As we got deeper into the second half of this game, you just knew it was going to take a mistake from one of the offenses (or indeed, the special teams) to break the deadlock. So great was the defense’s stranglehold, it seemed we may be in for an even longer game than the one we got.
I’ll leave the Giants’ defense for my colleagues to pick up tomorrow, but the topic here is Justin Smith and just how New York went about trying to combat him. The truth is, they invested a lot to hold him in check which worked to begin with, but then, when they were left with no option but to leave him one-on-one, it was usually to their cost.
The most defensive snaps Smith had played in a game up until today was 83 in the Divisional Playoff against the Saints and in Week 6 against Detroit. He obliterated that here by playing every one of the 93 snaps that the Giants had the ball.
To many, it may seem that he became more noticeable as the game wore on, and this is probably true, however, much of this was because of how he was accounted for by the Giants. Early on it seemed he was being doubled an awful lot; as he lined-up over the left guard, Kevin Boothe, either the center, David Baas, or the left tackle, David Diehl, would assist Boothe to ensure Smith was kept in check. To start with, it worked well, as he registered only a single late hurry in that quarter. The problem for San Francisco was that this extra attention was not being rewarded by other 49ers making plays to compensate.
However, as the game wore on, other players started to take advantage of the opportunities created which, in turn, led to Smith being left with more single matchups. In addition, he started to take a wider stance on occasion, ensuring he got to rush against Diehl and again this strategy helped as his sack, one of his hits, and three of his hurries came against the left tackle. Even here, though, a back was left in at times to help Diehl out.
Something else to note was the Giants as good as labeled his area a “no go zone” for running plays. Despite 25 rushing attempts, a point of attack to a gap either side of Smith was targeted only three times and on two of those he made the tackle.
By the end, he and the rest of the defense seemed to have everything in control. The Giants’ strategy to nullify him, after a promising start, was in tatters and he was getting pressure almost every other play he was not double teamed. In the end, only the fumble on the punt return which left the Giants already in field goal range allowed them to win. The 49ers may have lost, but Justin Smith was very much a winner in his game within the game.
With the game in overtime and the Giants driving in San Francisco territory, they had a 3rd-and3 at the 46. Smith bull-rushed Diehl, pushing him back towards his quarterback where the 49er right end pulled Eli Manning down for a 10-yard sack.
Areas of Concern
On defense he was virtually perfect, so you’ll have to make do with the way Mathias Kiwanuka man-handled him when he went in to play tight end for a snap on offense. Not pretty. I think I’d stick to using him against an offensive line as opposed to being a part of it.
By the Numbers
Snaps: 93 (100% of all plays) on defense and two plays on offense
Running game: Four tackles on 29 running plays (the 49ers scorer was a little liberal in the way he gave Smith two-to-three more tackles than he actually made).
Passing game: One sack, three hits, and nine hurries on 64 pass rushing attempts.
Despite being schemed against, he eventually won through and was a key component in the San Francisco defense shutting down the Giants after halftime. He ended the season as he played nearly all of it; extremely well and he personally deserved better than the final result.