Unleashing 49ers' pass rush on Eli Manning

January, 22, 2012
1/22/12
11:40
AM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- Aldon Smith finished the San Francisco 49ers' divisional playoff victory over New Orleans with one sack, two tackles for loss and four quarterback hits.

The rookie first-round draft choice played 65.1 percent of the defensive snaps, his fourth-highest total of the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The bump in playing time was not assured. Smith generally does not play in the 49ers' base defense, and the Saints were known to use heavier personnel groupings on offense relatively often. But with the 49ers jumping to a 17-0 lead early in the game, the Saints went into catch-up mode. That helped Smith get on the field quite a bit, maximizing the 49ers' pass rush.

New Orleans used three-plus wideouts 68.1 percent of the time when trailing (45 of 66 snaps), but only 46.7 percent of the time when the game was tied (7 of 15 snaps).

Smith, who led the 49ers with 14 sacks during the regular season, will again be a key variable when San Francisco faces the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. He played about half of the snaps against he Giants in Week 10, when the 49ers won a close game, 27-20. Smith had no sacks and one QB hit in that game.

The first chart shows the Giants' personnel use against Green Bay last week by score differential. The Giants led or were tied throughout. They used three-plus wideouts not quite half the time. Overall this season, the Giants have used three-plus receivers 46 percent of the time when leading, 34.9 percent of the time when tied and 55.3 percent of the time when trailing.

The better the 49ers fare on the scoreboard, the more frequently we're apt to see their most prolific quarterback sacker on the field.

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