Game Recap: 49ers at Steelers

Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As luck would have it I had to schedule an afternoon rehearsal yesterday from 4 – 6:30. I was hoping I could somehow manage to not find out the outcome before I finally had a chance to sit down and watch the recording of the game. I guess it was a day of miracles, because in Pittsburgh I managed to avoid finding out anything ahead of time, and the game itself was pretty sweet.

Homer J., PaVa Steeler, and Ivan sent me comments, so what follows will be a sort of melange of our impressions.  Our collective impression, though, is mainly YES!  Homer was obviously pretty excited, as his commentary was entirely in CAPITALS. I’ve mostly removed them for ease of viewing.

Let’s let PaVa start, because he will always bring us back to reality (or the pessimistic side, depending on how you want to view it:

Let’s keep perspective; these Niners haven’t proven offensively they’re the same team that made the NFC championship game the past few years.

That said, what a joy it was to see the defense pin their ears back and ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!

 Or as Ivan put it:

Yes, the Niners are not what they used to be even last year. A good team should have smacked them and we proved that for at least this week the Steelers can behave like a good team. That alone is worth celebrating. Liked their (Niners) game plan. A good run game that ate up time, kept the offense off the field and forced the defense to rise up and beat them.  

When the Steelers offense was on the field they loaded up to stop the run, which they managed for a short time. Yes, forcing Ben to beat you these days is suicide, but if DeAngelo Williams had got going on them they would not just be toast, but very badly burned toast.  But once it became a three score game it was over regardless.

Homer wasn’t ALL sweetness and light, and indeed the first possession didn’t really give you a sense of how they would eventually dominate the game:



But fortunately things rapidly improved after the first possession:

Ben has been virtually untouched and given great time—the O line was flagged four times in the first possession—then settled down.

Foster wasn’t the only person to draw a penalty in this game. In fact, I’m shocked the refs didn’t run out of yellow hankies. There must have been a private bet among the various officiating teams to see who could get to 100 yards worth of penalties called first.

And it wasn’t just penalties—the 49ers got a few favorable calls, including the following, about halfway through the first quarter, as noted by Homer:

Completion, strip, and recovery by Will Allen. BS call…

Since Tomsula had already lost a challenge early in the first quarter, I guess Tomlin thought what the heck and threw the red flag. I was actually pretty surprised the call on the field was upheld.

One of the very heartening things in this game was seeing Darrius Heyward-Bey finally look like at least some of us thought he ought to. In the end he had four receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. This stat line looks pretty nice except that one can’t help seeing Antonio Brown’s nine receptions for 195 yards and a touchdown. If there is a better receiver in the NFL right now I want to see him. Just for kicks I looked up the stats from some of the other games today:

Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants): 7/146/1

Julio Jones (Atlanta) 13/135/0

Mike Wallace (Vikings) 3/38/0 (okay, that was cold)

Calvin Johnson (Detroit) 10/83/1

Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals) 8/112/3 (I have to admit, 3 is pretty awesome. And it’s okay – I like Fitzgerald : )

A.J. Green (Cincinnati) 3/45/1

Julian Edelman (NE) 11/97/2

Demaryius Thoms (Denver) 8/116/0

Emmanuel Sanders (Denver) 8/87/2

You get the idea. I didn’t actually think any of you were going to argue with me anyhow.

It is also exceedingly heartening that DeAngelo Williams had such a good game for the second week. His line doesn’t look as impressive (20/77) as last week’s, except for the small matter of three touchdowns.

That’s not bad, considering that the last touchdown he had was in—wait for it—2013. What the heck—if you’re going to show the Panthers they are missing you, you might just as well do it in a big way. It’s interesting to note the only rushing touchdown in the Panthers game today was by Cam Newton.  (Newton had the lion’s share of the yards as well, with 76 yards on 10 carries.) This isn’t a one-off, either—last week Jonathan Stewart had 18 carries for 56 yards, no touchdowns, with Cam Newton next (14 carries, 35 yards, no touchdowns.) In fact, the Panthers didn’t have a rushing touchdown last week at all. So I suspect Williams is pretty pleased with his new job for the moment.

But enough about the offense, for now. All of us could gush on and on, I’m sure, and I will give us all a chance in the wrap-up, but now let’s talk about the defense.

I will be honest with you all. I had my apprehensions about this game, especially concerning the mobility of Kaepernick. It didn’t quiet my nerves when the offense had to punt after the first series, but I was certainly heartened by what I saw from the defense.

