Aldon Smith didn’t start two games ago in his return from a nine-game suspension, but he was rotated into the defense on passing downs and the 49ers wound up intercepting Giants quarterback Eli Manning five times in a 16-10 victory.
Then this past Sunday, Smith regained his starting spot and had two sacks of Washington QB Robert Griffin III as the San Francisco defense racked up five sacks overall in a 17-13 win.
Probably not. Call it the No. 99 Equation.
With Smith on the field as one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, San Francisco’s defense has become a more aggressive, dominating group. Despite injuries in the secondary that could be devastating, the Niners front seven has been playing so well – even without linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and nose tackles Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey – that opposing offenses haven’t been able to function to full effect.
As the 7-4 49ers get ready for their Thanksgiving night showdown with the NFC West-rival Seahawks (also 7-4), the defense now appears fresh, fast and furious with No. 99 rushing the passer from his right outside linebacker position in the 3-4 defensive scheme.
Against Washington on Sunday, Smith had two sacks, four quarterback hurries and three tackles.
He now has 44 sacks in 45 career regular-season games.
Both his sacks Sunday contributed to forcing Washington punts.
“I thought he played outstanding,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media after Sunday’s win. “He really had the speed, had power, came up with the big play on several occasions for us today.”
And, Smith’s presence is forcing opponents to concentrate more on him, allowing teammates to make plays. Late in the game, Justin Smith came barreling in for a sack and forced a fumble that locked up the victory for San Francisco.
With a fresh Aldon Smith and young linebacker Chris Borland also playing lights-out football since Willis was sidelined, the 49ers have two young playmakers contributing in a big way for a team that needs its defense to continue to be its strength as the offense can’t seem to find its rhythm.
The 49ers now rank No. 2 in the NFL in total defense and pass defense and rank No. 7 overall in rushing defense.
Said Aldon Smith: “Things are going really good. Everybody’s playing really good ball. It’s just good being back and everybody’s just doing their thing and making plays out there.”