The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to kick things off in their home opener against the San Francisco 49ers, looking to bounce back from a tough loss last Thursday against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. While the offense was able to move the ball down the field, they struggled to get it into the end zone, and new kicker Josh Scobee also missed his first two field goal attempts.
the 49ers looked impressive running the ball in their Monday night victory, with Carlos Hyde the focal point of their offense. The returning NaVorro Bowman leads a San Francisco defense that looks in better shape than one might expect given their losses.
Inactive for the Steelers are QB Landry Jones, WR Sammie Coates, TE Jesse James, OL Chris Hubbard, DEs L.T. Walton and Caushaud Lyons, and CB Cortez Allen. The only significant name on that list is, of course, Allen, who is out with a knee injury.
Expected to take his place in the nickel defense is Brandon Boykin, whom the Steelers acquired via trade during training camp, but he failed to see the field on defense in the opener.
For the 49ers, notable inactives include RB Reggie Bush and WR Bruce Ellington. Also among the inactives are LB Corey Lemonier, OL Nick Easton and Brandon Thomas, NT Mike Purcell, and CB Shareece Wright.
The 49ers won the coin toss, as did the Patriots last game, deferred, so the Steelers will start off with possession once again. DeAngelo Williams was given the first snap for no gain. On second down, Ben Roethlisberger threw to Roosevelt Nix for a short gain, but the 49ers were penalized for being offside. On second and five, the quarterback threw behind Markus Wheaton. Ramon Foster was penalized for being illegally downfield, a penalty drawn by Roethlisberger’s holding on to the ball. The penalty was declined, but Foster was then flagged for a false start. Now third and 10, Roethlisberger aired it out down the left sideline, hitting Antonio Brown between the cornerback and safety for 28 yards.
The reception was the 400th of Brown’s career, as he became the third-fastest player to reach that mark in 72 games. But he followed that up with a drop on the next play. Roethlisberger hit Wheaton in rhythm to moves the chains for 18 yards on second down.
From the 33, Williams was only able to pick up about a yard on his second carry against a tough 49ers front. Tramaine Brock blew up a screen to Darrius Heyward-Bey on second down, and Cody Wallace was flagged for unnecessary roughness, moving the Steelers all the way back to midfield. Roethlisberger tried to lead Heyward-Bey on a broken play that fell harmlessly incomplete. Australian-born Jordan Berry punted to Australian-born Jarryd Hayne, who fair caught the 35-yard punt at the 15-yard line.
There were no surprises on the defensive side of the ball in terms of who comes out to start the game. Antwon Blake started in the base defense. Hyde was stuffed on first down, but an offside penalty on Steve McLendon negated the play. On first and five, Hyde slipped by McLendon for five yards and a first down.
On the new set of downs, Blake cut down Hyde for a loss of three after the interior defense forced him to seek the edge. Arthur Moats pressured Colin Kaepernick and forced him to throw short for a one-yard gain. On third and 12, Torrey Smith picked up 14 on a comeback route on Blake.
From the 38, Hyde was able to hit the hole for seven yards. Stephon Tuitt broke through for his second career sack on second down for a four-yard loss. Anquan Boldin was targeted on third and seven, but was unable to hold on to the ball after William Gay stripped it out. Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling, arguing that it is a catch and fumble. The ruling on the field stood.
Notes on the previous drive: Ryan Shazier briefly left the field. Blake played at right cornerback. Cockrell played in the nickel over Boykin, likely due to his groin injury and missing practice time.
Following a 42-yard punt that bounced out of bounds at the 17-yard line, Williams was able to pick up about two yards bouncing out wide out of a three-receiver set. On second down, in an empty set, another screen to Heyward-Bey picked up another three yards, setting up third and five. Roethlisberger went down the field on third down, hitting Heyward-Bey for 41 yards.
In 49ers territory, Williams finally broke through for a seven-yard gain. Brown had room to run on a well-set up screen to pick up 17 yards out of a blitz. From the 14, Roethlisberger hit Wheaton, but out of bounds, in the end zone. Heath Miller was targeted, drawing a holding penalty on Bowman for an automatic first down, first and goal at the nine.
On first and goal, Williams barreled ahead for six yards, spinning late to pick up yards after contact. From the three, Roethlisberger hit Miller right at the goal line to jump up with the first touchdown. The Steelers went for two with five wide, hitting Brown to go up 8-0.
