Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at CenturyLink Field, Seattle.
49ers RDT Ricky Jean Francois vs. Seattle LG Paul McQuistan
Tale of the tape
Jean Francois (95): 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, fourth season, LSU
McQuistan (67): 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, seventh season, Weber State
The 49ers called on Ricky Jean Francois, their first defensive lineman off the sideline, in the second half a week ago when Justin Smith was unable to return to action due to a left elbow injury against the New England Patriots.
Smith did not practice this week, and he is not expected to be available Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks. Even if Smith does suit up, Jean Francois will likely be counted upon to play most of the game.
When asked how he feels about Jean Francois' ability to step into the lineup in place of an All-Pro player, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "I feel good. I think we all felt good about Ricky Jean and Ray (McDonald), anybody who goes in there. Next guy up."
McDonald and Jean Francois provided big plays for the 49ers a week ago after the Patriots rallied to score four consecutive touchdowns to pull into a 31-31 tie in the fourth quarter. McDonald and Jean Francois produced back-to-back sacks of quarterback Tom Brady as the 49ers held onto the momentum and a 41-34 victory.
Jean Francois is expected to make his fourth career start. And the 49ers' most versatile defensive lineman will be going against the Seahawks' most versatile offensive lineman. Seattle's Paul McQuistan moved from right guard to left guard when James Carpenter went on injured reserve. McQuistan also played left tackle last year when Russell Okung was injured.
Jean Francois' effectiveness can also be measured in how outside linebacker Aldon Smith fares against Okung, who is having an outstanding season at left tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Okung has yet to surrender a quarterback sack and has been beaten for only two quarterback hits in 13 games.
Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks through 14 games, just three behind Michael Strahan's NFL record of 22.5 sacks, which he set for the New York Giants in 2001.
Justin Smith, who has made 185 consecutive regular-season starts since his rookie season in 2001 with the Cincinnati Bengals, generally attracts a lot of double teams. He ties up blockers, which benefits Aldon Smith, as well as inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Jean Francois must do a good job in his one-on-one matchups against McQuistan.
After all, Jean Francois said he figures the Seahawks will try to test him with a steady diet of running back Marshawn Lynch coming his way. Lynch has rushed for 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He gained 103 yards on 19 carries in the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park on Oct. 18.
"I usually get that every game, from the first time I started against Tampa Bay, I know they're going to come at me," Jean Francois said. "Everybody knows Justin Smith is one of the best D-linemen, so they're dealing with a guy who has played or hasn't started. That's the best part about it. They get to come at me."
Jean Francois is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in the offseason, so a strong showing could increase his stock on the open market. But as he prepared this week to start and play every down in place of one of the 49ers' most influential players.
"It would help me, but it's going to help my teammates, too," Jean Francois said. "It's another step closer to having a bye week, winning the division and so on and so on. Free agency? I'm not worried about that. I'm just worried about the season and what I can control right now."