49ers' Smith rose to occasion

November, 14, 2008
11/14/08
2:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The fallout from San Francisco's narrow defeat at Arizona on Monday night overshadowed a strong performance from the 49ers' Justin Smith.

Smith doesn't appear to be great at any one thing, but he does several things well and tends to cause problems through his relentlessness. He won't get enough sacks for Pro Bowl consideration. The 49ers won't win enough games for Smith to receive other recognition. But the next time someone tells you he isn't an impact player, tell them otherwise.

A few examples from Monday night (this should constitute pleasure reading for 49ers fans tired of reading about everything that has gone wrong):

  • Cardinals drive No. 1: Smith sheds Cardinals left guard Reggie Wells to tackle Tim Hightower after a 1-yard gain.
  • Cardinals drive No. 2: Smith drives Wells into quarterback Kurt Warner, affecting the throw. Smith might have hit the ball or hit Warner's hand as Warner threw. The third-and-3 pass fell incomplete.
  • Cardinals drive No. 3: Smith sheds Wells to tackle Edgerrin James after 3 yards on first-and-10. Smith deflects Warner's pass on the next play even though Wells held his ground this time.
  • Cardinals drive No. 4: Smith sheds left tackle Mike Gandy as the 49ers stop James after a 1-yard gain on first down. On the next play, Smith pressures Warner around the edge, beating Gandy. Warner moves within the pocket, resets and throws a 13-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. Smith gets his hands on Warner but cannot quite get him down.
  • Cardinals drive No. 5: The Cardinals effectively double Smith on first down. Gandy clears out Smith on second down, allowing Boldin to gain 13 yards on a running play. The next play is a screen. Smith reads it quickly and recovers in time to limit Hightower to a 3-yard gain. Later in the drive, Wells and Gandy double-team Smith, allowing Roderick Green to loop around and deliver a big hit on Warner, forcing an incomplete pass. The Cardinals opt for an inside handoff to Boldin on third-and-7. Smith loops across the formation as a pass rusher, beating right guard Deuce Lutui. Patrick Willis makes the tackle after a 3-yard gain. Smith disrupted the play.
  • Cardinals drive No. 7: The Cardinals double Smith twice. On third-and-1, Smith helps disrupt the play as Parys Haralson gets past tight end Stephen Spach to make the tackle for no gain.
  • Cardinals drive No. 8: Warner beats the blitz in finding Hightower out of the backfield. Smith reads the play right away and makes the tackle after a 4-yard gain on second-and-9. Wells and Gandy double Smith on the next play, freeing up Willis to get initial pressure on Warner. Warner finds Hightower for an 8-yard gain anyway.
  • Cardinals drive No. 9: Smith loops around the right tackle to pressure Warner into a third-and-5 incompletion. Officials initially call the play intentional grounding, only to pick up the flag.
  • Cardinals drive No. 10: Smith beats Gandy to pressure Warner into an incomplete pass on first-and-10. Smith then busts through center Lyle Sendlein and has a free shot on Warner, but a false-start penalty against Jerheme Urban prevents Smith from following through. On the next play, Smith reads the screen and takes down Hightower after a 5-yard gain, well short of the first down. On third-and-10, Smith beats Gandy from one side while Green is beating Levi Brown on the other side. Smith and Green converge at the quarterback, but Warner steps up to avoid them, throwing incomplete.

The 49ers have played a few quarterbacks who get rid of the football quickly. Warner is doing that better this season. Drew Brees and Matt Hasselbeck get rid of it quickly.

This game against the Rams on Sunday might give Smith a better opportunity for sacks. If I'm the 49ers, I move him around, as usual, and take advantage of matchups with right tackle Alex Barron.

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