Homer noted:

Shazier [with] great sack. Heyward broke free for the pressure, which opened it up for Shazier.

and a bit later:

Two good defensive plays including tackle for loss by Shazier and Cam Thomas.

and later still:

Shazier has had his best game as a pro—breakout game. Heyward has been quietly terric,…making it possible for Shazier to shine.

And even later the excitement continued to build: (capitals remain for flavor:)


To me, Ryan Shazier looked like what we drafted him for—blazingly fast and constantly headed right for the ball. His final line—15 tackles, 11 solo, three tackles for loss, a sack, and a quarterback hit—is enough to bring a tear of joy to my eyes. And to top it all off he recovered a fumble. I presume we’re all crossing fingers, toes, and whatever other things we can cross that he wasn’t badly hurt towards the end of the game.

Or as Ivan said:

Ryan Shazier. The consensus was that he was the big story today. He simply played like a number one draft pick today and the statistics speak for themselves.

After today there should be three words that are never spoken in relation to his name again.
1. Bust
2. Safety
3. Mosley

But it wasn’t just Shazier. As Homer said:


A lot of guys played defense, and a lot of guys contributed. There were eight quarterback hits, with Stephon Tuitt and James Harrison both getting two. (Tuitt also had 1.5 sacks.) Antwon Blake was showing why he drew the long straw in the DB competition with 11 solo tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass defensed. All in all there were a total of 85 team tackles (as compared to 43 for the Niners defense), nine tackles for loss (compared to two,) five passes defensed (as compared to one), and eight quarterback hits, compared to—my heart is beating faster as I write this—zero for the Niners defense. The defense also had five sacks for a loss of 37 yards, as compared to zero sacks of Ben. As Homer said:

That was the first time this year that the defense has dominated… And they are swarming like bees.

It made me think how much cooler it would have looked in the throwback unis. It really would have looked like bees then!

As PaVa said:

Our secondary still showed weakness against TEs, and still allowed receivers to get behind them, but this game illustrates how the impact of that can be diminished when the front 7 repeatedly penetrates into the backfield frequently and effectively.

Here’s Ivan’s take:

The other linebackers played fine, but after Shazier I was most impressed by Dupree, because my expectations were low for him at this point, but he is exceeding them. If this keeps trending like this by the end of the season we will be secure in thanking James Harrison for his years of service knowing that the position is in good hands. 

The promised change up front to an attacking defensive line is occurring and we are not disappointed. Heyward and Tuitt created havoc and has made me excited about the pass rush for the first time in a long time. Only now it won’t be just about the outside backers. Everyone is going to eat. 

The back line is still clearly the weak link, [but] I think they have very good upside with the personnel on hand. Loving Will Gay’s play and Mitchell is showing why we acquired him last year. Liked Boykin’s play in the end zone. One thing I noticed that really stood out today. These guys HIT!!! They have figured out how to rough up receivers legally. And one of the biggest hitters, Shamarko Thomas, wasn’t out there today.

In last week’s game, if you looked at the statistics you might have had a hard time figuring out who won the game. In fact, Pittsburgh’s offensive stats were better across the board, except in that one little annoying category—touchdowns. And even the defensive stats weren’t much worse than New England, other than the interception.

In a similar fashion, while Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers were definitely better than San Francisco’s, they weren’t so very different in any category except touchdowns. Well, and time of possession. If you knew the Niners had possessed the ball for 36 minutes and 59 seconds, the Steelers for 23 minutes and one second, and that one of the teams had three touchdowns and one of them six, who would you have guessed was which? It was huge for the Steelers defense to force the Niners to come away with no points at all not once but twice.

Coincidentally the Patriots defense “held” the Steelers to no points on two nice drives, but those were not goal line stands but (sorry to reopen a wound, guys) missed field goals. Which brings me to another of PaVa’s comments:

The Steelers have a real punter! The Steelers have a real punter!

Now we need a FG kicker.

But as Homer said:

When the only thing to complain about is that your kicker doinked a 33 yard PAT, it’s time to count your blessings.

To which I will only add, Amen! 

Ivan weighs in:

Berry is a really good punter, and special teams hasn’t come close to giving up a big play on a punt or kickoff. 

The bad news? Scobee has become the kicker that Clark and I feared Suisham would be a couple of years ago. Let’s hope he doesn’t cost us a game or two.  

