KEEPING FLACCO CLEAN
The 49ers defense is a lot more than Smith -- the Ravens actually have two Smiths to watch out for -- but Aldon Smith accounted for just over half of their 38 sacks during the regular season, which was tied for 11th in the NFL. Defensive end Justin Smith's production is down -- blame it on a torn triceps that could have ended his season -- but when healthy, he is capable of being a game-wrecker, too. He often lines up next to Aldon Smith, giving the 49ers an inside-outside pass-rushing duo that rivals Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs.
Still, the X-factor for the 49ers defense is Aldon Smith, who is a 6-foot-4, 258-pound freak of an athlete. He has the speed to beat blockers off the edge, and his bull-rush move is formidable.
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In their 3-4 base defense, he stands up as a linebacker. But when they go with their nickel packages, the 49ers will use a four-man front with Smith lining up as a defensive end. They don’t need to blitz very often, as 34 of his 35.5 career sacks came when part of a four-or-fewer man pass rush, according to ESPN stats and Info.
“The Ravens offensive line has played very well through the playoffs. I’m not overly concerned,” Jaworski said when asked if their offensive tackles could handle Smith in the Super Bowl. “But I always think it’s good to have a plan, that if he is getting quick pressure, that you have a tight end or a back in to help [McKinnie].”
According to Jaworski, the Falcons shifted their line protection to Smith’s side, with their left tackle, left guard and center zone-blocking to wall off the left side of the line. “It was a pretty effective way to negate those stunts between Justin Smith and Aldon Smith,” he added. The right guard and right tackle handled the other side, often getting help from a back or a tight end to chip Ahmad Brooks, the outside linebacker opposite Aldon Smith. “I thought it was a pretty good plan,” Jaworski said. And it was. Matt Ryan was sacked just once.
The Ravens must come up with a similar plan to take care of Smith, said Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who doesn’t believe that McKinnie -- who was beaten for a sack and allowed four other pressures in the AFC championship game, per Pro Football Focus -- can be left alone to block Smith 1-on-1 when Flacco takes deep drops.
He seemed to think that what the Falcons did -- sliding three men toward Smith -- might be the best approach.
“If you slide your line to Smith and you chip Brooks, you’re not losing any eligible receivers in your pass game because the chipper then goes right out into a route,” Cosell said. “I think that’s critical to have five guys [running] routes. There are many tactical ways to do it, in my opinion, but you don’t want to do is create a situation where you’re asking Bryant McKinnie to block him one-on-one on deep drops.”
Because all it takes is one blown block and one big sack for Smith and the 49ers to wreck the best-laid plans.