Can Detroit Lions Shut Down Aldon Smith, 49ers Pass Rush?
It's a pretty tall order, stopping Aldon Smith and the San Francisco 49ers defense, make no mistake.
However, it can be done; he and the defense can be beaten. We're going to take a look at how the Lions might do that with a little assist from the Game Rewind All-22.
First of all, the best way to deflate a pass rush is with short, quick passes at the edges, on screens and across the middle in the short to intermediate routes.
The Niners know this because when the Packers brought the house in Week 1, that's just what the 49ers did to counter it.
So flipping the ball outside to Kevin Smith or to Brandon Pettigrew on a crossing route will work for a bit, but expect a fine defense like San Fran's to adjust.
What then? Well, you simply need to make sure you key on Smith.
It seems like an obvious thing, but the Packers whiffed on that a few times and the Lions have very similar offensive line issues to their NFC North brethren.
Here's how the Packers messed it up.
As you can see, the Packers have ample men on the line to counter what the Niners appear to be bringing. However, when the ball is snapped, every Packer will block right—including Marshall Newhouse (blue circle).
Where Newhouse thinks he's going is a mystery, but it's not off to block Aldon Smith (yellow circle).
The entire line keys right, selling the play action—even Cedric Benson is heading right. Aaron Rodgers will bootleg out to the left, though.
Here's what makes Aldon Smith so good, by the way.
He hesitates at the line, reading the play, checking out whether Rodgers did deliver the ball. Then he reacts quickly enough to still make the play.
Rodgers is done as soon as Smith sees the handoff is a fake. There is nowhere for Rodgers to go, and his best hope is he will be able to juke Smith—small chance of that.
It would have been easily remedied if Newhouse had recognized that Smith was set to come in. Maybe Smith would have pancaked Newhouse, who has definitely had some bad moments in his tenure at left tackle.
Even if that happened at least get in his way and make him step over your corpse.
Of course, the problem is, a defense like this will bring in lots of guys who can kill your quarterback—this is not the Rams (sorry, Rams fans).
So the Lions can do something else aside from just read the defense right and throw some outlet passes.
They can bring in extra blockers as they did against the Rams.
In this screen shot from the Lions-Rams game, the Lions brought in a pair of tight ends to help counter the Rams' rush which had been getting Stafford to hurry his throws and not read the defense well.
In this case, the tight end on the left (Brandon Pettigrew) actually takes off on a route—he sees the Lions have more than enough blockers on the line, Jeff Backus at left tackle can slide over and counter the Rams' defender and he can take off.
The next picture shows exactly that, as well as the rest of the line blocking. In fact, the center of the line is in a position to support other players because their assignments have dropped into coverage.
And look at the pocket Stafford has (outlined in white). He has time to make his reads under no pressure, and he hits tight end Will Heller for a short gain.
That's all of it in one play—extra blockers, locked down assignments and a short pass.
Doing those things consistently will help slow Smith down and diffuse the Niners' pass rush—something the Packers couldn't do a week ago.
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