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Steelers Analysis

Steelers Star T.J. Watt Has Chance for Huge Game vs. 49ers



Steelers T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt against the Bills, Aug. 19, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The start of the first game week for the regular season is here for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As they prepare for the San Francisco 49ers, one thing stands out on paper. It’s that T.J. Watt could very well have a massive opening day. Watt has done it the last two seasons, torturing the Bills and Bengals offensive lines in his first game.

But his first matchup of the season will be inexperienced 49ers right tackle Colton McKivitz. McKivitz gets the starting job after Mike McGlinchey left the 49ers to head to the Denver Broncos. Since entering the NFL in 2020, McKivitiz has logged five NFL starts, with three coming in his rookie season and only one coming last year. He was spotless in his lone start against the Los Angeles Rams last year, with zero pressures allowed on 21 pass protection snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. In 19 reps this preseason, he did not allow pressure either. So far in his career on 241 pass protection snaps, he has allowed three sacks and 17 pressures. However, his three starts in his rookie season skewed many of those numbers.

So, while those numbers are not bad on paper, McKivitz is the big unknown. But he will be the true starter at right tackle for this team the entire season. However, with inexperience comes baptism by fire when facing T.J. Watt and the Steelers pass rush. If McKivitz proves legit in this game, he can start his ascent to being one of the NFL’s promising young tackles.

However, Watt has shown dominance against those inexperienced tackles many times before in games. There is little reason to think Watt will not show out and have a big game. I’m sure the 49ers will give McKivitz some help with chips and slides to that side, but Watt has proven he can take over games in matchups like this one.

The biggest hat the Steelers can hang onto in this matchup is their defensive line and making Brock Purdy uncomfortable. With Watt’s matchup looking so advantageous, that could create a domino effect for guys like Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. McKivitz could be the next big thing in the NFL at right tackle, but his unproven nature makes this matchup ripe for the taking for Watt. Expect the Steelers to understand that and look to dial up blitzes that can isolate Watt and McKivitiz to up Watt’s production to another level.