With news today that San Francisco 49ers OLB Aldon Smith will be suspended for the next nine games that puts more pressure on the 49ers front seven. A defense that prides themselves on stopping the run while keeping the passing game in front of them, it will now be up to second-year OLB Corey Lemonier, OLB Dan Skuta and promising rookie fifth-round pick (No. 150) OLB Aaron Lynch to fulfill that next-man up mentality. Three players that will likely garner a linebacker by committee approach, you can be sure that the Dallas Cowboys will now be formulating an in-depth game-plan to take advantage of TE Jason Witten’s receiving skill-set.
In their last meeting with the Cowboys, Witten absolutely had a fantasy owner’s dream stat line as he racked up seven catches for 102 receiving yards on 14 targets. And if the past is any indication of the future then Witten will certainly have his fair share of opportunities to make plays. Two players that will likely be lined up on the Pro Bowl tight-end are Lemonier and Skuta.
Both of these players are going to be matched up one-on-one at some point or another, as the Cowboys love to send their players in motion to create the most favorable match-up. If that’s the case, it will then be up to Lemonier and Skuta to hold their own in pass-coverage. If Lemonier and Skuta can remain disciplined in their assignments they should contain Witten for the most part. And that’s where the pass-rush comes into play.
Despite the Cowboys only allowing 35 sacks last season they really didn’t play against any good defenses. However, that won’t be the case on Sunday, as the 49ers are stockpiled with talent at multiple positions. And with the 49ers missing the best pass-rusher in the NFL, look for players such as two-time All-Pro OLB Ahmad Brooks to step in and be the missing link on obvious passing downs.
Last year, Brooks filled in admirably as the primary source of pass-rush in Smith’s five-game absence, as he recorded 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks. And while those numbers don’t stand out, these numbers do as Brooks racked up an additional three quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries according to Pro Football Focus. And that’s exactly what Brooks will bring on opening day as his pass-rush will be invaluable to the 49ers winning the game. From blitzing the c-gaps to stunting inside on the b-gaps, Brooks will need to set the edge in more ways than one. A very underrated player as Brooks can also clog up passing lanes, look for Brooks to create havoc in the backfield as he forces QB Tony Romo to make quick decisions, as I predict him to have around six tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
With the 49ers in desperate need of finding another source of pass-rush, it will likely be Brooks’ job as he should be blitzing more now than in year’s past.