How Steelers approaching Christian McCaffrey, 49ers in Week 1

How Steelers approaching Christian McCaffrey, 49ers in Week 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The Pittsburgh Steelers feel confident they’ve added all the right pieces to strengthen their defense as a whole for the 2023 NFL season, and they won’t have to wait long to find out.

When Pittsburgh hosts the 49ers in the season opener Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, the unit will be put to the ultimate test against San Francisco’s star-studded offense. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his staff prepare for the Week 1 challenge, Tomlin gave respect where respect was due.

“I think it just starts with Christian McCaffrey,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We have got to respect the dynamic playmaking ability that he has both in the running game and in the passing game.

“He’s dynamic in the run game. He’s dynamic in the passing game, we better be really careful about being matched up against him in space. He’s a one-on-one space winner. They have a lot of one-on-one space winners. He might be the most dynamic one-on-one space winner at running back in the NFL. [George] Kittle might be that at tight end. Deebo Samuel might be that at receiver. Their run-after [the catch] ability with their offense of eligibles is really impressive.”

After finishing last season 9-8 and missing the playoffs, the Steelers reconstructed their defense, particularly at the inside linebacker position, adding Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander, as well as safety Keanu Neal and nickel cornerbacks Chandon Sullivan and Desmond King.

The new additions replace former Steelers linebackers Myles Jack, Devin Bush and Robert Spillane.

McCaffrey was acquired last season via a mid-season trade with the Carolina Panthers, and his impact was nearly immediate.

The 27-year-old running back racked up 1,210 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns after being sent to Santa Clara ahead of Week 7. Now with a full offseason to become more familiarized and comfortable with Kyle Shanahan’s masterful offensive schemes, McCaffrey could be poised for a big 2023 campaign.

And he’s not the only one.

Wide receivers Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk have high expectations for themselves and each other. Throw in tight end George Kittle, who never fails to bring a lifted energy both on and off the field, and you’ve got a 49ers team with multiple offensive weapons.

The Steelers’ defense held up in the preseason, but the real test begins Week 1 and there won’t be any shortage of challenges.

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