Throughout the 2012 NFL regular season, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith was one of the most dominant, disruptive defenders in the entire league. With a Super Bowl XLVII berth on the line, though, Smith has been nearly invisible.
With the Atlanta Falcons offense firing on all cylinders, the 49ers are in desperate need of some sort of pass rush to make quarterback Matt Ryan uncomfortable in the pocket. The San Francisco defense failed to put pressure on Ryan throughout the first half, and he answered their pass-rush complacency with 271 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.
If Ryan is ever going to lose his comfort in the pocket and start making mistakes, the 49ers need Smith to show up in a big hurry. If that doesn’t happen, don’t be surprised to see the Falcons’ superb passer put up another 200 yards and two touchdowns through the air as Atlanta continues to stay one step ahead of the 49ers on the scoreboard. Ryan having time is not in the equation for a 49ers win.
Smith, who finished the 2012 regular season with 19.5 sacks, has failed to beat the Atlanta blocking and has basically been nullified through 30 minutes of play. He has yet to notch a single tackle and regularly appears stuck in a stalemate with Falcons offensive tackle Sam Baker. That needs to change, and now.
The 49ers must get pressure on Ryan in order to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Whether or not that happens will depend largely on when – or if – Smith flips the switch and shows off the elite pass-rushing skills that made him one of the best in the business this season.