49ers Week 11 primer: The return of Aldon Smith

It’s been a trying season for the San Francisco 49ers, and it seems like even when something good happens, there’s still an obstacle that needs to be overcome.

In a week where the team prepared to welcome back Aldon Smith, they get news that Patrick Willis will miss the rest of the season with a toe injury. While rookie Chris Borland has been exceptional in his absence, not having Willis for the long haul can eventually take its toll.

With Willis or without, the 49ers don’t have much margin for error as they continue to try and repeat last season’s second-half surge with trip to New York to take on the Giants in Week 11.

Recent History

After losing the 2011 NFL Championship in heartbreaking fashion, one would have thought that the 49ers had their Week 6 rematch with Giants circled on the schedule the following season. However, instead of a spirited effort fueled by revenge, the Niners laid an egg in a 26-3 loss.

Alex Smith played his worst game under Jim Harbaugh, throwing three interceptions and failing to move the offense throughout the day.

The Giants took full advantage of the opportunities they were given, and relied on their running game to pace the attack. Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson combined to run the ball 34 times for 151 yards, which allowed Eli Manning to simply manage the game.

It was one of the ugliest defeats under Harbaugh, but the 49ers would bounce back and reach the Super Bowl, while the Giants missed the playoffs all together at 9-7.

Players to watch

All eyes will be on Smith as he returns from his nine-game suspension. Even if limited, Smith will give the 49ers pass rush a much needed shot in the arm.

San Francisco has only managed 15 sacks all season (five of which came in one game) and has struggled to get consistent pressure. Smith is truly elite in this department, and has 42 sacks in 43 career games. His .98 sacks per game average is the highest of anyone since sacks became a stat in 1982.

The Giants are missing a large part of their offense with wide receiver Victor Cruz sidelined for the rest of the season, but rookie Odell Beckham has done a good job picking up some of the slack.

Since being inserted into the lineup after an injury of his own, Beckham has emerged as one of Manning’s more reliable targets. He has 15 receptions for 264 yards and a touchdown over his last two games.

Game changing factor

After giving up 350 yards rushing to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10, the Giants could be in for another long day at the office.

Like the Seahawks, the 49ers can pound the ball and will throw a healthy dose of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde at the NFL’s worst rushing defense. New York is surrendering five yards per attempt on the ground this year, and San Francisco will look to exploit the weakness. 

Stats to know

It’s not easy to replace a player like Willis, but Borland has been lights out since taking over. In addition to a game-winning fumble recovery in Week 10, Borland also recorded a team-high 17 tackles. In fact, Borland has 35 total tackles over his last two games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Borland recorded a +5.9 overall grade in Week 10, with seven stops and a quarterback hurry to go along with securing the fumble. Looking deeper, Borland also played well in coverage, and graded out at +1.7. He did allow seven receptions on nine targets (78 percent), but for only 41 yards.

Bottom line

With a crowded playoff picture in the NFC, the 49ers can’t afford to lose games they should win. Even with the injuries, they’re a better team than the Giants right now and should take care of business, running their record to 6-4.

Photo: Getty Images

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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