49ers vs. Steelers: Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt will put on a pass-rushing show

T.J. Watt is a pretty good football player, but he's not Nick Bosa.

This is a Niners site, after all.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers -2.5. 42. Fox. 49ers Steelers. 0-0. Sunday, Sept. 10. 0-0. 55. 1 p.m. ET

For fans who love a good pass rush, the Week 1 tilt between the 49ers' Nick Bosa and the Steelers' T.J. Watt should be plenty entertaining.

In 2021, Pittsburgh Steelers star edge rusher T.J. Watt elected to stage what's known as a "hold in" during training camp.

Sure, he'd attend practices to avoid costly fines. But he wouldn't participate in any of them until he reached an agreement on a new contract extension.

Eventually, Watt got his deal. It was a record-setting one at the time, which will pay him up to $112 million ($80 of it guaranteed) over four years on an annual average value of $28 million, according to Over the Cap.

For those thinking Watt's hold-in decision would impact his regular-season efforts, they were wrong. He led the NFL with 22.5 sacks, tying the single-season record held previously by New York Giants Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. And those efforts would earn him his third first-team All-Pro nod and a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021, too.

Entering 2023, San Francisco 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa experienced a relatable path. A season after leading the NFL with 18.5 sacks, Bosa held out from training camp and the preseason while awaiting a new contract of his own. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year did not attend camp or stage a hold in, rather he elected to continue his workouts at home in Florida.

Until Bosa signed his own record-setting extension -- five years, $170 million with $122.5 million of it guaranteed -- there were concerns he might not appear for the Niners' regular-season opener on the road against Watt and the Steelers.

With Bosa back, fans should be treated to a pass-rushing feast to open up the season when San Francisco and Pittsburgh square off.

Nick Bosa vs. T.J. Watt pass-rush battle may decide 49ers vs. Steelers

As was the case with Watt entering the 2021 regular season, some wondered if him not participating in camp would hinder his early efforts.

They didn't. And Bosa should be in the same boat.

Pittsburgh Steelers, T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh Steelers edge T.J. Watt (90) / Daniel Shirey/GettyImages

Both the 49ers and Steelers have some questionable parts of their offensive lines. According to Pro Football Focus, the Niners' O-line ranks 18th overall with the only strength being All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams and a concerning first-year starter at right tackle in Colton McKivitz.

Of Watt, McKivitz told 95.7 The Game's Larry Krueger, "He's a great player, explosive. He showed that last week of the preseason. He's been a great player since he's been there, and he's athletically gifted, a lot like [Las Vegas Raiders edge] Maxx [Crosby]. Effort guy, so it'll be a fun test."

McKivitz replaces now-Denver Broncos right tackle Mike McGlinchey and will have a premier defender in his face for much of Sunday.

It's probably one the Steelers would like to exploit.

Meanwhile, PFF ranked Pittsburgh's O-line 12th, which is a notable jump from where this unit was just two short seasons ago.

Bosa, who frequently switches sides on the defensive front to exploit mismatches, could find himself opposite Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, who allowed three sacks and 41 pressures last season. Yet it's also plausible to see Bosa attack the rookie left tackle, Broderick Jones, whom Pittsburgh selected in Round 1 of this year's NFL Draft.

Read more: 49ers vs. Steelers: Week 1 game time, location, how to watch live

Like McKivitz, a first-year starter, Jones' entry to the league will be marked by facing Bosa.

That's an advantage the 49ers will want to win.

So, while the battle between Bosa and Watt will be entertaining, the more important fight might be between McKivitz and Jones, at least as far as who holds up the best against a Defensive Player of the Year.

The Niners and Steelers kick off on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. ET from Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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