Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Saints matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m., at the Superdome
[Matchup Np. 3: Pass defense vs. Jimmy Graham]
49ers OLB Aldon Smith vs. Saints LT Charles Brown
Tale of the tape
Smith (99): 6 foot 4, 265 pounds, third season, Missouri
Brown (71): 6 foot 5, 297 pounds, fourth season, USC
The 49ers eased All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith back into the mix upon his return after spending five weeks on a voluntary leave of absence while seeking treatment for substance abuse.
Smith and rookie Corey Lemonier shared nickel downs as an outside pass rusher. The 49ers’ plan was for Smith to see an increase in playing time as the game progressed.
However, the Carolina Panthers’ plan was to keep Smith on the sideline. The Panthers remained mostly with their base personnel. And with a lead in the fourth quarter, the Panthers concentrated on running the ball.
“The fourth quarter and you get behind and they were running, we weren’t in sub very much,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “If we would have kept the lead and those last couple series would have been in sub, he probably would have got the amount of snaps we were looking for.”
With a Saints offense, led by quarterback Drew Brees, that throws the ball nearly 65 percent of the time, the 49ers figure to be matching personnel in an attempt to generate a stead pass rush. On Sunday, Smith will not be standing on the sideline.
“I think he’s ready this week to get back to playing a lot,” Fangio said. “And he’ll play a lot this week.”
And the 49ers will expect Smith, who had 4.5 sacks in three games before his absence, to demonstrate his old pass-rushing ways against the Saints.
Smith will line up across from left tackle Charles Brown, who enters the game as New Orleans’ lowest-rated offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.
Brown ranks 40th of 59 offensive tackles in the NFL who he played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, according to PFF’s grading system. Brown has surrendered five quarterback sacks and 25 pressures in nine games.
It will not be an easy assignment for Smith, however. Brees, who completes 68 percent of his pass attempts, is adept at getting rid of the ball on short drops. The Saints own the NFL’s second-ranked passing game – behind only Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.