With three games left to play, it was all but a done deal. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith had tallied 19.5 sacks. All he had to do over the course of those final three games was register 3.5 more. Considering he had averaged 1.5 per game over the first 13 contests, the record should come as no sweat.
Unfortunately for Smith, he hit the driest patch of his young career. Against New England in Week 15, he recorded zero sacks, two hits and four hurries. In Week 16 against Seattle, he wasn't able to pick up a single sack or hit, only managing three hurries on rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Finally, in Week 17 against the Cardinals offensive line, one would have thought he would have gotten at least one. Nope; instead, he hit Brian Hoyer once and hurried him one another time. Some people are saying the loss of Justin Smith affected his pass-rushing skills, but that theory carries little merit by my standards.
To logically think that Justin Smith held on almost every single play would be complete asinine. If that was the case, there's no question the officials would have eventually caught on and watched more closely for it. Aldon Smith missing Michael Strahan's single-season sack record was more dumb luck than anything.
Aldon Smith 0 sacks in last 4 games, and all 19.5 of Smith's sacks this season came w/ Justin Smith on thefield— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 20, 2013
Smith's sackless streak wasn't put to rest at the end of the regular season, it has indeed carried over into the playoffs.
However, fans and media members alike are the only ones taking notice. If you ask defensive coordinator Vic Fangio about the sackless streak, you will get an answer like this: "He hasn't had a sack in five games and we won four of those." (csnbayarea.com)
Wins and losses are the only thing that matters when it comes right down to it. Not to mention Smith is remaining productive amidst the dark cloud hanging over his head. Here's what he had to say to Taylor Price of 49ers.com when asked about his ability to stay productive and the added attention:
Yeah, I’ve gotten doubled a lot more. The quarterbacks are doing a good job getting the ball out of their hands, stuff like that. It’s freeing somebody up, somebody is going to get to the quarterback. It might not be me making the play, but somebody is going to get there.
He's right when he says somebody is going to get there. During the 49ers two playoff games, Fangio's defense has recorded 35 total quarterback pressures against two-above average offensive lines. As I mentioned above, there are other ways to be productive and sometimes a hurry or a hit is better than a sack.
It's also worth noting that Smith is trying anything possible to gain an advantage as a pass-rusher. Before the NFC Championship game, one of the most dominant pass-rushers in 49ers' history handed out some free advice to the second-year pro out of Missouri.
Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) January 24, 2013
Whatever was said between the men did indeed help as the analysts at Pro Football Focus graded No. 99 out at a plus-2.0.
A plus-2.0 was the highest pass-rushing grade they had awarded him since Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins. The seven total quarterback pressures were the most recorded by Smith in the last eight games.
I have an inkling that this sackless streak will soon be over on February 3, 2013. I could easily see him utilizing his speed rush and getting around the corner against Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie struggled against New England as he allowed one sack and four hurries.
Regardless of who the left tackle is, it's safe to say Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be calling Smith's name more than once come Super Bowl Sunday.
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