After Monday night's beatdown of the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, the only thing anyone could talk about was San Francisco's quarterback controversy. Yet, today's game proved to be about the 49ers' biggest weapon, their defense.
Sure, Colin Kaepernick did a fine job completing 16-of-25 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown. However, he did have one interception that almost cost the 49ers points before the end of the first half. But outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks bailed him out in a big way by intercepting a pass of his own.
Brooks' interception set the tone before halftime and for the rest of the game. His interception swung the momentum in San Francisco's favor as the 49ers went on to score 21 unanswered points. The Saints finally answered back midway through the third quarter with a touchdown of their own, but by then it was too late, as they didn't score again the rest of the way.
As soon as the Saints got behind in the second half they went into pure pass mode, which played right into the 49ers' hands. New Orleans only ran the ball six times in third quarter and not once in the fourth quarter. By becoming pass-happy, it allowed Vic Fangio's defense to pile up five sacks and seven quarterback hits.
The "Smith brothers," Aldon and Justin Smith combined for three sacks and Brooks managed to add 1.5 of his own. Everyone knows Aldon and Justin Smith are one of the best pass rushing partners in the league, as they work together to work over opposing offensive linemen. By games end they have now combined for 18.5 sacks, 17 hits and 37 hurries through 11 games.
Brooks doesn't quite receive as much national praise as Aldon Smith, yet he is easily having the best season of his career. He has 5.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits and 25 hurries. At the end of the 2011 season, he finished with 57 total pressures.
He should eclipse that threshold in two weeks if he keeps up the relentless pace. Moreover, his play in coverage this year is hands down a step above last year. He looks more comfortable dropping back in Fangio's defense and he looks quicker—especially on today's pick-six.
I will be the first to admit, I thought San Francisco's defense lost that elite status from 2011, but if the last two weeks are any indication of what their play will be like down the stretch—watch out. Their uptick in play has a lot to do with the improved play of Justin Smith.
He started the season a lot slower than he did last year and there's really no way he can match his output from 2011, yet whatever has changed over the past five weeks proves that he still has some juice left in the tank. He may not have the numbers he did a year ago, but he is eating up blockers for the sack extraordinaire Aldon Smith.
Aldon Smith now 6 sacks (2 today/now 17) away from eclipsing Strahan's record (22.5) for 1 season.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) November 26, 2012
With five games left to play, the single-season sack record is well within reach. Aldon Smith needs to have at least one sack in four of the remaining games and one game with two sacks. With the way he has been playing over the last five weeks, the task seems achievable. Today marked the fifth game in a row where he has notched at least one sack.
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