The San Francisco 49ers pass rush struggled to find any consistency through the first nine games of the season, but this past Sunday, we might have started to see it turn the corner. Aldon Smith returned to action, and it was readily apparent what kind of impact he could have.
The picture above was from the Giants final offensive play of the first half. It was a limited pass rush with the 49ers protecting deep down the field. And yet, it is still amusing to see Aldon Smith getting triple-teamed. Over the course of the game, he was double- and triple-teamed fairly extensively. The Giants would send two offensive linemen at him, or they might send an offensive lineman and have a running back chip him as well.
Prior to Smith's return, Aaron Lynch's emergence resulted in him receiving some double teams each week. Now that Smith is back in the lineup, one of them is likely to see fewer double teams. And even if both get double-teamed, that potentially opens the middle of the line for a blitzing inside linebacker or safety. The return of Aldon Smith has just about guaranteed we will see improvement from the pass rush.
There are a couple good articles covering Smith's return. Jenny Vrentas charted out his return, while Jason Bailey discussed the impact of his return (along with Josh Gordon) on the playoff race. The return of Aldon Smith is a pretty huge deal. I think most 49ers recognize this, but even still, sometimes it is possible this is underestimated elsewhere. Aldon Smith was setting a historic pace for sacks. The Bailey article mentions Justin Smith saying how this is like the return of a No. 1 receiver. That is a pretty accurate statement. A player with a single-handed ability to drastically impact a game is back in the 49ers lineup.
The domino effect is already being felt in the pass rush, and will continue to be felt as the season moves along. Even without Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman returning, a strong performing defense has taken a significant step forward. The past few years, Ahmad Brooks has been a strong OLB opposite Aldon Smith. He can rush the passer and he can protect against the run. And yet, Aaron Lynch brings a more fearsome presence to the pass rush. This gives the 49ers two ridiculously talented pass rushers book-ending the nickel defense. That's kind of ridiculous.