METAIRIE, La. — Joe Vitt loathes giving up anything that might be considered part of New Orleans’ game plan.
But the Saints’ interim head coach was more than willing to give up one nugget this week, a piece that really isn’t so secretive.
The Saints will need extra help to block 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, Vitt said.
Stop the presses. The secret is out.
There’s only one problem – stopping Smith might take more than a little bit of help.
“I think he’s always had really good strength,” San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He has gotten stronger from year one to year two with an offseason in here working out with our strength staff. But, he’s always had good, strong, natural, brute strength and he’s got strong hands, too. And the combination of that, his length, and his slither ability, he’s a tough guy to block.”
He’s close to setting the NFL record for quickest to 30 sacks, with 29 in just 26 career games. Against Chicago, he set a Monday Night Football record with 5½ sacks. He has had four multi-sack games this season alone.
New Orleans (5-5) hosts the 49ers (7-2-1) on Sunday at 3:25 p.m. and the Saints are well aware of Smith’s game-changing abilities. He sacked quarterback Drew Brees once and had two other tackles for a loss in New Orleans’ January NFC divisional playoff loss at San Francisco.
And that’s just one of the Smiths. The other one, Justin, can be just as menacing, using brute strength to knock offensive linemen in the backfield, single-handedly ruining plays.
Justin Smith has 73 career sacks in 12 NFL seasons, including 29½ in five seasons with San Francisco.
Of Justin Smith, Saints right tackle Zach Strief said that he is “extremely strong, really stout, excellent in the run game, excellent at creating pressure in the pocket with a bull rush and I think more than anything, is extremely instinctual.”
In nine games this season, Justin Smith has five multi-tackle games and has more than 80 tackles.
Brees knows that his internal clock may not tick any faster, but he’ll have to pay attention to it closer with both Smiths in pursuit of making his day a long one.
“You just can’t have any wasted movements or any wasted time. You know that those guys are bearing down on you,” Brees said, adding, “You always just have to be conscious that you can’t just be sitting back there holding that ball. You have to know where your outlets are and find places to get it out. I know the o-line appreciates that.”
That goes for the receivers and tight ends, as well.
“You’re definitely aware that you need to do anything with a sense of urgency,” Saints tight end Dave Thomas said. “At the same time, you’ve got to run your route and be where the quarterback is expecting you to be.”
Aldon Smith, though, is the marquee of the two and likely the player the Saints will be making sure they know where he is on Sunday.
He’s part of the reason 49ers lead the NFL in points allowed (13.4 per game) and are second in yards allowed (277.2 per game).
In other words, whoever is blocking him will need some help.
“It’s really important for us up front to be on the same page, work together and just make sure whether it’s giving the tackle presence or getting a piece of him, whatever we’re supposed to do, be on the same page,” Thomas said.