Brady on his own merits. But even if he doesn’t, the Steelers certainly made him look like Brady. Grade: F

Special Teams
After an awful opening three and out, Pressley Harvin shanked a 34 yard punt, setting up the 49er’s first score. Later on, long snapper Christian Kuntz got called for a face mask, tacking on a 15 yard penalty and setting up another score. Ex Steeler Ray-Ray McCloud III set the 49ers up other scores with solid punt returns. Chris Boswell made his only PAT. Grade: F

Coaching
The Steelers knew they had to limit the 49ers yards after catch. They knew they couldn’t let Christian McCaffrey reach the second level. On offense the Steelers understood that the 49ers were the tough to run on and would need to win the battle in the trenches.

  • We know that because Mike Tomlin told us.
Anthony McFarland, Steelers vs 49ers

Anthony McFarland was a bright spot for the Steelers. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

We have every reason to take him at his word that he, Matt Canada and Teryl Austin did their damndest to prepare their units for the 49ers. Whatever they did, it didn’t work. Grade: F

Unsung Hero Award
How to you find a hero after an awful game like that one?

Well, one easy way is to avoid mentioning a highlighting his key contribution to his unit and mention him here. Against the 49ers Anthony McFarland returned kicks for 25, 32 and 34 yards and for that McFarland wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2023 opening day win over the 49ers.

 

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Steelers Cut Anthony Miller, Bolster Special Teams with Nick Kwiatkoski, Rex Sunahara

Two seasons, one catch for two yards on third and 6 in 41-10 loss. Alas, that stat will define Anthony Miller’s Steelers resume as the team announced his waiver to create roster space for Nick Kwiatkoski.

The Chicago Bears drafted Anthony Miller in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Yet in three years at the Windy City, Miller never started more than 7 games. The Bears traded him to the Texans in July 2021, but he only lasted in Houston until October 6th. The Steelers signed shortly thereafter opening the door to his one catch 2 yard career in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Miller,

Anthony Miller’s Steelers Career consisted of 1 catch for 2 yards. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Still, Anthony Miller impressed a lot of people in training camp during the summer of 2022 and appeared as a roster lock prior to going on injured reserve in August. The Steelers quickly offered him a futures contract in January and his name was mentioned along side Calvin Austin III as it became apparent that Omar Khan would neither use a premium pick nor a major free agent signing on a wide receiver.

They’ve also signed Hakeem Butler whom they took a long look at going into the 2019 NFL Draft. And of course they’re bringing back Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Gunner Olszewski.

Steelers Bolster Special Teams with Nick Kwiatkoski and Rex Sunahara Signings

In letting Anthony Miller go the Steelers gave Special Teams coach Danny Smith a boost by signing linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. The Bethel Park native and West Virginia alumni was a fourth round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2016 NFL Draft. He brings the Steelers 89 games of experience with 34 starts for the Bears and then the Raiders.

However, injuries limited his 2021 campaign to just 66 defensive snaps for the Raiders and he saw zero defensive snaps on his most recent stop with the Atlanta Falcons. He did log close to 400 combined special teams stops in those cities and special teams will be his ticket to a roster spot in Pittsburgh.

  • The Steelers also signed long snapper Rex Sunahara to compete with incumbent Christian Kuntz.

The Kwiatkoski signing sends a strong signal that the Steelers have turned a page from both Derek Watt and Benny Snell, two running backs who saw few carries over the last two years, but were both special teams standouts.

 

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Changes: Steelers Hire Aaron Curry, Fire Jerry Olsavsky Resign Christian Kuntz

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has made his first coaching hire of the off season by naming Aaron Curry as the team’s inside linebackers coach. Curry arrives as a replacement for Brian Flores, who left Pittsburgh after a one year stint to take the defensive coordinator job with the Minnesota Vikings.

Curry comes to the Steelers from the Seattle Seahawks which has been his NFL home. Seattle drafted him in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft and he has served as an assistant coach with them since 2019. He spent his first two years as an assistant linebackers coach and the last two as a defensive line assistant coach.

Curry got into coaching at the University of Charlotte in 2014 where he coached defensive line and worked with current Steelers Alex Highsmith and Larry Ogunjobi.

  • Aaron Curry’s arrival, however, signals the end for another long time Steelers veteran.

Jerry Olsavsky joined Mike Tomlin’s staff in 2010 as a defensive assistant until earning a promotion to inside linebackers coach, a title he held since 2015. Although he retained that title last year after Brian Flores’ arrival, his role with the team appeared to be in doubt.

Jerry Olsavsky

Jerry Olsavsky at the Steelers South Side training complex. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Unfortunately for Olsavsky those doubts were well-founded. The team made no announcement of his departure, but his picture and bio disappeared from the team website. Jerry Olsavsky went to the University of Pittsburgh and was the Steelers 10th round pick in the 1989 NFL Draft.

Jerry Olsavsky distinguished himself in 8 starts as a rookie in the place of the injured Hardy Nickerson and topped that off with a blocked punt that helped fuel the 1989 Steelers upset of the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome on New Year’s eve.

Olsavsky earned the starting role during the 1993 Steelers season only to see his knee destroyed in a road game at Cleveland that saw the Dawg Pound pelt him with beer bottles. Overcame that injury and was back on the roster by late 1994, served as a part-time starter for Chad Brown in 1995, started for most of 1996 after Brown moved to outside linebacker to take over for Greg Lloyd, then finished his service to the team in 1997 serving as a backup for Earl Holmes and Levon Kirkland.

Olsavsky lost his wife, Rayme L. Olsavsky, to cancer in 2021 so it is possible that this father of 3 made his own decision to walk away from the Steelers. But the manner in which his departure has been communicated suggests the opposite is the case.

Steelers Make First Free Agency Move

The Steelers also made their first free agency move by extending a one year tender to exclusive rights free agent Christian Kuntz. Kuntz is a product of Duquesne and Chartiers Valley and beat out Kameron Candy for the long snapper’s job during 2021 training camp.

Since then he’s appeared in 34 games for the Steelers.

Most fans probably don’t even recognize let alone know his name. And if you’re a long snapper, that means you’re doing your job.

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