I may have to revisit my Psychology of Kicking articles. Surely Scobee’s problem is mental. That said, if the Steelers feel as if they had better put touchdowns on the board because they can’t rely on a field goal (or even, Lord have mercy, an extra point) then it might be a good thing. How many promising drives have we watched in the past few years in which the Steelers ended up settling for a field goal instead of a touchdown?

Which brings me to another thrilling point—five of the six touchdowns were from in the red zone. How often have we all moaned and complained (and rightly so) that the Steelers are horrible in the red zone? A Steelers team who can punch the ball in when they get down near the goal line is going to be something to behold. I can’t help but think all the work and emphasis on two-point conversion plays was beneficial for more than just two-point conversions.

And if the offensive line in conjunction with the play-calling has figured out how to keep Ben upright there is no telling the numbers this offense will put up. And guess what, everybody—Le’Veon Bell is back next week! Here’s what Homer said:

Steelers have shown the ability to score from anywhere on the field. When Ben gets decent pass protection, this team is lethal.

Here’s PaVa’s assessment of the offense:

Despite the ineffective first series, this offense is going to scare a lot of teams. Despite the miscues, I think the offense is so much further along in only the second game of the season than I can remember, going back to the early, early 2000s.

Heyward-Bey finally showed up, and Wheaton is going to be the wild card when Bryant returns.

And who in the NFL is going to stop Brown?  I think we can expect the physical teams to start trying to overpower and stuff Brown at the line, which could really open up the seams for Wheaton.

Colbert deserves GM of the year for the Williams pickup, but only if Haley figures out a way to put both Bell and Williams in the backfield; could be the second coming of Franco and Rocky, but more dynamic.

Here’s Ivan’s take on the offense:

Bell and Bryant weren’t out there today. Think about that. I mean, really think about that. I am honestly having a hard time wrapping my mind around how good this offense is. They scored six touchdowns today without two of the best players in football. Consider the following:

DeAngelo Williams followed a 127 yard performance with a three touchdown performance. Bell comes back next week. Do we have a running back controversy?

Antonio Brown was responsible for 200 passing yards by himself. Heyward-Bey kept getting open deep. Martavis who? There weren’t enough balls for Wheaton. 

Heath. [Although that should be HEEAATTHH…]

Don’t recall seeing Will Johnson, Spaeth, Nix or Archer. Didn’t need them I guess. 

Ben had to move around one or two times. He wasn’t sacked, wasn’t hit. He may have been touched once or twice. 

The best center in football will be back in November. 

The best running back in football will be back on Sunday. 

Does anyone think they are anywhere near peaking yet?

I’ll finish with this: clearly the 49ers aren’t, at least yet, as good a team as they looked against the Vikings. And while Tomsula didn’t use a short week and a cross-country trip as an excuse, it’s worth remembering that they just played on Monday night, had to fly a long way, and had to play at what is about 10 in the morning for their body clocks. The Steelers won’t have such an advantage very often this year, I’m guessing.

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers are going to look this good against all of their coming opponents. But the fact that they put together a decent game against the Patriots, despite the many difficulties they encountered in Foxborough and the apparent complete confusion of the defense, gives one hope for the future. Great hope, actually…

And now for a special bonus feature. Other people’s sites and newspapers and such have report cards, but you can bet your sweet bippy (or your last drop of beer) that they can’t match the awesomeness of Homer’s production:


OFFENSIVE LINE: B+, only because of the penalties at the start of the game. 

QUARTERBACK: A+. It was as good a game as Ben has had in years.  

RUNNING BACKS: A. Three touchdowns for a backup. ‘Nuff said.  


WIDE RECEIVERS:  A+  Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton made the Niners look sick. And, speaking of sick, how ’bout that catch by Darrius Heyward-Bey?

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+  Played well, looked good, and were absolutely better than they looked. Big plays by Shazier were made possible by Heyward time and time again.

LINEBACKERS: A+. Shazier had the best game any Steeler linebacker has had since Deebo’s Monday Night Spectacular against the Ravens. They were sensational.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-. William Gay made some solid plays, as did Mitchell. But they started giving up big plays on the final play of the third quarter, and that continued through garbage time. This may have been the most worrisome part of the afternoon.*

SPECIAL TEAMS: B+. Scobee Do was Scobee Don’t on his first PAT. Otherwise, they were terrific.

COACHING:  A. They came ready. They came hungry. They didn’t leave anything on the field.


