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4 numbers to know for Sunday’s season opener against the Steelers

Kenny Pickett and the Steelers offense have struggled in one specific area. While Drake Jackson and Nick Bosa must capitalize in another area.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the 49ers played the Pittsburgh Steelers was in 2019 in what is one of the more unique box scores you’ll see.

The 49ers defeated the Steelers 24-20 behind a 21-point second half where the 49ers turned the ball over five times. San Francisco finished with 15 more first downs, 197 more total yards, 23 more plays ran, and a 13-minute time of possession advantage but needed a touchdown pass to Dante Pettis from Jimmy Garoppolo with 1:15 left in the game to seal the victory.

Since then, teams who have turned the ball over five or more times are 1-25, which means the 49ers might be less fortunate on Sunday if they turn it over as much as they did four years ago.

But the Steelers defense did a good job forcing turnovers in 2022, which is where we’ll start with some numbers to know for the 49ers Week 1 game in Pittsburgh:


Percent. The Steelers in 2022 finished with a league-worst 5.4 percent touchdown percentage on passing plays and a league-best 3.7 interception percentage.

To give some context, the 49ers finished just two spots behind Pittsburgh with a 3.4 interception percentage but finished 25 places better with a seventh-best 3.4 touchdown percentage on passing plays.

No other team in the bottom five of touchdown percentage - Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Washington, or Arizona - finished in the top 20 teams in terms of interception percentage, but Pittsburgh’s defense was the best in the NFL at intercepting passes.

The Steelers did lose Cameron Sutton to the Lions over the offseason, who was responsible for three of the Steelers’ tied-with-the-49ers-league-high 20 interceptions last season. Still, they replaced him with Patrick Peterson, who had a career-high five interceptions last season in Minnesota but has zero interceptions in 21 career games against the 49ers.

Pittsburgh’s secondary still features Minkah Fitzpatrick, who also had a career-high six interceptions in 2022 and finished tied for the league lead. He also intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo once when the two teams met in 2019.


Dollars. Nick Bosa and the 49ers agreed to a reported five-year, $170 million extension on Wednesday.

Had the 49ers not agreed at this point and Bosa was at risk of not playing on Sunday, this section would have mentioned how the projected starters on the edge - Clelin Ferrell and Drake Jackson - have a combined 5.5 fewer sacks in 73 career games than Bosa finished with in 16 games in 2022 but getting to write about Bosa’s extension feels much more fun.

Now, the deal hasn’t been officially announced as of this writing - Thursday night - so that needs to happen, but Bosa is on track to play on Sunday and that’s what’s important. The 49ers will see what pairing the reigning, defending DPOY with a pass-rushing threat on the interior in Javon Hargrave.

Pittsburgh finished with the 13th-best sack percentage allowed in 2022, allowing a sack on 6.2 percent of snaps, but Kenny Pickett was sacked six times in a game twice last season with one of the two games against Hargrave’s Eagles, where he finished with a pair of sacks.


Percent. T.J. Watt has played 97.86 percent of his defensive line snaps on the left side of the defense since 2020.

We are going to learn plenty about Colton McVitiz on Sunday.

McKivitz and his 29 career right tackle snaps will almost exclusively see Watt and his 77.5 career sacks in 87 games on Sunday. Not only is Watt a problem in the pass rush, but he can create issues in the run game, finishing with a PFF run defense grade higher than 70 percent - PFF’s above-average tier - peaking in 2020 with a 90.3 run defense grade - PFF’s elite tier.

If there’s any one-on-one matchup to watch on Sunday, Watt v. McKitivtz is the one to watch.


Points per game. In six Week 1 games under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers averaged 20.2 points per game compared to the 24.5 points the 49ers have averaged over Shanahan’s entire 98-game career.

If you remove the 49ers’ 41-point outburst in Week 1 of 2020 against the Lions, that number drops to 16, a full touchdown and two-point conversion worse than Shanahan’s career average. But on the other side, both of the two times the 49ers have won their first game of the season under Shanahan, the 49ers have made the NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers are just 2-4 in Week 1 under Shanahan, with the two wins coming in 2021 in the Lions game mentioned above and in 2019, where the offense only scored 17 of the 49es 31 points because Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon both had interceptions returned for a touchdown.