Sacks aren’t coming easy to
Smith recorded a franchise record 19.5 sacks in the regular season, but doesn’t seem to be sneaking up on anyone any more. Teams are well-prepared for the player with the most sacks in his first two NFL seasons (33.5).
In fact, double-teams practically await the second-year outside linebacker at just about every turn. If it’s not two linemen focused on stopping his bull-rush, it’s a running back in the backfield looking to add pass-protection support to one of his speed moves.
To his credit, Smith hasn’t sulked about the added attention. He’s seen the positives in it.
“It’s freeing somebody up,” the first-time Pro Bowl linebacker explained on Wednesday. “Somebody is going to get to the quarterback. It might not be me making the play, but somebody is going to get there.”
Smith knows the reason for the added attention.
“You don’t want your quarterback getting hit, you understand that,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ve gotten doubled a lot more. The quarterbacks are doing a good job getting the ball out of their hands, stuff like that.”
San Francisco’s dynamic pass-rusher hasn’t recorded a sack since Dec. 9, but has still been able to produce game-changing plays. In last week’s NFC title win over the Atlanta Falcons, Smith provided a much-needed fumble recovery on a bobbled shotgun snap. Smith beat Falcons left tackle Sam Baker around the edge and was able to recover the football before Matt Ryan regained possession.
It was a key play as Atlanta looked to regain momentum in the second half of the NFC Championship.
A performance like that against an explosive offense can only help San Francisco’s chances of winning a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy when they face the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
In Smith’s mind, it was just the latest solid effort against one of the league’s best offensive units.
“We’ve faced some elite offenses and came out winning a lot of those games,” Smith detailed. “Really, we’ve seen a lot. So I’d say we’ve kind of seen everything, but we haven’t played Baltimore this year. We’ll take what we’ve learned from the great teams, great quarterbacks we’ve played and put it all into preparing for this game.”
It should also help the second-year linebacker that defensive co-captain
“He’s doing a great job,” the younger Missouri alum said. “I think a lot of people question him his arm and maybe his age, but the dude is playing good football. It looks like he’s doing fine to me.”
The impact is hard to quantify.
“You got to respect him because of what he’s capable of doing,” Aldon Smith continued. “If he’s drawing double-teams, I’ll get singled up and vice versa. Just the attention that he draws, it makes my job easier rushing.”
Furthermore, Aldon Smith can’t help but be awestruck over his entire defense. Six of the team’s nine Pro Bowl selections were on the defensive side of the ball.
He wouldn’t say if he’d have 19.5 sacks on another team, but said, “I do know playing with an All-Star team like this, it makes it easier.”
Having a player like “The Cowboy” certainly helps, but Aldon Smith sees leadership throughout the locker room.
“That’s one thing about this locker room that’s unique, it’s not one person people go to, there’s a lot of leaders,” Smith said.
With that leadership, the 49ers have overcome obstacles to defeat the elite teams in the NFC.
Now, they’ll have to slow down another top offense in the Baltimore Ravens, a unit that scored 24.9 points per game in the regular season and 28 points in last week's AFC title game.
Justin Smith believes the 49ers can match up with the Ravens. Despite allowing big point totals to end the regular season and 24, first-half points to the Falcons last week, Smith sees the 49ers being battle-tested for New Orleans.
“I’m not too worried about it,” San Francisco’s defensive co-captain said. “We’re playing against good teams the farther you go. Atlanta had weapons all over the field, Green Bay had weapons all over the field and these guys have them, too. That’s part of it. Just as long as we come out on top, that’s all we’re concerned about.”