49ers vs. Steelers: San Francisco Grades, Notes and Quotes

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 20, 2015

49ers vs. Steelers: San Francisco Grades, Notes and Quotes

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    Despite a strong second-half showing, quarterback Colin Kaepernick could not get the support from his offense in Week 2 in Pittsburgh.
    Despite a strong second-half showing, quarterback Colin Kaepernick could not get the support from his offense in Week 2 in Pittsburgh.Don Wright/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers routed the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 of the 2015 NFL season by a score of 43-18.

    For the 49ers, the major story of the game was the lack of their secondary's containment abilities against Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown posted 195 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions and consistently made San Francisco's defensive backs look bad.

    Offensively, the 49ers couldn't get much going in the first half. Rather than being a liability, Pittsburgh's defense swarmed over San Francisco's offensive line in all aspects, which all but took away the 49ers' ground attack.

    The 49ers' effort was marked by poor execution, sloppy play and problematic efforts on both sides of the ball—an effort that doesn't leave too many positives heading into Week 3.

    The short week for San Francisco didn't play into the team's hands. But the schedule cannot be a complete excuse for everything that went wrong for the 49ers.

    Let's break down what happened and see how it may affect San Francisco moving forward.

Position Grades for 49ers

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    Kaepernick's play was one of the few bright spots for San Francisco's offense on Sunday.
    Kaepernick's play was one of the few bright spots for San Francisco's offense on Sunday.Don Wright/Associated Press
    PositionGrade
    QBA-
    RBD
    WRB
    TEC
    OLF
    DLD+
    LBD
    DBF
    Special TeamsC
    CoachingD

    Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was one of the lone bright spots on offense in Week 2. Despite a slow start, Kaepernick finished the contest with 335 passing yards on 33 completions and two touchdowns—having a passer rating of 106.7.

    Kaepernick was sacked five times, but a majority of the problems here were on San Francisco's offensive line. A strong Steelers front seven manhandled the unit, and the O-line never was able to establish the 49ers' rushing attack. Before leaving the game with an injury, running back Carlos Hyde amassed only 43 yards on 14 carries—an average of 3.1 yards per attempt.

    San Francisco's receivers did help out Kaepernick in the second half. Despite some drops, the 49ers' receiving corps managed to post its first receiving touchdowns on the young season.

    Wide receiver Torrey Smith finally showed off his wheels with an impressive 75-yard touchdown reception, and veteran wideout Anquan Boldin also added another.

    But the biggest issues were seen on defense.

    San Francisco's pass-rushers couldn't get to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns.

    Wide receiver Antonio Brown continuously torched the 49ers secondary and finished the contest with 195 yards and a TD on nine receptions.

    The 49ers never figured out a way to adjust to the big-play ability of Brown and Roethlisberger throughout the contest.

    And that may be the biggest reason behind San Francisco's embarrassing defeat.

The Offensive Line Is Still a Problem

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    San Francisco's offensive line couldn't hold blocks like it did against the Vikings in Week 1.
    San Francisco's offensive line couldn't hold blocks like it did against the Vikings in Week 1.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    San Francisco's offensive line displayed a strong effort against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1.

    Such was not the case in Week 2 in Pittsburgh.

    The Steelers' defensive front overworked the 49ers O-line time and time again throughout the bout. As a result, San Francisco could not get its running game going early—a staple in the offense's approach this season.

    Right tackle Erik Pears was flagged three times and also gave up multiple pressures on Kaepernick.

    The Steelers sacked Kaepernick five times for 37 yards.

    Part of this was seen on the 49ers' first red-zone drive. Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com described what happened:

    Right tackle Erik Pears was called for holding to set them back 10 yards. Torrey Smith caught a pass from Kaepernick that resulted in a three-yard loss, then Kaepernick’s pass to Carlos Hyde lost another four yards. On a third-and-goal from the 22, Kaepernick was sacked for a seven-yard loss.

    Phil Dawson accounted for the 49ers’ only first-half points with a 47-yard field goal.

    The O-line shored up some of its problems in the second half, which allowed for the 49ers to stage their feeble comeback.

    But this unit still presents a lot of concerns heading into Week 3.

Defense Had No Answer for Antonio Brown

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    Wide receiver Antonio Brown was a major reason behind the 49ers' defensive collapse.
    Wide receiver Antonio Brown was a major reason behind the 49ers' defensive collapse.Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    The 49ers had to know that Steelers wideout Antonio Brown would be a major factor in Week 2. He entered the contest with 133 receiving yards and should have been a key focal point for the 49ers defense.

    He was, but in all the wrong ways.

    San Francisco continuously struggled in coverage against Brown and Roethlisberger. Brown's 195 receiving yards speak to the big-play capability of the Steelers. And Pittsburgh wasn't afraid to take advantage of the 49ers secondary, especially on third down.

    Taylor Price of 49ers.com described further:

    Pittsburgh’s offense kept drives alive with critical third-down deep balls. A 41-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Darrius Heyward-Bey helped set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller in the first quarter.

    Later, a 59-yard third-down pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown put Pittsburgh in position to score at the 2-yard line midway through the second quarter. On the next play, DeAngelo Williams popped into the end zone on a short run. It was also the first of three rushing scores on the day for Williams.

    Pittsburgh was 6-of-10 on third-down conversions, and many of those conversions were on deep passes from Roethlisberger.