Scobee’s kickoff was returned from nine yards deep, and Ross Ventrone made the returner pay, tackling him at the 13-yard line.
Shazier made the tackle on first down after four yards on Hyde. Shazier was in on the tackle again, setting up a third and three. The 49ers line opened up a hole along the left side, however, for a 10-yard pickup. On first down, Kaepernick kept it for 14 yards after Mike Mitchell pushed him out of bounds.
Blake wrapped up Hyde after a nine-yard gain, who seemed to injure his ankle. Hayne entered the game for second and one, and forward progress converted. From the Steelers’ 46, Hayne picked up three yards on first down. Hyde broke a tackle reentering the game on an 11-yard reception down to the 33-yard line to end the first quarter.
Kaepernick kept the ball again to start the second, going for eight yards down to the 25-yard line. He rolled to his right under pressure on second down, finding Boldin short for a first down. McLendon jumped offside again to advance the ball to the 15-yard line.
On first and five, Kaepernick’s pass looking for one of his many tight ends down the left side fell incomplete out of bounds. The line got great penetration on second down, forcing Hyde to the edge for two yards. On third and three, Garrett Celek converted over Shazier to set up first and goal. Mike Davis‘ first NFL carry was stuffed for a loss of five yards on the play, but the Steelers chose to accept a 10-yard holding penalty instead.
Now first and goal from the 20, Gay blew up a screen to Smith for a three-yard loss. On second and goal from the 23, a screen to Hyde was blown up again by Cameron Heyward for a loss of four. From the 27, following a timeout, James Harrison was nabbed for a neutral zone infraction. Third and goal from the 22, Heyward recorded the sack for a loss of seven yards. So two sacks from the Steelers’ defensive ends. The 49ers did convert a 47-yard field goal to make it 8-3.
After a touchback, Williams stutter stepped for three yards on first down. He could not hang on to the pass on second down with a defender coming in. On third and seven, resetting after identifying the blitzer, Brown came up to grab the ball in front of the defensive back for the first down.
From the 35, Williams made a tackler miss, but to gain just two yards as space is much more valuable real estate against the 49ers than it was in New England. On second down, Roethlisberger hit Brown for 59 yards down to the two-yard line, and Williams closed the drive with the two-yard touchdown run. A neutral zone infraction on the extra point set up half the distance, and the Steelers chose to go for two, empty set, with Roethlisberger easily hitting Miller to jump up 16-2.
Scobee’s kick was deliberately hung up short, with Jordan Todman and Nix making the tackle at the 18-yard line. Hyde picked up four yards on first down, but lost one on second down. Heyward pressured Kaepernick on third down and Shazier closed for a 17-yard loss on a sack. Brown fielded a bouncing bunt near midfield, spinning back upfield for a 16-yard return to the 35-yard line.
On first down, Roethlisberger off play action bombed it to Heyward-Bey, who made a nice stab to handle the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Scobee’s 33-yard extra point attempt went off the upright after the Steelers converted two two-pointers. They now lead 22-6.
Following a touchback, Kaepernick threw to Celek for seven yards on first down. Smith got out in front of Gay for 18 to the 45, but Hyde mishandled the handoff on the following play. Shazier dashed in to scoop up the ball for the Steelers’ first turnover of the season.
Following the turnover recovered and returned to the 31, Williams picked up one yard, which was followed up by Brown’s fifth reception (34 consecutive such games) for the first down to the 18.
Roethlisberger stood tall in the pocket, trusting his protection to find Miller for 12 yards. Williams got the carry on first down and goal from the five, picking up about three yards at the two-minute warning. Williams walked it in on a draw on second and goal as the Steelers score their fourth touchdown. Scobee connected on his second extra point, though it angled sharply left.
After another touchback, Hyde tried to cut back on first down, with Will Allen coming up to make the stuff. On second and eight, Quinton Patton caught a seven-yard pass. Hyde got out of bounds on a short pass for a first down.
With 1:06 remaining and one timeout at the 31, Kaepernick tried to break free, with Shazier the first to contact him. Shazier did not make the tackle, but he bottled him up to prevent much progress. Kaepernick tried to swing a pass to the running back on second down after finding nothing downfield, but he led his back too far and it fell incomplete. On third and five, Mitchell broke up the third-down pass to force a punt with 25 seconds remaining. Roethlisberger took a knee to end a very promising first half.