The 49ers put on a masterful performance Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The final score was 30-7, and the game was never close. Kenny Pickett struggled mightily, while the Niners offense did whatever they wanted to against what many consider to be a high-end defense.
Let’s go over a few overreactions from Week 1 and determine whether they’re accurate or not.
The 49ers are the best team in the NFC
The NFC is expected to be a three-team race between Dallas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. You can make a strong argument that the Niners had the best performance. Unlike the Giants, the Steelers have a legitimate receiving threat, an experienced head coach, and a dominant pass rush.
Pickett had 11 drives, and the Steelers scored once. You would have had no idea that the 49ers had a new defensive coordinator. Offensively, 30 points on 12 drives, averaging nearly six yards per play, while a Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the other side of the ball wreaks havoc rivaled what the defense did.
Each of the top contenders were thrust into difficult environments, but it’s not an overreaction to come away from Week 1 thinking that Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers can be the best team in the conference.
Give Brock Purdy an extension before it’s too late
Déjà vu. Too soon? We saw what happened the last time the 49ers gave an extension, a record-breaking one at that, after a small sample size. It did not work out.
Many have speculated why the team continues to clear cap space. Brandon Aiyuk is up for a new deal after this season. Other key contributors like Dre Greenlaw and Talanoa Hufanga are right around the quarterback. But, if the quarterback continues to play this way, it’ll be tough for him not to want to be compensated for it.
Brock Purdy has yet to lose a game that he’s finished. One worry coming into Week 1 was how Purdy would react to the Steelers’ pressure, and if he’d have enough time to push the ball down the field.
Purdy finished third in Week 1 among all QBs in average completed air yards. It’s one game, but Purdy had more attempts and completions beyond 15 yards than he did at or behind the line of scrimmage. This was not the case last year.
Thirteen of Purdy’s 29 attempts were over ten yards. He had nine attempts over 15 and a few more over 20. And this all came in a blowout, without the 49ers really needing to throw the ball at all in the second half.
We had to find out the hard way how Purdy would deal with pressure. While he did fumble — I’m not sure if you can fault him for that — Brock also extended plays with his legs and showed enough elusiveness, which led to first downs.
It’s probably an overreaction to say Purdy deserves a new contract less than a full season of starting. But the evidence is there and this was supposed to be a “trap” game of sorts where he was supposed to look rusty. It may not be long until we’re discussing what a new deal would look like for Purdy.
The 49ers have a right tackle problem
How much of Colton McKivitiz’s performance can be assigned to him simply being outmatched, and the Niners failing to help him? What does that pie chart look like? T.J. Watt is among the best pass rushers in the league. We knew that coming in, and that came to fruition early and often.
Watt had three sacks, two quarterback hits, a tackle for loss, and probably a handful of other outright wins on the afternoon. Yet, I can’t recall a time when the 49ers chipped Watt with a tight end or had a running back helping to his side.
McKivitz was a fifth-round pick. Sunday was the first time he’s played starter snaps since Week 18 of 2021, which was a meaningless game. Essentially, this was McKivitz’s first career start at right tackle.
As the game went along, you couldn’t help but think to yourself, why the 49ers didn’t bring in more competition at right tackle, or use a draft pick on the position. Yes, they were up against the cap, but was a raw tight end or a kicker going to have more of an impact? That’s doubtful.
Again, it’s one game, and McKivitz could turn out to be fine once he realizes what he can and can’t get away with at right tackle. Being thrown into the fire against a stud like Watt is no easy task.
But Aaron Donald is on the schedule next week, followed by Kayvon Thibadeaux, and after the Cardinals we’ll see Micah Parsons, then Myles Garrett, then Danielle Hunter. We’ll know within a month if McKivitz is cut out to be the team’s right tackle of the future.
The passing game needs to run through Brandon Aiyuk
The target distribution, albeit in a blowout, was fairly even. Brandon Aiyuk had eight targets, Deebo Samuel had seven, George Kittle had six, and Christian McCaffrey had five. Those are the team’s core eligible receivers.
Aiyuk, unlike any other eligible on the roster, wins 1-on-1 consistently at every level of the field. It’s evident that he has a great rapport with his quarterback, but I think the depth of Aiyuk’s routes Sunday are a big reason as to why he should be the focal point of this offense. Here is Aiyuk’s route tree:
Purdy put the touchdown down the right sideline on Aiyuk’s facemask. While BA did a fantastic job of getting his feet in bounds, that’s all on the quarterback.
But the first touchdown, even though it’s an extreme example, is the kind of separation that puts Aiyuk in the upper-echelon of route runners in the NFL:
You can see from the chart above that there were five other plays where Aiyuk had opportunities to run after the catch. That’s a sure-tell sign that a wide receiver has a step or two on the defender.
For some time now, Aiyuk has been the best perimeter threat on the 49ers. If he’s going to have 100-yard games with multi score outings, the team might not have a choice but to hold off on extending the quarterback. Because Aiyuk’s production will finally match his skill set: A top-10 wide receiver.