Niners defensive lineman Justin Smith is a key to San Francisco's success. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
One of the 49ers’ biggest questions going into the postseason was the fitness of right defensive end Justin Smith.
After Smith suffered a partially torn triceps muscle in Game No. 14 against the Patriots, the All-Pro couldn’t play and the Niners’ defense suffered greatly.
Fortunately for Smith and the 49ers, however, Smith – now wearing a brace on his left arm – has been able to play and be effective in consecutive victories over the Packers and Falcons, helping San Francisco get to its sixth Super Bowl.
Though he’s not 100 percent, he says he’s good to go and ready to play in the NFL’s championship game for the first time in his 12-year career.
Smith, who describes his left arm as “feeling pretty good,” says he had to play through the pain in order to help his team get to the Super Bowl. In the NFL, those chances don’t come along every year.
“To get that opportunity now is going to be awesome,” Smith told the Bay Area News Group this week. “We got to bring this thing home.”
Now Smith and his defensive teammates are going to have to figure out a way to cool off a Baltimore Ravens offense that has come alive this postseason in consecutive victories over the Colts, Broncos and Patriots. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown eight TD passes without an interception, and he’s been making big plays connecting to wideouts Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta.
But as far as Justin Smith is concerned, the Niners’ primary goal on Super Sunday will be to shut down the Ravens’ running game. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are an effective 1-2 punch on the ground.
“I think the main thing is to stop the run,” Smith told Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “The main reason they can chuck it so deep is they run the ball successfully. They max it up (with additional blockers), get you thinking run, suck in the corners and the safety, then they’re throwing over your head. And the guy they’re throwing to (Torrey Smith) runs about a 4.3, 4.2 (40-yard dash) or something.
“I think the main thing is to let those safeties set deep. Hopefully we don’t have to use them that much in the run game and they can do their job back there and we take care of the run.”
In this case, the “we” means linemen Smith, Ray McDonald and Isaac Sopoaga and linebackers Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. Since Smith has returned, he’s played well against the run and taken on blockers and helped the linebackers make tackles.
In the victory over the Falcons, Smith had four tackles; in the win over the Packers, he had four tackles and an assist.
Smith says he knows Baltimore has a very good offensive team, but if the Niners play to their capability – and stop the run, first – they’ll be all right.
“Atlanta had weapons all over the field,” Smith told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “Green Bay had weapons all over the field. These guys do, too. It’s part of it, as long as we come out on top.”