    Part of the blame could fall upon San Francisco's pass-rushers. This group was unable to put significant pressure on the Steelers quarterback, which allowed him to connect with receivers like Brown at multiple points throughout the game.

    One figured Pittsburgh to test San Francisco's young secondary, but the results were far uglier than what could have been expected.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick Is Still a Bright Spot

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    Kaepernick surpassed 300 passing yards and a plus-100 passer rating against the Steelers defense.
    Kaepernick surpassed 300 passing yards and a plus-100 passer rating against the Steelers defense.Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Kaepernick's 335 passing yards and two touchdowns were parts of just a few positives emanating from the 49ers' effort against the Steelers.

    Kaepernick needed to find some offensive rhythm despite the lack of a ground attack and a permeable offensive line. He responded well enough in spite of some critical drops from tight end Vernon Davis, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and on a would-be touchdown reception from fullback Bruce Miller.

    Touch was another nice takeaway from Kaepernick's efforts. A number of his passes were not the typical laser-beam throws for which Kaepernick is known.

    But one of his big-throw completions came on a 75-yard touchdown pass to Smith—a play 49ers fans have been waiting to see since the start of the preseason.

    Price of 49ers.com described the play:

    Torrey Smith recorded his longest career reception on a 75-yard touchdown hookup with Kaepernick. The free-agent addition ran a deep seam route down the left side of the field and out-raced the Steelers to produce a career-best reception.

    The scoring play was followed by a 2-point conversion made by Smith. The scoring plays made it a 36-18 game midway through the fourth quarter.

    San Francisco made some adjustments on offense after the half. Unfortunately, these were too late after the Steelers had gotten out to a 29-3 lead entering halftime.

    And the red zone continues to be an issue for San Francisco. The 49ers converted just one red-zone attempt in four appearances.

Kaepernick on the 49ers' Efforts

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    Kaepernick could only do so much as the majority of the 49ers struggled on Sunday.
    Kaepernick could only do so much as the majority of the 49ers struggled on Sunday.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The 49ers can take Kaepernick's efforts in a positive light. San Francisco's signal-caller continued to look poised in the pocket and was able to make more of the critical-impact throws as the game drew on.

    But even Kaepernick recognized such "moral victories" are not the elements for which his team is playing.

    "There are things we can take away from this game as positives, but we don't play for moral victories," Kaepernick said, via the team's website.

    Indeed, there were far too many mistakes for San Francisco to consider this effort a moral victory. Even if the short week and travel played roles, the 49ers looked flat on both sides of the ball. 

    And one has to give credit to the Steelers' efforts as well.

    "With an offense like the Steelers have, you have to be able to match touchdown for touchdown," Kaepernick said, per 49ers.com. "And we weren't able to do that today."

    The Steelers did take away the 49ers' primary offensive weapon—Carlos Hyde. And the 49ers defense had zero answers for everything Pittsburgh was able to do on the offensive side of the ball.

Jim Tomsula on Antonio Brown

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    Head coach Jim Tomsula's homecoming did not go according to plan.
    Head coach Jim Tomsula's homecoming did not go according to plan.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    San Francisco's defense was bad on Sunday. Steelers wideout Antonio Brown was pretty good.

    The 49ers' apparent game plan to contain Brown fell apart early and never regained the initiative, as the talented receiver continued to torch San Francisco's secondary time and time again.

    Brown had 128 receiving yards in the first half alone, per Maiocco. Cornerbacks Kenneth Acker and Tramaine Brock had no answers in their containment of Brown, and the latter made San Francisco's defense pay on multiple occasions.

    "Antonio Brown is a terrific player," head coach Jim Tomsula said, per the team's official Twitter account. "We have a ton of respect for him and the Steelers. We just have to play better."

    Tomsula and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini couldn't figure out a way to limit the damage from Brown. Blitzing schemes from the 49ers defense couldn't get to Roethlisberger. And the Steelers signal-caller was continuously able to expose a still-developing 49ers secondary.

    But Brown was the biggest story from Pittsburgh's offense, and San Francisco failed in all efforts to contain him.

NaVorro Bowman on How the 49ers Move Forward

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    Linebacker NaVorro Bowman wants to see how his team responds to such an ugly defeat.
    Linebacker NaVorro Bowman wants to see how his team responds to such an ugly defeat.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Linebacker NaVorro Bowman's storied comeback is now clouded by the general ineffectiveness of the 49ers defense in Pittsburgh.

    The three-time All-Pro recorded four tackles during the contest, and the 49ers' defensive scheme didn't employ the same interior A-gap rushes from which San Francisco benefited so frequently in Week 1.

    San Francisco's defense didn't look good. There really isn't any other way to describe it.

    But Bowman wants to see how this unit (and the team, for that matter) responds in preparation for a critical NFC West matchup against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.

    "I want to see how we respond to this," Bowman said, via the team's website. "This is the NFL. We've taken losses before. It's how you respond."

    San Francisco will have to respond. Ugly contests like this can happen, and the 49ers are still in a transition phase after this offseason. Perhaps the loss puts the short euphoria from their impressive Week 1 victory to rest, and now the 49ers can focus on getting back to business heading into next week.

    The 49ers have a lot of work to do. They need to clean up their coverage issues and ensure the pass rush is effective enough to create pressure.

    And the offensive line still needs some improvement.

    All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise indicated.

    Peter Panacy is a Featured Columnist covering the San Francisco 49ers for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.

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