In 13.5 games before the injury, San Francisco produced 33 sacks, or 2.44 sacks per game. In the 4.5 games after that, including playoff wins over Green Bay and Atlanta, the 49ers produced just four sacks. But Smith doesn't believe the team's lack of statistical production is directly correlated to his injury.
"That's just a straight statistic, but what you don't always see is teams play us a little bit differently," Smith said when asked if his injury was affecting the pass rush. "Quarterbacks drift on us a little bit more, and we've been playing some really good quarterbacks in [Matt] Ryan and [Aaron] Rodgers. They're timing guys. They're getting rid of the ball quick. They do their job really well as well, so it makes our job a little bit tougher."
The man most affected by Justin's injury is Aldon Smith, the 49ers' dynamic pass-rush threat who made a run at Michael Strahan's sack record this year. Before Justin got injured, Aldon had 19.5 sacks. Since Justin messed up his triceps, Aldon has been sackless. But, again, Justin doesn't think the two things are related.
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"Aldon, just in this last game, he was getting lots of pressure," Smith said. "They know when you're playing a guy like that, he's going to get more attention, more chipping, he's going to bring the line over there a little more. 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."
Certainly the quality of competition, especially in the playoffs, has improved. But it wasn't just the Falcons and Packers who kept Smith from getting a sack: The Cardinals, who might have the worst offensive line in the league, didn't allow Smith to get on their pu pu platter of quarterbacks.
The question then becomes whether or not the Smiths can get after Joe Flacco in the Super Bowl. After moving around the pieces on the offensive line, the Ravens have done a great job of protecting their quarterback. Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher have been revelations at left and right tackle, respectively, since making a preplayoff switch.
If they keep up their production and the 49ers keep up their lack of production down the stretch, it could make for a long day for San Francisco's defense.
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