49ers' Justin Smith listed as probable for Saturday
His impact was made evident when he went down with a partially torn triceps in Week 14's matchup with the Patriots. The 49ers had stifled Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense through three quarters, holding them to ten points, but the Patriots nearly came back to win when they scored 24 points in the fourth quarter - Justin Smith was forced from the game late in the third.
The following week, the 49ers - without Justin Smith - were embarrassed by the Seahawks in Seattle, giving up a season-high 42 points. In addition, the Seahawks ran for 176 yards, which was a season-worst for the 49ers and was only one of five games that an opponent ran for 100+ yards on them all season.
It's easy to see how Smith's absence has had a negative effect on the defense as a unit, but it's also become clear that his presence has an impact on players' individual success. Aldon Smith, who led the league with 19.5 sacks less than a month ago, did not register a single sack in the 2+ games since Justin Smith has been hurt. Justin Smith draws a ton of attention in the middle of the trenches, creating one-on-one matchups for Aldon Smith on the outside. Without Justin Smith, offenses turn their attention to Aldon Smith, and they've been able to shut him down.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Justin Smith has made a speedy recovery from his partially torn triceps, and is listed as probable for Saturday night's game against the Packers. Exactly how healthy he is will not be known until we see him on the field, but as long as he's out there, he'll give the 49ers' defense a boost. He'll run the risk of completely tearing his triceps, but that's a risk he's willing to take with a full offseason to recover just around the corner.
One of the big reasons the 49ers were able to beat the Packers back in Week 1 was because they were able to completely shut down the running game - the Packers had only 45 yards on the ground. The Packers have put together a pretty decent rushing attack (recently had a seven game streak of 95+ yards), so Smith will be essential in turning the Packers back into a one dimensional team.
How healthy and effective Smith can be on Saturday will have a huge impact on the outcome of this game.