The San Francisco 49ers welcomed Aldon Smith back to the field on Sunday, and proceeded to use Smith in a very specific, limited role. Smith played 12 snaps on the day, and all but one came on third down. Of those 11 third down snaps, two came on 3rd and 3, and the rest were 3rd and 7 or longer. The team wanted to use him in the pass rush role in which excelled as a rookie.
Smith only played 12 snaps because the 49ers spent a sizable portion of the game in their base 3-4. The Panthers did not try to get too fancy on offense, which meant less time for Aldon Smith, but also nickel back Tramaine Brock. In his Monday press conference, Coach Harbaugh indicated it was abnormally low.
Given that Aldon only played 12 snaps, it was easy to take a look back at each of them. It was all the easier because he was the only defensive lineman wearing a white undershirt with sleeves down to his elbows. It makes life a lot easier when you're trying to spot a single player. Thanks Aldon!
At the end of the post, I've pasted in my notes from observing his 12 snaps. The team moved him around early on, rotating him between defensive tackle and defensive end. His first two snaps came at defensive tackle, which is not something we've seen a lot of. On the first snap, he lined up at right defensive tackle, with Justin Smith at right defensive end. Last year, those roles were reversed. This only happened on one snap, but I found it interesting.
Speaking of the first snap, it was Aldon's most successful of the day. He bull-rushed the left guard right into Cam Newton's face. Cam got the throw off, but he had to let go a little early, which meant the throw was high to Brandon LaFell. Tarell Brown had solid coverage on LaFell, but the overthrow was thanks in part to Aldon getting good push.
Aldon's second snap was at left defensive tackle, although he was more standing up than in a three-point stance. He easily got around the right guard. The center was engaged with Justin Smith, but he got enough of a arm out to briefly slow Aldon. Although Aldon did not get to Cam, he and Ahmad Brooks both were bringing some pressure. Cam got the throw off, but he was in a bit of an awkward position. It was bad mechanics by Cam, but I think he might have been feeling footsteps. Whatever the case, the play resulted in Tramaine Brock's interception.
Other than that, it was a fairly quiet day for Aldon. He bounced around between left defensive end and right defensive end. He got one snap in the team's base defense, and one snap in which he dropped into zone coverage, although nobody was around his zone. Late in the third quarter he got back-to-back snaps on 2nd and 7 and 3rd and 3, but that was the only time he played consecutive snaps.
All in all, it was a chance to get back out there and get his feet wet. He wants more snaps, which is reasonable. Even if he is only in the partial nickel role against the Saints, he is likely to get more snaps simply because the Saints will have the 49ers in their nickel more frequently.
12:48 2Q - 3rd and 3 - lined up at RDT in nickel (Justin Smith at defensive end) - bull-rushed left guard into Cam Newton's face - Cam had to throw high, too high for Brandon LaFell (good coverage by Tarell Brown, too)
9:10 2Q - 3rd and 15 - lined up at LDT (standing up, not three-point stance) - easily got around right guard, chipped by the center - Smith and Brooks got close to Cam on the pass attempt, although didn't touch him until after the throw - Cam throws pick - bad throw, but decent pressure
4:45 2Q - 3rd and 7 - lined up at LDE - no pressure, Cam got the throw off as Aldon was looping back in toward him
12:13 3Q - 3rd and 21 - lined up at RDE - tried bullrush, OT pushed him around Cam
8:40 3Q - 3rd and 5 - lined up at RDE - had open path to Cam, but quick shovel pass took advantage of his aggressiveness
4:29 3Q - 3rd and 15 - lined up at LDE - double-teamed, Cam got pass off
1:04 3Q - 2nd and 7 - lined up in close to base 3-4 - Aldon at LOLB on direct snap to DeAngelo Williams - waited on play action, took him out of the play - Williams gained 4 yards
0:24 3Q - 3rd and 3 - lined up at RDE (back-to-back after above play) - general bullrush, Cam threw to the other side of the field
12:42 4Q - 3rd and 7 - lined up at LDE - dropped into zone coverage, nobody around to cover
10:48 4Q - 3rd and 19 - lined up at LDE in dime - bullrush, no pressure as Cam threw quickly on short pass
8:10 4Q - 3rd and 7 - lined up at RDE - No real pressure from 49ers on the play
6:17 4Q - 3rd and 8 - lined up at RDE - pushed outside, Cam keeper through the hole - no impact on the play