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Steelers Takeaways: Evaluating OL Play; CB King Ready



Steelers Cole Pickett
Pittsburgh Steelers center Mason Cole blocks for quarterback Kenny Pickett against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 10, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Was the Pittsburgh Steelers offense great, awful or something in between in Week 1 of 2023?

Like most things, it depends on who you ask. The Steelers offensive line was rated as the worst in pass protection by Pro Football Focus.

ESPN analytics, on the other hand, rated the Steelers as one of the best. Two Steelers coaches have been complimentary of the unit this week, too.

“I thought they did an awesome job, particularly from a protection standpoint, minimizing [Nick] Bosa,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “And really, I thought from a protection standpoint, we were really solid until the very end when we got really one-dimensional.”

The Steelers did allow five sacks, but as Tomlin said, three of them came on the final offensive drive of the game, with the Steelers trailing by three scores late. 

The context of the obviousness of the Steelers’ passing situation is generally lost on those assigning grades to performances.

“Offensive line, I think based on what the situation did a great job,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “We’re playing to win and we’re not going to just wave the flag, but think we dropped back 50 times or something ridiculous like that. That’s unfair to them, and they did a great job. The protection was good for the most part.”

Tackle Dan Moore was more middle-of-the-road in judging his unit’s performance. 

“We look at the negatives,” he said. “We know we have to get better. When we evaluate our performance as an offense, we know we’ve got to get better. … We don’t really worry about what anyone else thinks.”


The San Francisco 49ers exposed the Steelers’ run defense in a big way, with Christian McCaffrey rushing for 152 yards at 6.9 yards per carry on Sunday.

The Steelers’ next opponent, the Cleveland Browns, just love to run the football, too. Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Thursday that if they don’t start stopping the run, so is everyone else on their schedule.

“I think that especially in this League if you show some vulnerability, if you show some weakness, teams are going to take advantage of it until you correct it,” he said. “Until we correct it, we can expect it to happen. It’s our job, starting with me, to make sure we put our guys in the right place to make the plays so we can correct it and get it corrected so that people aren’t doing that to us.”


Cornerback Desmond King, one of the last players added to the 53-man roster before the season, was not dressed for the first game of the season. Will he be active this week? King isn’t sure, but said he’s ready if called upon.

“It’s not my decision but hopefully some soon,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I’m all in. If they tell me, I’m full go.”

Steelers starting kickoff returner Anthony McFarland missed practice on Thursday with a knee injury. That could provide a path to playing time for King, who has 57 career kickoff returns and a 22.5 yards per return average.


The Steelers defense was certainly not good enough on Sunday, but the unit feels that it can be much better if it cleans up mistakes in tackling and communication.

They didn’t feel like San Francisco did anything they weren’t prepared for, they just didn’t execute as well as their opponents.

“We knew what they were going to do,” Alex Highsmith said. “They came out and they executed. We didn’t. They were more physical than us and they were more disciplined. It’s about us and what we do, so we’ve just got to get better.”


Defensive lineman Armon Watts said he worked with the first team. That makes three players that have done so with either Cam Heyward or Larry Ogunjobi out of the lineup. Expect a crowd at defensive line on Monday night. … New pracitce squad receiver Jacob Copeland is wearing No. 15. … Allen Robinson said he’s still working in the slot with Diontae Johnson out. Look for Calvin Austin III to play outside, along with Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski.

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