Losing Justin Smith hurts the 49ers defense in two big ways.
No.1: Against the run. Justin Smith is the best run-stopping 3-4 defensive end in the NFC. He ties up blockers so Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman can run free and make tackles. Without Justin Smith, offensive linemen can slip past the 49ers’ defensive line and block Willis and Bowman.
No.2: Against the pass. The 49ers’ go-to play to generate pressure on the quarterback is the stunt between Aldon and Justin Smith. Justin grabs the guard and the tackle, freeing up Aldon to loop inside untouched. Without Justin Smith, the 49ers can’t pull off this play and their pass rush suffers. Now Aldon Smith has to beat tackles around the edge, and very often he has to face a double team.
Aldon Smith talked to Bay Area reporters on a conference call Wedneday afternoon about Justin Smith’s absence. Here’s what he said.
Q: How have you been dealing with not playing next to Justin Smith? Is it a learning process playing with somebody other than him?
ALDON SMITH: I guess. In a way. It’s a different person next to you. You’ve got to learn how they play and they’ve got to learn how you play. Time will do its thing. I’m sure we’ll get it worked out and keep it rolling.
Q: There’s no Justin Smith there. Do you feel the need to step up and fill the vacuum that he leaves?
ALDON SMITH: Yeah, I need to step up. With Justin not playing as much, I should definitely step up. Even if he is playing, I need to step up and be more vocal of a leader. Having a guy like that not be around, somebody needs to step up and say something. But there’s a team full of leaders, a defense full of leaders, so it wouldn’t be that hard to do.