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Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and the NFL playoffs

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With Justin Smith set to return for the NFC Divisional Playoff round, we discuss the 49ers team situation with and without the defensive star.

Ezra Shaw

Though he has been sidelined for the past two games (9 quarters), 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith will supposedly be ready for the team’s first postseason game in two weeks. Smith was injured against the Patriots in Week 15, and was officially diagnosed with a torn tricep.

He will do battle in the NFC Divisional Round but will not be 100-percent.

Smith’s presence in the lineup is a game-changer, but it is yet to be seen how effective he can be. Without Smith, the 49ers went 1-1 against two NFC West opponents, including a blowout lost to the Seahawks – a team San Francisco could potentially see in the first round.

The return of 33-year-old beastly defensive lineman will be very telling of how far this team goes in the playoffs. If Smith can perform near the level he was at before his injury, San Francisco has a fighting chance. From the right end spot, Smith’s ability to affect the run and the pass is incomparable.

He is a known run-stopper, but can also rush the passer and create opportunities for those around him. With Smith returning for the postseason, one of the biggest impacts he could potentially have would be the restoration of the "Smith Brothers" dimension.

With No. 94 and No. 99 on that right side, Justin and Aldon Smith are one of the more unique and feared defensive tandems in the NFL.

With their physical gifts and polished skill sets, they are a perfect complement to one another. It is critical for the 49ers to regain this aspect of their defense in the playoffs. When they get hot, they are nearly unstoppable controlling the line of scrimmage.

They can win the game up front, pressuring the quarterback, stopping the run and just creating a litany of negative plays for the offense.

Without Justin Smith, the defense as a whole, particularly Aldon Smith, are less productive. In the final two games of the season where the team did not have the veteran lineman, the second-year outside linebacker was held without a sack.

In fact, Justin Smith’s injury effected Week 15, Week 16 and Week 17 – all of which Aldon Smith did not have a single QB takedown. In 13 games prior with his partner in crime, No. 99 accumulated 19.5 sacks, racking up the stats in ten of those matches.

Justin Smith will essentially be playing with one arm, but with his frame and general presence, he should be able to contribute. Smith’s move is to put that forearm into the chest of an opposing offensive lineman and bowl him backward – something he typically does with one arm anyway.

However, absorbing two linemen will be more difficult this time around because it necessitates him getting hands on both of them. Smith will have to rely on his massive build to create congestion in opposing blocking schemes, and hopefully that will free up running lanes for the young rush linebacker.

Where Justin Smith is at will be a significant factor in this year’s playoff run.

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