NEW ORLEANS -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith shattered the NFL record for sacks in a player's first two years with 33.5. After accomplishing that feat with plenty of time to spare, he then tied the NFL record for fewest sacks in a five-game stretch -- zero.
Smith, selected the 49ers' team MVP after the regular season, enters Super XVLII on easily the longest drought of his career. He did not have a sack in the first three games of his career when he played sparingly. Since then, the longest he had gone sackless was two games. Is he slumping?
Not surprisingly, the 49ers choose option C, insisting nothing is wrong with Aldon Smith.
“Even though we don't have the sacks there, that low hanging fruit for people to see, they don't always see the things that Aldon is doing game-in and game-out,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He's playing at a very high level and that's why he's probably our most valuable player.
The coaches awarded Aldon Smith a game ball after the 49ers' NFC Championship Game win over the Falcons. He was quick to recover a shotgun snap Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan let slip through his hands, turning the game around in the third quarter. He also pressured Ryan into some quick throws. But he had just one tackle.
The numbers are damning. Aldon Smith had 15 sacks and 37 tackles in the seven games before Justin Smith suffered a partially torn triceps tendon against New England. Since then, he doesn't have a sack and just 12 tackles.
"A lot more guys are coming to block me,” he said. “I'm getting double-teamed a lot, triple-teamed at times, and then the quarterbacks are getting the ball out fast. Another thing that's really cool about that is if I'm not making a play, a lot of times I'm getting double-teamed a sack comes from somebody else. I might not get it, but at the end of the day the stats still say it's a sack.”
One problem. San Francisco has only five sacks in its last four games, a significant drop from the 35 it had in the first 14.
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Still, the 49ers insist he's fine.
“He was getting lots of pressure in just this last game,” Justin Smith said. “What the quarterback knows, too, is that you have to get rid of the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't have a clock that goes off when you're practicing against a guy like Aldon. The ball has to come out in three seconds.”
Cornerback Tarell Brown rejected the notion of a drop-off.
“He's been dominant every time he's in there,” Brown said. “He's been dominant coming off the edge. He's been dominant stopping the run, dominant rushing the passer. So he's been doing a lot of great things that's helped our team win a lot of games.”
Aldon Smith came off the bench as a rookie because he was not a good enough run defender. He solved that problem this season, becoming an every-down player. If the extra time on the field has worn him down, well, the 49ers discount that line of questioning, too.
They fall back on that old line that statistics are for losers, and they're winners.
“Aldon's just done a great job of answering every bell,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “Guys didn't know how he would play in the run game, but he stepped up to the task and been playing the way that we expect him to play.”