This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Patriots matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC), at Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
49ers OLB Aldon Smith vs. Patriots LT Nate Solder
Tale of the tape
Smith (99): 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, second season, Missouri
Solder (77): 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, second season, Colorado
This matchup is one of the huge storylines because of its potential historical significance.
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith is chasing Michael Strahan's single-season NFL sacks record. And if Smith has the kind of game against New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder that he enjoyed when they met in college, he'll equal Strahan's record, which he set with the New York Giants in 2001.
Smith leads the NFL with 19.5 sacks, a 49ers single-season record. In 2009, Smith, as a redshirt freshman, Smith recorded three sacks against Colorado in Missouri's 36-17 victory. Smith was matched against Solder for most of that day. (Smith claims he had four sacks, but official stats show him with three sacks and another tackle for a loss.) The 49ers chose Smith with the No. 7 overall pick in last year's draft, while Solder went to the Patriots with the 17th overall selection.
There's added incentive for Smith to pile up more sacks. Smith announced this week that he will donate $5,099 for each sack he records during the regular season to the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco (Willy Mays Clubhouse at Hunters Point) and Boys & Girls Clubs of The Peninsula (East Palo Alto Clubhouse).
"I am excited to be able to give back to my community," Smith said. "Now, in addition to playing to win games, I am playing to raise much-needed money for a great organization that makes a huge difference in the lives of millions of young people."
Smith will have a much more difficult task on Sunday night than he had against Colorado in 2009. Missouri racked up eight sacks against Colorado that day. And, obviously, Solder is much-improved since that time. According to Pro Football Focus' grading system, Solder ranks as the No. 10 left tackle in the NFL. He has surrendered just three sacks, five quarterback hits and 25 quarterback hurries on the season.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked just 20 times in 13 games. The Patriots rank fourth-best in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. Brady gets rid of the ball quickly with a lot of success. He averages 2.49 seconds (quickest in the NFL) before either throwing, scrambling past the line of scrimmage or taking a sack, according to PFF. Brady has a 74.2 completion percentage and a 111.0 passer rating when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less.
For more on the Smith-Solder matchup, please read, "Aldon Smith worked over Patriots left tackle in college."