49ers-Ravens key matchup No. 4: Smith vs. Osemele

Matt & Mindi: Jim Harbaugh has been a star this week

49ers-Ravens key matchup No. 4: Smith vs. Osemele
January 31, 2013, 5:00 pm
Share This Post

Justin Smith is in his 12th season in the NFL. Kelechi Osemele is a rookie out of Iowa State. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Editor's note: This is the fourth part in a series by CSNBayArea.com 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco and CSNBaltimore.com Ravens Insider J. Michael that spotlights seven 49ers-Ravens matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday in New Orleans.

49ers DT Justin Smith vs. Ravens LG Kelechi Osemele

Tale of the tape
Smith (94): 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, 12th season, Missouri
Osemele (72): 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, rookie, Iowa State

Defensive tackle Justin Smith, who might be the most important player on the 49ers, has felt better and gotten stronger every week since sustaining a 50-percent tear to his left triceps tendon on Dec. 16.

That's good news for the entire 49ers' defense, as Smith impacts his teammates at every level. Smith's ability to tie up extra blockers has benefited pass-rusher Aldon Smith, as well as inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. And Justin Smith's pressure on the quarterback is beneficial to the entire 49ers' secondary, too.

When his injury first occurred, Smith said he was not sure if he'd be able to return at any point in the season.

"I couldn't do a pushup so I sure wasn't going to get out on the field and start getting mollywhopped," he said. "I've never been injured before so I always thought you could go with a sprained ankle, hairline fracture, stuff like that is no big deal. But with that one, I knew I was going to be on the shelf for a little bit."

Smith will not be at full strength for Super Bowl XLVII, but he can still make a huge impact. He'll have one more game to go all out before he undergoes surgery next week.

[FEATURES: 49ers-Ravens seven key matchups]

Michael's take

Smith is a player with a lot of veteran savvy, and he'll be up against a rookie who started all 16 games for the Ravens after arriving on the scene as a second-round draft pick. ---- Osemele played 1,228 offensive snaps, or 94.3%, in the regular season at right tackle. The Ravens had other, more experienced options. Now he has been moved to left guard for the playoffs.

With toe surgery ending Jah Reid’s season, Osemele was shifted next to LT Bryant McKinnie. The move has solidified the left side of the line which had been problematic for much of the season. Osemele, who had trouble with speed on the right edge, played mostly on the left at Iowa State.

Osemele was a standout throughout training camp. His emergence convinced coach John Harbaugh that he needed to make room for him on the offensive line. Unfortunately for the Ravens, left guard became a revolving door. They began with Ramon Harewood, then shifted to Bobbie Williams who was the projected starter to start the season, and then Reid, who had been slowed by a calf injury. Reid and Oher never were steady there as they registered too many pre-snap penalties. Osemele has just one in three playoff games.

“It’s a tribute to those guys that had to move around,” veteran center Matt Birk said. “They’re great players and great students of the game, and they said ‘Okay that’s fine, this is what’s best for the team so I’m going to work as hard as I can and we’re going to make this work.’”

Osemele is in his comfort zone and is playing his best football of the season after going into a lull to end the regular season. The move has rejuvenated him.