Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Packers matchups to watch Sunday, 1:40 p.m., at Lambeau Field
[MATCHUP NO. 3: Jonathan Goodwin vs. Ryan Pickett]
49ers OLB Aldon Smith vs. Packers LT David Bakhtiari
Tale of the tape
Smith (99): 6 foot 4, 265 pounds, third season, Missouri
Bakhtiari (69): 6 foot 4, 300 pounds, rookie, Colorado
A year ago, Aldon Smith went through a sack slump that coincided with a 49ers pass defense that suddenly turned leaky during the playoffs. Smith did not have a sack in his final six games of last season, including the playoffs.
This season, Smith finished the regular season without a sack in the 49ers' final two games. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 49ers surrendered 755 yards passing in games against Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Arizona’s Carson Palmer.
But Smith is in much better physical condition than a year ago at this time. He was battling a shoulder injury that would require offseason surgery. And Smith should not be worn down from the rigors of the season. He missed five games to take a voluntary leave of absence to undergo treatment for substance abuse.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Smith’s lack of sacks is a result of added attention he has attracted from the opposition.
“He’s played very well down the stretch here,” Fangio said. “He drew a lot of attention last week in their pass-protection plan because they saw the way he was playing. And I feel good about where he is.”
The 49ers will be counting on Smith to get pressure on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday in the NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field. Smith tied with Ahmad Brooks for the 49ers lead with 8 1/2 sacks on the season despite playing in just 11 games, and he provides the 49ers with their most dangerous pass-rushing threat.
Smith recorded 1 1/2 sacks in the 49ers’ 34-28 victory over the Packers in Week 1 at Candlestick Park. Smith had 4 1/2 sacks in three games before entering the treatment facility. He had four sacks in eight games since his return.
One of the decisions for Packers coach Mike McCarthy is determining how often to provide help for David Bakhtiari against Smith on Sunday.
“David’s a good football player,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, Aldon Smith is a very good football player. How much you’re helping, how much you don’t help, that’s what the game’s for.”
The Packers did not expect Bakhtiari to play a significant role as a rookie after being a fourth-round draft pick. But when left tackle Bryan Bulaga went down in training camp with a season-ending knee injury, the San Mateo native got his chance.
“He’s been a surprise for us, especially thinking he wasn’t going to play a whole lot for us at the beginning of the season,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t worried about that spot too much.
“In the playoffs, he’s going to be facing a big-time pass-rusher every week. The expectations are high for David. We expect him to play well.”