Niner of the Week

Defensive end Justin Smith is SFI's Niner of the Week for his performance in the 49ers' 31-13 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Sunday standout: Smith was again all over the field and was awarded the defensive game ball by coach Mike Nolan after another sterling individual effort that saw him record four tackles and four quarterback pressures and also come up with the trifecta of one sack, one forced fumble and one interception – Smith's first interception since his rookie season of 2001. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound muscleman again played practically every defensive snap and again was a force both stopping the run and providing pressure on passing downs. Smith's big-play day began early when, on Detroit's second possession, Smith used an outstanding spin move inside to shoot the through line and sack quarterback Jon Kitna back near the Detroit goal line on third-and-6. Smith also forced a fumble on the play that the Lions were able to fall on at their own 2-yard line for a 12-yard loss. The big play set up a Detroit punt from its own end zone, giving the 49ers excellent starting position on the ensuing drive for their offense, which went on to score a touchdown to send San Francisco on its way to the lopsided rout. Smith also had pressured Kitna into an incomplete pass on the previous play. Smith combined with linebacker Parys Haralson to stop running back Kevin Smith for a three-yard gain early in the game, then combined with defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga to stuff Rudi Johnson for a two-yard gain on second-and-10 late in the third quarter, and the Lions could get no more yardage on one of their best drives into San Francisco and had to settle for a field goal. Smith got great pressure on Kitna from the inside, chasing the QB from the pocket in the second quarter on a play that resulted in sack by Roderick Green. Smith capped his outstanding afternoon with a very athletic play in the final minutes to punctuate San Francisco's victory. Lining up at his starting position of right defensive end, Smith came on a pass rush and was blocked low by Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus. Smith fell to the ground, then bounced up and dropped backward to step into the passing lane on an attempted screen pass and make a one-handed interception of a throw intended for Johnson. Smith missed no more than a few of San Francisco's 55 defensive snaps while playing seven different positions – left outside linebacker, right outside linebacker, right defensive end, left defensive end, left defensive tackle, right defensive tackle … and he even saw time at inside linebacker. For Smith, it definitely was a do-it-all performance.

Season to date: In three games, Smith already has matched his entire 2007 season total of two sacks, a figure that ranks second on the team and puts him in a 12th-place tie in the NFC with 15 other players. Smith leads the 49ers with 12 quarterback pressures and ranks third on the team with 19 tackles. He also has one of San Francisco's four interceptions and one of the team's three forced fumbles. He began his career with the 49ers with a strong effort in the season opener against Arizona, when Smith had eight tackles, one sack and a season-high five quarterback pressures. He had seven tackles and three quarterback pressures in Week 2 against Seattle.

Need to note: Sunday's game was Smith's 110th consecutive NFL start. He has started every game of his career since early in his rookie season at Cincinnati. Smith, know for his Iron-Man durability, played the most snaps of any NFL defensive lineman in 2007, lining up for 97.9 percent of the Bengals' plays on defense. He's on a similar kind of pace this season with the 49ers, having participated in all 73 of San Francisco's defensive plays in the season opener.

Smith says: "It was a pretty good game and I was active, but that's about it. I think I'm playing as normal as I always have, and some of what happened (Sunday) is being in the right place at the right time. There's definitely some more plays that I could have made. I remember the plays I don't make more than the ones I do make. But the main thing is we're 2-1. The bottom line is wins, and that's what we're going to try and get done again this week. Everybody out there on this defense plays with a high intensity level and things like that, and I'm just here trying to do my part and see how far we can go. A big part of what we're doing right now is the offense. Football is the ultimate team game. You look great on defense when you don't have to be out there at all. Of course you're going to give up (fewer) yards when you're not out there. I think that's a combination of us having a good team and us working together. It's a total team effort, and I think right now we're playing good team ball across the board. As long as we keep that up, we're going to be successful."

Coach Mike Nolan says: "(Smith's motor) is on full throttle pretty much all the time, 24-7 I would say. When I called out defensive game ball (Sunday), I just said, ‘Guys, there's too many guys that made plays so we'll look at the film before I give out a game ball,' and everybody started to chant, ‘Cowboy,' which is what they call Justin, so therefore, he got the game ball. After looking at the film, he certainly deserved the ball. He played very well. The chemistry within a team is important. There's good players that are not necessarily respected by their teammates. I believe Justin is someone that is respected as well as admired for his performance on the field. They respect his work ethic and everything about him. So that helps us win."

Looking forward: Smith, now in his eighth NFL season, will continue to be a team leader and defensive mainstay as the 49ers begin to move into the heart of their schedule. The 49ers will continue to move Smith around to multiple positions along their defensive front to maximize his play-making ability, which obviously has been working out well for both Smith and the team so far. With his versatility paying such dividends for a defense currently ranked ninth in the NFL, it is unlikely that Smith will settle into one particular position any time soon. Why mess with a good thing?

ALSO CONSIDERED: RB Frank Gore (game-high 130 yards rushing on 27 carries, 4-yard TD run, game-high four receptions for 32 yards); QB J.T. O'Sullivan (16 of 23 for 189 yards passing, two TD passes, QB rating of 123.3, 32 yards rushing); CB Walt Harris (four tackles, excellent play in secondary throughout afternoon, shutdown coverage on Detroit WR Roy Williams); OLB Roderick Green (two sacks, two quarterback pressures, three solo tackles in a situational role); C Eric Heitmann (strong performance throughout game anchoring San Francisco's offensive line in the interior middle as 49ers rushed for 182 yards and allowed just one sack).

2008 NOTW LIST: Week 1: RB Frank Gore. Week 2: QB J.T. O'Sullivan. Week 3: DE Justin Smith.



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