For Aldon Smith, the 2012 season was both great and frustrating.
His sophomore season for the 49ers was often brilliant, of course, as he collected 19½ sacks in his first year as a full-time outside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 scheme. Smith was a key component on a team that went to the Super Bowl.
But over the final six games of the season – including all three postseason games – Smith didn’t get a single sack.
Now, after offseason labrum surgery and recovery, Smith says he’s spent time since the Super Bowl analyzing his play from 2012 with the hope of being better in 2013.
“I watch film, see plays, see what I did right,” Smith told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group during the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) in May. “I’ve got more plays in me.”
So which Smith will 49ers fans see this coming season: the dominant sack artist or the player who could hardly get his hands on the quarterback once defensive end Justin Smith – the 49ers’ All-Pro veteran who plays on his side of the line – was injured? Once Justin Smith was hurt and didn’t demand the full attention of the opposition, Aldon Smith seemed to lose his effectiveness.
An analysis this week of Aldon Smith’s play by the NFL site Presnapreads.com indicates that Aldon Smith’s falloff late in the season may have been impacted by Justin Smith’s injury, but it also was due to circumstances and luck.
In fact, says the author, Cian Fahey, in many ways Aldon Smith’s huge sack total last season is deceiving. After breaking down film of each of Aldon Smith’s sacks – seven of which came when he wasn’t blocked by anyone – he writes: “Smith’s sack numbers were unusually bloated by such random plays born out of luck rather than skill. That is not normally sustainable for a career and it probably explains the fact that he went nine games without a sack last season. … His production is some distance ahead of his development.”
The article points out:
- He was only double-teamed once.
- He didn’t have to beat anyone for seven of his sacks.
- Seventeen of his sacks came when the 49ers had a lead, 12 came when the Niners had a double-digit lead and seven came with a 20-or-more point lead.
- Ten sacks came in the fourth quarter.
- Only one sack came as a result of a stunt run with Justin Smith.
- Many of his sacks came when going against average or below-average blockers.
After watching film of Aldon Smith from 2012, Fahey believes Smith’s sack total was inflated because of circumstances, and he’s actually still a player who needs to develop. He has the potential to be a dominating pass rusher in the NFL, he writes, but it’s possible his sack total may not be nearly as high in 2013. However, with Justin Smith’s career now winding down, the 49ers will need Aldon Smith to continue to develop so that he doesn’t suffer the slump he went through at the end of the 2012 season.
“When that day comes, he will need to be a better pass rusher than he currently projects as,” says the analysis.
Then again, 19½ sacks is a terrific total, no matter what the circumstances. With a healthier Justin Smith and a deeper group of defensive linemen in front of him this season, a similar total for Aldon Smith in 2013 wouldn’t be surprising to most Niners fans.