Defensive film review: Same ol' Justin Smith

Matt & Mindi: Thorough domination by the 49ers

Defensive film review: Same ol' Justin Smith
January 13, 2013, 9:00 am
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Along with the Colin Kaepernick Show, the 49ers provided strong play on defense and special teams in their 45-31 rout of the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night in an NFC semifinal at Candlestick Park.

[INSTANT REPLAY: 49ers 45, Packers 31]

It begins with defensive tackle Justin Smith, who played 91 percent of the 49ers snaps despite missing the previous 2 1/2 games with a partially torn left triceps tendon. He looked like the same Justin Smith, who is clearly regarded as the team's most important defensive player. Smith did a good job of holding the point, commanding double teams, as usual, making tackles and pushing the pocket.

Here's a look at the 49ers defense and special teams:

--The Packers went three-and-out on their first possession of the game with NaVorro Bowman in coverage on back-to-back incomplete passes intended for running back DuJuan Harris and fullback John Kuhn.

--Justin Smith had good penetration against left guard T.J. Lang, opening the way for Patrick Willis to step up and stop Harris for a 2-yard gain to open the next drive.

--Third cornerback Chris Culliver got beaten deep against James Jones for a great 44-yard catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Culliver gave up six catches in seven targets for 86 yards. He missed the opening drive of the second half, as he was getting fluids in the locker room for cramps.

--On Harris' 20-yard touchdown run, the Packers double-teamed Ray McDonald, and Justin Smith penetrated, Harris got past Smith, and Lang made a block on Willis, and Harris made a move on Donte Whitner.

--C.J. Spillman made a couple big plays on special teams when he easily defeated the block attempts of Casey Hayward as a gunner on the right side. Spillman was right there to dive on return man Jeremy Ross' muffed punt in the second quarter.

--Punter Andy Lee, when he's trying to loft a punt inside the 10-yard line, kicks the bottom of the ball as he drops the end of the football straight down. That creates an end-over-end kick with a bit of a knuckle-ball effect. Ross could not handle it.

--Justin Smith showed he's OK, as he fended off a double team by Lang and center Evan Dietrich-Smith to bring down Harris for a 2-yard gain in the second quarter.

[RELATED: Harbaugh -- Justin Smith's legend grows]

--Cornerback Tarell Brown had an outstanding game, and he provided a big play with his coverage and over-the-shoulder interception of a deep Aaron Rodgers pass. The play came on third down, and was the equivalent of a 61-yard punt. However, Brown flashed his old punt-return skills with a 39-yard return.

--Safety Dashon Goldson was flagged for unnecessary roughness -- a helmet-to-helmet hit on Harris, who was being driven backward. Jim Harbaugh didn't like the call. I had no problem with it. Goldson, I'm sure, will get fined.

--Safety Donte Whitner was in coverage on Jones' 20-yard touchdown. Chalk it up to a good route and throw from Rodgers.

--In the third quarter, the 49ers started playing more dime (six defensive backs), as the Packers took Harris out of the game and went four wides with Randall Cobb often lined up in the backfield.

--The 49ers did not blitz much at all. (Rodgers is one of the best in the business at exploiting the weaknesses in pass coverage as a result of teams bringing extra defenders.) But what 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did was that he brought Willis and dropped a usual pass-rusher into coverage. Such was the case when Aldon Smith dropped into coverage and Willis beat Kuhn to drop Rodgers for a 9-yard sack on a third-and-4 to open the second half.

--Spillman, the gunner, beat Hayward again and Lee had a remarkable 52-yard punt near the right sideline to enable Spillman to tackle Cobb on a punt return for no return yardage.

--Tramaine Brock entered in place of Culliver at the outside cornerback spot on the left side and played a series. The Packers went after Brock, but he held steady, making sure tackles on two 8-yard passes to Jordy Nelson. On third and 11, Brock made a very good open-field stop on Cobb to force a field goal. Goldson came in aggressively at the end of that play to force a fumble.

--Justin Smith took two Packers blockers, allowing Willis to shoot the gap on a blitz to force a Rodgers incomplete pass in the middle of the third quarter. Willis had another QB pressure to force an incompletion on a four-man rush early in the fourth quarter.

--Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks had a good performance against undrafted Packers rookie right tackle Don Barclay. Brooks did not have any sacks, but he had one hit on Rodgers and seven QB pressures, according to PFF's stats.

--Brown had a strong game. He allowed only two catches for 16 yards, according to PFF. He probably should've had a second interception, but a garbage-time interception was nullified by a questionable pass-interference penalty.

Defensive play time
Includes plays nullified by penalties
58 (100%) -- FS Dashon Goldson, CB Tarell Brown, OLB Aldon Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, SS Donte Whitner
54 (93%) -- OLB Ahmad Brooks, DT Ray McDonald
53 (91%) -- DT Justin Smith, LB NaVorro Bowman
49 (84%) -- LB Patrick Willis
48 (83%) -- CB Chris Culliver
18 (31%) -- CB Perrish Cox
8 (14%) -- CB Tramaine Brock
7 (12%) -- DT Ricky Jean Francois
3 (5%) -- NT Isaac Sopoaga
1 (12) -- DT Will Tukuafu

Special teams
22 (69%) -- Darcel McBath
19 (59%) -- Bruce Miller, Anthony Dixon, Tramaine Brock, C.J. Spillman, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant
18 (56%) -- Michael Wilhoite
14 (44%) -- David Akers
13 (41%) -- Delanie Walker
12 (38%) -- Daniel Kilgore, Garrett Celek
10 (31%) -- Andy Lee, Brian Jennings
9 (28%) -- Will Tukuafu
8 (25%) -- Dashon Goldson
7 (22%) -- Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Alex Boone, Jonathan Goodwin, Leonard Davis, Perrish Cox
6 (19%) -- Tarell Brown, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis, Ricky Jean Francois, Isaac Sopoaga
5 (16%) -- LaMichael James, Ted Ginn
4 (12%) -- NaVorro Bowman, Chris Culliver
1 (3%) -- Randy Moss