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Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Aldon Smith's quest to end sacks drought

By Mike Sando

NEW ORLEANS -- Aldon Smith was a disruptive force for the San Francisco 49ers during late, critical moments of the NFC Championship Game.

The outside linebacker still hasn't collected a quarterback sack in five games and 52 days. That bothers him a great deal.

"It fuels me," Smith said Tuesday during Super Bowl media day.

Smith had 19.5 sacks through the 49ers' first 13 games of the season. That was two more than any player had collected through 13 games since at least 2001. It made Smith one of eight players since then to reach 18 sacks in a season.

But in looking at the chart below showing the top 10 single-season sack totals since 2001, we see that Smith was the only player on the list without a sack over his final three regular-season games. Two additional postseason games have passed without Smith sacking an opposing quarterback.

Again, Smith has gotten pressure at times, particularly in the late going against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game.

"First off, in most of these games where Aldon hasn't gotten sacks, he has rushed well," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Teams are throwing the ball quickly. He is getting a little bit more attention. I don't see it as an issue."

Conventional wisdom says injuries to Smith and defensive lineman Justin Smith have affected the 49ers' pass rush. Aldon Smith has been playing with a shoulder injury. Justin Smith, who has frequently set up Aldon Smith's sacks with coordinated twists, missed the final two-plus games of the regular season after suffering a triceps injury. Smith has not been full strength during the playoffs.

There are other factors.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball within 2.97 seconds of the snap on average against the 49ers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was down from 3.39 seconds on average for Ryan during the regular season. The average was 3.28 seconds for Baltimore's Joe Flacco in the Ravens' victory over New England in the AFC Championship Game. Flacco's average over three playoff games has been 3.52 seconds, up from 3.30 for the regular season.

"Aldon played very well against Atlanta last week, had three or four really great rushes where he beat his guy and hit the quarterback, but the ball was already gone," Fangio said. "Another second or two, those would have been sacks."