NFC Divisional Playoffs: Justin Smith Is Key for San Francisco 49ers

S. DixonContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 02:  Defensive end Justin Smith #94 of the San Francisco 49ers lines up prior to the play during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 2, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
David Welker/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith is one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL thanks to his 33.5 sacks in two seasons. He and 49ers fans can also thank his teammate, defensive end Justin Smith, for his incredible production. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only one of Aldon Smith’s 33.5 career sacks came without Justin Smith on the field.

This Saturday night, Aldon Smith will most likely have to figure out a way to get after Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers without his All-Pro teammate playing healthy.

Justin Smith partially tore his left triceps in the 49ers’ December 16 game against the New England Patriots.  28 days after the initial injury, I am skeptical about Smith’s ability to be 100 percent effective on Saturday night.

Smith is one of the most talented and driven defensive players in the NFL. He is great against the run and is crucial to the 49ers’ pass rush. During Smith’s absence, San Francisco was only able to sack Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson once and Cardinals quarterback Brian Hoyer twice. Aldon Smith went without a sack in those two games.

If Justin Smith is not 100 percent healthy and effective, that could give Green Bay more opportunities to establish their improving running game and find open receivers down the field. If he is 100 percent healthy and effective, expect the 49ers defense to give the Packers’ struggling offensive line trouble.

However, I cannot believe that Justin Smith’s triceps injury has healed enough in 28 days for him to be effective. If he plays, he will only be a shell of his usual self and that will allow Green Bay to escape Candlestick Park with a win and a trip to the NFC Championship game.

Prediction: Green Bay 24, San Francisco 20