Ahmad Brooks

49ers OLBs aren’t getting it done without Aldon Smith

Trent Baalke Aldon Smith Ahmad Brooks

Three every-down performers are missing, and it’s obvious when watching the 49ers try to put together a full game. Scheme and halftime adjustments are important, but the second half fades seen over the last two games can probably be explained in part by the absences of Anthony Davis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith.

Corey Lemonier San Francisco 49ers preseasonThe 49ers are cagey with their injury announcements once the season starts, but it seems like Davis should be back soon. Once he returns and Alex Boone gets back up to speed, the line should coagulate into the kind of group we’re grown accustomed to seeing. Bowman was the team’s best overall defender in 2013, but Michael Wilhoite made strides in yesterday’s game. And if Wilhoite’s performance becomes a problem, Chris Borland is an intriguing option.

The news isn’t so rosy in the case of Aldon Smith’s replacement(s), however. The only sack on Jay Cutler came from Justin Smith. The only (legal) hit on Cutler was also made by Justin Smith. It was like a group of kids failing to push a boulder up a mountain, with dad coming in and saying “step aside, youngins” before pushing the giant rock himself.

From Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus:

  • “Out of 47 outside linebackers in our Pass Rush Productivity Rating, after two weeks the 49ers group consists of Lynch (21st), Skuta (27th), Brooks (36th), and Lemonier (T-last).”
  • “Lemonier has yet to register a QB pressure in 50 pass rushes this season.”
  • “Five of the ten QB pressures recorded by the 49ers last night were by Justin Smith.”
  • “Ahmad Brooks did not register a QB pressure in 27 pass rushes last night.”

Aaron Lynch is the best outside linebacker so far, but he’s awfully raw. Brooks was supposed to be the guy who increased his already strong production with Aldon out for an extended period, but he showed up to camp out of shape and hasn’t done much. Dan Skuta made some big plays in Dallas and has done about as well as can be expected for a converted middle linebacker who was known mostly for his special teams work before signing with the 49ers. Corey Lemonier literally hasn’t done anything this season besides get flagged for illegal hands to the face. Last year’s third round pick is only in there to rush the passer, and he’s lost his individual matchup each time. Along with Brooks’ age-30 slide, Lemonier’s regression from “decent rookie” to “where the hell is he?” has to be driving Vic Fangio nuts.

The 49ers aren’t blitzing, because they want to make sure Wilhoite, Patrick Willis (who’s been fantastic), Antoine Bethea (who’s been very good), Eric Reid, Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward (who’s getting roasted today for allowing three touchdowns to the much larger Brandon Marshall) are in coverage.

This is nothing new. Fangio would much rather let the guys in front rush the quarterback without outside help. That works when Aldon and Justin Smith are side by side and demand at three or four blockers at a time, but Fangio may be forced to dip into his bag of tricks in Arizona on Sunday.

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