San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith was only an observer at practice on Wednesday, indicating he might not play this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks. Smith suffered an arm injury against the New England Patriots which caused him to miss the fourth quarter in the win. Smith has an active streak of 185 career starts that is third among current NFL players.
On Tuesday, Jim Harbaugh made it sound like he expects Smith to play saying,
Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as ‘The Cowboy. I expect we’ll see The Cowboy. Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, I think The Cowboy will be around, saddled up … roping and riding. If it’s humanly possible, The Cowboy will be out there, roping and riding.
Harbaugh’s statement sounded more wishful thinking than definitive that Smith will be back in the starting lineup. This season Smith has 66 tackles and three sacks, but he has been most valuable to Aldon Smith. He is a big reason why Aldon has 19.5 sacks this season. Justin uses his strength and size to take out one, sometimes two offensive linemen, while Aldon uses stunts and his speed to apply pressure. Ricky Jean-Francois is an adequate replacement at defensive tackle, but what will be affected the most with Justin out is Aldon’s ability to constantly apply pressure on the quarterback.
While the Patriots and Seahawks offenses are different in various ways, it doesn’t get any easier this week. San Francisco will need to figure out a way to stop rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and his read-option offense that is similar to what the 49ers run. Not having Justin Smith on the field will be a big blow to the defense.