Steve Young talked about the 49ers’ bye week and their chances to win the NFC Wednesday on KNBR. Here’s what he said.
Q: Are the 49ers still the favorites to win the NFC, or are they just a part of the six-team pack?
YOUNG: It’s amazing what Justin Smith has done. I had no idea. He’s a dual threat. He not only grabs three guys and holds them off so the great inside linebackers that the 49ers have, the all-time tandem, can run free. Ask Ray Lewis what it was like being protected all those years by that front line. That’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
And not only grabbing three guys, but putting pressure on guys in combination with Aldon Smith. Justin Smith made Aldon Smith so much better. Once you put pressure on quarterback and allow the linebackers to run free in the running game, the defensive backs get better. One guy, in this case, is a huge deal, and I didn’t realize how big of a deal his is until he was missing. If Justin Smith’s not playing, this defense becomes a good defense. It can play great, but I think it’s going to be much more difficult without him.
Q: Can the 49ers make up for his loss?
YOUNG: You saw DeMarcus Wear the other day, half of a guy. He was just lost. He couldn’t run. You just can’t play when you really shouldn’t be out there.
If Justin Smith has an arm that really can’t play full speed, it’s a problem. His game is all grabbing people, pulling them, pushing them. It’s all leverage. You lose that leverage, it’s going to be very difficult.
Q: How do the 49ers make up for the loss of Mario Manningham? Can they just hand the ball off more to Frank Gore because he’ll have a week off?
YOUNG: It always helps, but a week off hurts young players. I’ve got to believe that for Colin Kaepernick, it’s time off. And I don’t know that time off helps young players who need to stay in the groove.
Older players, beat up players love it. For veteran players it’s a great boon, so it goes both ways.
I think they’re going to have a difficult time spreading the field with young receivers who haven’t played. They’ve had a lot of success with tight formations, big formations, tight ends, big backs, even on first and second down, even throwing out of that. It might be that they need to focus on that, because that’s when their best-11 players will be on the field, when the bigger guys are on there. That does take you back to what won a lot of games last year and even this year: run the football, Frank Gore, timely throws, great defense hopefully if Justin doesn’t play, and then bring it into the fourth quarter and have a big throw here or there from Colin and win three games in a row. I don’t know how you spread the field in the playoffs with players who haven’t played very much.
Q: Who worries you most in the NFC as a 49er fan?
YOUNG: I think because they don’t have to go to Green Bay, I don’t feel as threatened by the Packers.
I’d be worried about Atlanta. You look at what happened in Seattle with the noise. That’s a tough spot. That would be probably the one place that would give me the most pause, but the rest of it, bring it on.
If they face Green Bay next week, fine, but it’s not going to be easy. Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to go down without a fight. If we don’t have Justin Smith, it’s going to be much more of a fair fight.
But going down to Atlanta… We went down to Atlanta in ’98. It was a pretty good Atlanta team. Garrison Hearst got hurt and we just didn’t do it. We didn’t get it done. I suspect that’s probably the most difficult piece of the puzzle.