USA TODAY Sports
With San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith possibly sidelined for Sunday's game, we breakdown how Ahmad Brooks and Ray McDonald can pick up the slack.
San Francisco will have one of their toughest match-ups of the season in Week 16. On Sunday, the 49ers will go Round 2 with the Seahawks, this time at Qwest Field in Seattle. This Sunday Night Football contest will make for one of the better games of the week.
However, the 49ers could very well be without one of their marquee players in defensive lineman Justin Smith. The Niners defender injured his elbow against the Patriots last week and has officially been listed as questionable.
The Niners could win this game without Smith, and with a postseason spot already locked up, it might be wise to let No. 94 heal properly. I believe Ricky Jean-Francois is capable of getting the job done – not like Smith, but certainly enough to win.
If this is the case, the onus falls on the other side of the defensive line to pick up the slack. Manned by Ahmad Brooks and Ray McDonald, the left side of the 49ers defensive front does not get enough credit.
With two sacks and multiple pressures, Brooks and McDonald were instrumental in the Week 16 win at New England. They’ve done a great job this season but are often overshadowed by ‘The Smith Brothers’ across from them.
Brooks and McDonald are blue-collar guys who work extremely well in tandem. They stay on the field, no matter the offensive package in front of them. In fact, it is Isaac Sopoaga that watches from the sideline against passing formations.
Brooks and McDonald are seriously versatile to do it all; they both play the run and pass with great technique and efficiency.
He is a very cerebral player that does a lot of the little things very well. He’s got his hand in everything, and it keeps him under the radar as a player. He is not overly exceptional at one particular thing – Brooks is just a very well rounded football player.
Due to the side he is on, Brooks often has the responsibility of chipping tight ends. And with his stocky frame and great strength, he packs a punch. It was very apparent in Week 16, as he wore Aaron Hernandez down before he could even begin his routes. If he disrupts the timing by only a second, it makes a difference.
Brooks has been that kind of player, where he’ll help his guys on the backend make a play – and then he’ll follow through with his own assignment. Whether he is coming out of the base or nickel defense, Brooks can hold down the run or get after the quarterback.
He has had a lot of success rushing out of the nickel, showing he can beat his man inside or outside. Brooks gets a lot of QB hurries that go overlooked. And these are plays that force errant throws, incompletions and even interceptions.
This is a guy that makes the quarterback step up in the pocket because he’s the first one there. While Aldon Smith is a better pure pass rusher, Brooks is better at timing the snap, showing great burst off the line.
Like his partner in crime, McDonald is a dual-threat as a run stopper and pass rusher. He is disruptive, but is also capable of generating pressure. McDonald has been able to close the pocket around a quarterback by plowing linemen backwards.
Of San Francisco’s defensive linemen, McDonald might be the best at using his legs. He stays in control of his blocker, utilizing his great mobility and lateral movement. Using his arms and legs, he stays in control of his man and tracks the play in the trenches.
McDonald constantly has his legs in motion, and they churn awfully hard when he’s bull rushing. Also a balanced player, his combination of power and finesse is quite an asset in this 3-4 scheme.
This versatility allows him to kick inside to the tackle position when the defense calls for packages outside the base. He is just large enough to absorb blockers and create havoc in the middle.
As a tandem…
These two have a great understanding of each other’s assignments. This offseason, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the team spent time learning each other’s assignments to give them a cerebral edge.
Whether they are stunting or straight rushing, they’ve been fluid playing off one another. McDonald more often than not is creating opportunities for Brooks, but together, they are very good at trapping the play. The set the edge incredibly well and don’t often lose contain when the play is theirs to make.
Another thing they don’t get credit for is the number of wasted downs by the offense. In the NFL or other, most passers are right-handed, so coming off the left side Brooks and McDonald are difference-makers.
Their ability to blow up the right guard and tackle off the snap is a significant advantage. They are the ones getting pressure in the face of the passer, forcing him to get rid of it.
If the left side in depended on this weekend with Justin Smith being sidelined, the 49ers and their fans should feel confident in what they have. Ahmad Brooks and Ray McDonald are two of the more underrated players in the league.
Merry Christmas from Ray McDonald, it seems everybody wants the same thing this year