This upcoming Labor Day holiday marks the last weekend of the year without an NFL football game on the schedule and allots teams a few more days to game plan for their opponent than they'd normally have over the course of the league's 18-week schedule. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is utilizing every second of this time with his unit to zero in on the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team they haven't seen in four years.
"This week is just a bonus for us. We've already looked at a few things, just giving our guys an opportunity to settle in a little bit, particularly with first and second down things. We've been watching them on tape for a while as a coaching staff, so those guys (Pittsburgh Steelers) are playing well.
"The quarterback, a second-year guy is looking phenomenal, taking that second-year leap and doing some great things. They have the vertical threats down the field that can make things happen at any given moment, and they have a very impressive, solid run game. We definitely have our hands full coming up with these guys next week."
Tightening up the run defense will be key for the 49ers against Pittsburgh's productive ground game. The Steelers were top 10 in rushing yards per game in the preseason, averaging 129.3 over the course of three games. It's important to note those numbers are without much of a presence from the Steelers top running back Najee Harris, who compiled a 1,000-plus rushing yard season in 2022.
Veteran defensive lineman Arik Armstead has been diligent in his approach to the season opener and containing the Steelers rushing attack.
"He sent me a long detailed text about everything in the run game with Pittsburgh, and I said, 'Yeah, I think he's ready,'" Wilks said. "It was definitely detailed in everything that they are doing and everything we need to do to make sure we attack it. I was very impressed."
"I do that a lot (diagnosing the opposition). Kris Kocurek and I have convos about what I see in the run game and the pass game," Armstead said. "I've been building a relationship with Wilks and decided to share with him what I was seeing when I was studying them."
More Benefits to Zero Week
This zero week also provides players a few extra days to reset physically before the regular season officially kicks off. On offense, veteran tight end George Kittle is being held out from practice due to some "lingering" issues, while quarterback Brock Purdy cuts his reps in half as part of a preplanned "deload" week heading into the regular season.