*I will note that the defense had been on the field a whole lot of the game by that point, and once the pressure up front slowed down the DBs were more exposed. It was awesome to see the offense put up so many points, but after a while I found myself yelling “Stay on the field a while, for heaven’s sake. The defense needs a break.” The worst (although it was very exciting, of course) was the one-play touchdown to DHB, an offensive series which took precisely seven seconds off the clock. In fact, here are all the series:

Steelers: 8 plays, 3:30, punt

49ers: 7 plays, 3:51, punt

Steelers: 8 plays, 3:19, TD

49ers: 17 plays, 8:53, FG

Steelers: 7 plays, 2:20, TD

49ers: 3 plays, 2:15 punt (this is my favorite drive—they lost 14 yards on the drive…)

Steelers: 1 play, :07, TD

49ers: 3 plays, 1:05, fumble

Steelers: 6 plays, 2:42, TD

49ers: 6 plays, 1:41, punt

End of half

49ers: 6 plays, 4:23

Steelers: 3 plays, 1:36

49ers: 18 plays, 7:10, TOOD

Steelers: 3 plays, 1:44, punt

49ers: 6 plays, 2:51, TD

Steelers: 6 plays, 2:51, TD

49ers: 2 plays, :42, TD

Steelers: 5 plays, 2:00, TD

49ers: 15 plays, 5:08, TOOD

Steelers: 4 plays, 2:35

End of game

The very longest series for the Steelers was the first one, at 3:30. You would think it was the Steelers who were having to catch up, not San Francisco. I feel like you can’t have it both ways.

If the offense comes in and scores a lot of points quickly, this is going to wear out the defense. And maybe that means we shouldn’t care if the opposing team picks up a few touchdowns near the end of the game. Or perhaps we should hope the offense will figure out how to put on the brakes. One of the commentators noted that Ben was telling them to slow down, but then he was the one chucking the ball a long ways downfield and picking up a lot of yards quickly…

And don’t miss Hombre de Acero’s take on the game on Steel Curtain Rising, which you can find here.


  • Upon further review and reflection, extreme kudos to Coach Munch for the job he has done with the OL. Ben threw for 369 yards or something like that, and was virtually untouched the entire game. And Williams ran for 77 yards and three TD’s. Some people are downplaying his yards per carry, but remember that three of them were stopped by the goal line. You can’t gain any more yards once you cross the plane. That’s sort of like saying Mark Melancon doesn’t have any stamina because he only pitches one inning. Dude, you cross the goal line – or get the final out – and you’re done.

    Remember folks, Munch took a line that had great promise but poor fundamentals and poor execution, and turned them into an effective and cohesive unit. Then he lost the linchpin of that line in the pre-season, and put it back together again. The OL was simply terrific yesterday….and – given the weapons the Steelers have in the passing game – pass protection is the key to everything. And their pass protection yesterday was world class.

    Great job of editing, Rebecca. Really good read.


    • Couldn’t agree more. I had great hopes for Sean Kugler, but whether it was just one of those unlucky things or whether something about the way he coached them made the O line more prone to injury, the fact is, injury-prone they were. Munchak seems to have managed to coach a line into cohesion with slow, patient work. It’s not sexy, but the results certainly are.

      And thanks! It was really fun to put together, sort of like a big jigsaw puzzle…


    • Having read the raw manuscript from Homer, I must give kudos to Rebecca’s editing as well. 😀


    • The unsung hero on the OL right now is Cody Wallace. He’s had HUGE shoes to fill, and he’s doing a pretty good job.🙂


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    The arrow is pointed up for this article as well as for the Steelers. The front seven are becoming the group we hoped they could be and the offence is amazing. I cannot imagine what it will be like when it has all it’s pieces back in place.

    I don’t know what the story is this season but it seems that the replays almost never overturn the initial official’s calls even when the TV replays scream for the call to be over turned. It was particularly egregious in the 49ers game but I have seen it in every game I have watched this season. Any idea if there has there been a change in the way plays are reviewed?

    Someone on the Steelers is going to lose their job today. I feel sorry for whomever gets cut because I think they likely will be lost to the team. This offence’s scrubs would be locks for the 53 of many teams. I haven’t seen who will be cut but I suspect it will be either Todman or Archer and I will not be surprised if it is Archer.


