SANTA CLARA – Justin Smith spoke at the podium in the Niners media tent today, and this is what he said.
Q: The Saints have two Pro Bowl guards (Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans). Are those the toughest two guards you’ve faced this year?
JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. Those guys are really good at what they do. They’re big guys. They move their feet – all the things you want.
Q: What distinguished them from other guys you go up against?
JUSTIN SMITH: The way they move their hands, their hand placement, their foot quickness, and being 6’5” and 355, 360 (lbs.) doesn’t hurt either. They just have everything you want in a big guard, especially the way they pass protect - short set up front, let the tackles get beat around the edges so Brees steps up in the pocket.
Q: What’s the biggest problem facing the Saints offense? They’re just so well-rounded.
JUSTIN SMITH: I think one thing they don’t get enough press on is their run game. A lot of their passes are set up because they can run the ball, so I think a big challenge for us will be stopping the run, taking away some of those chipping routes where they just sort of sit down after they leak out from max protection. And pressure Drew.
Q: Shorter quarterbacks are supposed to have a tougher time finding passing lanes and they get the ball batted down. What makes him so effective at being able to escape pressure and find those lanes?
JUSTIN SMITH: He looks at where the linemen are lined up prior to the snap. He knows where his B-gap windows are going to be before he snaps the ball. He’s just a really smart guy the way he attacks the pass rush. He knows where that open B-gap window’s going to be and he baits the outside rushers by dropping back and then he steps up and slides to where he needs to be for his open receivers.
Q: You’ve had a well-known B-gap block this year (last play against the Giants). Is that something that you guys are conscious of – trying to get in those gaps?
JUSTIN SMITH: This game is going to be big about our pressure in making sure both three-techniques don’t get outside pass rush and open those lanes up for him, because he can step up and carve you up pretty good.
Q: Have you had a chance to see any of the Saints film from when they lost to the Rams?
JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah.
Q: That was the one time that Brees was really pressured this year, did not have a real efficient game by his standards. Did you learn anything from that game?
JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah, pressuring him is key. They hit him multiple times, sacked him multiple times. After that game they really went to max-up (protection) – let’s keep Drew clean so he can run the offense. We’re going to have to overcome that. We’re going to have to make sure we still get pressure without committing to the blitz a whole lot. To me, that’s the key to the game defensively.
Q: Is Darren Sproles a frustrating running back for a defense?
JUSTIN SMITH: You saw against Detroit – both the running backs (Pierre Thomas, too), even after contact they’re still spinning, getting the extra yards. Real small guy but extremely quick, can make guys miss. They do a lot of swing passes with him and then they have him angle in when you think you’ve got a bead on him. They move him around, do lots of different things with him. He helps max protect and leaks out and causes matchup problems trying to open-field tackle him as well.
Q: Does any offense motion as much as this one does?
JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah, I’d say so. I don’t think they’re motioning shifts are really what define them, it’s the way they keep you guessing with their play calling, how they have a good run-to-pass ratio. I think every team, everybody looks at them as just a strictly run-and-shoot passing team, but they run the ball quite a bit and they’re pretty effective at him.
Q: Could you talk about some of the tighter formations they run?
JUSTIN SMITH: Yeah, they run a lot of tight formations. It’s not just five-wide all the time. They get (Jimmy) Graham in there on the line of scrimmage. They do a lot of passing from there. So, they make it look like regular personnel and then it ends up being three or four out, so they do a good job of mix and matching their personnel and disguising formations.
Q: How much do you trust your instincts in a game like this against such a good offense?
JUSTIN SMITH: It always comes down to fundamentals. It’s always going to come down to blocking, tackling and catching the football. They’re not Houdini out there, so they can’t run one way and go the other. If we just go out there and play sound football, we’ll be alright.
Q: What’s the mood in the locker room after sitting around here for almost two weeks?
JUSTIN SMITH: We’re antsy. It feels like you’ve almost been off for a month. We’re ready to go and should be fresh.
Q: What did you do last week to make sure your body’s right for this game?
JUSTIN SMITH: Like anything, time cures all. They played. We didn’t play. People could say you’re a little rusty because we didn’t play, but it’s do or die time. I think we feel pretty good.