On Wednesday, former 49ers quarterback and Hall of Famer Steve Young went on KNBR to talk Niners and the postseason.
Now an NFL analyst for ESPN, Young has been one of the more revered sports heads out there. He gave his thoughts on what may be a deciding factor for the 49ers once the postseason is underway.
It didn’t take long for him to allude to Justin Smith being the key. Young talked about his injury, what Smith may and may not be able to do and how the defense is impacted. He breaks down the moving parts and how Smith makes the difference between a good defense and a great defense.
Thanks to Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat for transcribing the conversation.
Are the 49ers still the favorites to win the NFC, or are they just a part of the six-team pack?
It’s amazing what Justin Smith has done. I had no idea. He’s a dual threat. He not only grabs three guys and holds them off so the great inside linebackers that the 49ers have, the all-time tandem, can run free. Ask Ray Lewis what it was like being protected all those years by that front line. That’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
And not only grabbing three guys, but putting pressure on guys in combination with Aldon Smith. Justin Smith made Aldon Smith so much better. Once you put pressure on quarterback and allow the linebackers to run free in the running game, the defensive backs get better. One guy, in this case, is a huge deal, and I didn’t realize how big of a deal his is until he was missing. If Justin Smith’s not playing, this defense becomes a good defense. It can play great, but I think it’s going to be much more difficult without him.
Can the 49ers make up for his loss?
You saw DeMarcus Ware the other day, half of a guy. He was just lost. He couldn’t run. You just can’t play when you really shouldn’t be out there.
If Justin Smith has an arm that really can’t play full speed, it’s a problem. His game is all grabbing people, pulling them, pushing them. It’s all leverage. You lose that leverage, it’s going to be very difficult.
If Smith is in the lineup, teams will have to account for him. But Young makes a lot of good points here, particularly the one about how he makes everyone around him better. We won't know where Justin Smith will truly be health-wise until the divisional round begins.
But when the game is underway, all eyes will be on the 49ers lineman.