    • : )

      In re replays, the commentators mentioned that the replay reviews are done in real time, vs. the slow-mo we get on the replays. So I guess the idea is, only look at what the official could have seen. That’s a good way to make sure the officials don’t get shown up on a regular basis, but it seems to me it makes a challenge rather pointless unless it was a breathtakingly bad call.


    • Dri Archer isn’t getting cut, it will obviously be Todman. Isn’t everyone glad the coaches didn’t cut Shazier last season, patience…


      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        I don’t dislike Archer. I just would prefer Todman. D-Will is only here for one season. We will need someone who can back up Bell after that.


  • Shaz was fantastic…once again showing that fans probably shouldn’t label a kid a bust after one season. DHB was a great surprise as well. But I had Wheaton on my fantasy team. bummer. lol

    The only thing I didn’t like was Mitchell going at Hyde’s knees. I suppose it shook Hyde up for the rest of the game, but it could also have ended his season. Keep your head up, Mitchell!


    • I’m not doing a fantasy team this year. (I only did a church league, for fun, any money going to charity) so I never got seriously into it, although I was runner up in my league last season : )

      As to Mitchell going for his knees, agree I don’t like it, but I have a hard time digging at a guy for doing it in the heat of the necessity to a) bring a guy down and b) not hit his head. As James Harrison said when the emphasis on helmet to helmet hits came out, this is going to force guys to go for the knees, which could end a career. He clearly thought knee hits were dirty and head hits were the way to go. (Of course, can he “clearly think” at all after all the times he’s been hit in the head, or hit with the head? He seems to be pretty mentally competent, from what I’ve seen…)

      Perhaps the bigger problem is flinging yourself at a guy. If they would flag and penalize and fine any defensive player whose feet left the ground in the act of tackling, and they still had to avoid head hits, it would pretty much require a wrap-up tackle to bring a guy down, as far as I can see. And game scores would probably skyrocket. But there would be something to be said for it, if one doesn’t mind seeing the further demise of classic defense.


  • I am all in for the ref’s getting the call right on a regular basis. Judgment calls are of course off limits but I think the instant replay needs instant replay or at LEAST slow the replay down a tad dude. The Bolden fumble looked like a football move to me. The hit on a defenseless receiver was a BS call. Actually I think the ref called the penalty on whomever the receiver fell down on. LOL. Thought I had seen it all with these judgment “protect the receiver calls” guess not.

    A/B is so fun to watch. That catch and run where he reversed field was a thing of beauty. His after the catch running/change of direction instincts always amaze me. Shaz is starting to be really fun to watch.

    A nice relaxing blowout game by the Steelers. Please can we have another.


  • Can somebody clarify the replay rule for me? I believe that only calls regarding whether a receiver caught the ball and made a football move (or not) are reviewed in real time. I think all others are reviewed in slow motion. Am I wrong. It doesn’t make much sense to review only at regular speed. I’m not sure that’s much help on close plays.


    • I thought that WAS a “did he make a football move or not” challenge. I’m talking about the challenge of the ruling of an incomplete pass on the 49er’s first drive. I still say it should have be a turnover…


  • You, of course, are correct. Maybe I’m getting senile, as I forgot the nature of the call and what a horrible call that was. I was actually unaware that those calls were reviewed in real time prior to yesterday.


  • Mike’s observation on the defenseless receiver call is spot on. A forearm to the back is a penalty. That and the Boldin call had me in shock. Those calls were wrong and did not seem close in my view.


  • I tell you one person who’s probably very happy today… Whoever is in charge of making the Renegade montage. I imagine it was becoming difficult to find good, recent material after the way last year went.

    Antwan Blake certainly gave him some hits to work with, most notably on Vernon Davis along the sideline. William Gay has blown up a few WR screens with hits that might be worthy as well. Anything that Shazier does is impressive just based on the wow factor of his speed

    Renegade Person’s job just got a whole lot easier.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Pingback: 5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 2 | Going Deep:

  • Mike Tomlin said in a conference call he did not think the San Francisco 49ers secondary was particularly tested in the opener. Ben Roethlisberger tested them Sunday, and they failed, to the tune of 369 yards and three touchdowns. Despite an easy opening week win over Minnesota, Tomsula stressed he was “worried about them Steelers,” a line he delivered in an intentionally thick Pittsburgh accent as a way of paying tribute to his roots.


  • Pingback: The Bye Week Pro Bowl: Best Comments from the 2015 Season | Going Deep:

  • In the event that you’re prepared and coordinate it won’t take long anyway.


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