By Jerrell Richardson
With a great defense and a power running game, the blueprint for the 49ers’ success translates to a game on the road, just as much as one at home. So the fact that they have an extra week to rest and get ready for their eventual opponent may be more valuable then home field advantage. San Francisco was the victim of several injuries in the second half of the season, resulting in players lost for a few games and some out for the season. After a physical contest against Seattle in week 16, there were 18 players listed on the team’s injury report in the season finale against the Cardinals, and each one welcomes the time to heal up. This week Coach Harbaugh told his players to take some time to rest their minds and bodies as they are hurting.
Defense not the same without Justin Smith
Despite the long list of injured San Francisco players, there is only one player whose playoff status is uncertain. The bad news is that this one player is Justin Smith, and without him, Aldon Smith, and the rest of the defense will suffer. This is a team that relies heavily on the defense and thus could be at a huge disadvantage as they attempt to navigate the road to a Super Bowl. Since Justin Smith left the field, Aldon Smith has been held without a sack, and against the Patriots and Seahawks the defense struggled to say the least, allowing 76 points. The defense bounced back last week against the Cardinals, but Arizona is far from a playoff team and this did not prove that the defense can play at an elite level without Justin Smith in the trenches.
Partial vs. full tear
Justin Smith suffered a torn tricep against the New England Patriots in Week 15, but its no surprise that he has yet to step back on the field. Parys Haralson suffered a full torn tricep in September that sidelined him for the season, so although Smith’s is being reported as just a partial tear, the fact that he is even thinking of playing is a testament to his dedication to this team. He stayed in the game against the Patriots for a few downs after suffering the injury but could no tolerate the pain. Therefore it will boil down to how much pain he can take on January 12th.
Can Smith be effective even if not 100 percent?
However, the more important question is how effective will Smith be playing with a torn tricep? Like Ray Lewis, (who suffered the same injury and has an upcoming playoff game), Smith will have his helmet strapped up and on the field when it’s time to play, but the team needs to make sure he is not a liability, or causing him further injury. The team would be thin at the position if he is unable to play, but in Ricky Jean Francois they have a player capable of doing his job, and should not jeopardize the long term health of Smith, despite the adverse effect it could have on the team’s playoffs chances.
Time to decide
San Francisco is not concerned with the week off messing with their rhythm. They have been through this process before and played just as sharp as they did during the regular season in last years playoff push. The time off gives the players with minor injuries a chance to heal, but more importantly gives Justin Smith one more week to try and get himself ready to play. The policy of the team is to put the player who gives the team the best chance to win the game on the field, and if not effective, then it could be in everyone’s best interest for Smith to join the list of San Francisco players done for the season, and hope that Ricky Jean-Francois can fill his big shoes.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.