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Clemons and Smith: Significant sackers

Posted Dec 21, 2012

Of all the intriguing matchups in Sunday night’s game, don’t forget about how the pass-rush prowess of the Seahawks’ Chris Clemons and 49ers’ could impact the outcome.


Sunday night’s primetime matchup at CenturyLink Field between the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers features the top two teams in the NFC West.

And, the No. 2 (49ers) and No. 3 (Seahawks) defenses in the NFL in terms of average yards allowed.

And, the No. 1 (49ers) and No. 2 (Seahawks) teams in the league in terms of average points allowed.

And, the No. 2 (49ers) and No. 3 (Seahawks) rushing offenses in the NFL.

And, the No. 3 (Seahawks) and No. 5 (49ers) pass defenses in the league.

And, two of the Top 10 rushers in the NFL in the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (No. 2) and long-time Seahawks nemesis Frank Gore (No. 8).

And, two of the hottest young quarterbacks in the league in Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson and 49ers second-year man Colin Kaepernick.

Also on the field will be the NFC leaders in sacks – the 49ers’ Aldon Smith, who shares the NFL lead with 19.5; and the Seahawks’ Chris Clemons, who is tied for second in the conference with 11.5 (tied 5th NFL).

While Smith needs three sacks in the 49ers’ remaining two games to tie the single-season record set by Michael Strahan in 2001 – as does J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans; Clemons has become the first Seahawk since Michael Sinclair in 1996-98 to produce double-digit sacks in back-to-back-to-back seasons.

All of this adds even more interest to an already highly intriguing matchup between two teams that have only amped their level of play since meeting in Week 7, when the 49ers prevailed 13-6 on a Thursday night in San Francisco.

So does the fact that each player is on a sack roll. While Clemons had 2.5 sacks in last week’s romp over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto and has 3.5 in the past two games, Smith went without a sack in the 49ers’ victory over the Patriots in New England last Sunday night but had 14 in the previous six games.

They also share similar size and skill sets. Smith is a 6-foot-4, 258-pound linebacker who will rush off the edge in the 49ers’ base defense and then step up to end in the nickel. The 6-3, 254-pound Clemons has found a home at the hybrid “Leo” end spot in the Seahawks’ defense. Each is long-limbed, and plays even longer. Both are relentless in their pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.

Each also has a productive sidekick. For Clemons, it’s first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin, who leads all NFL rookies with eight sacks. For Smith, it’s another Smith – Justin, the veteran Pro Bowler who this week was called “both the Washington Monument and Lincoln Monument of the 49ers’ defensive line” by San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy.

“Aldon, he’s a really good player,” said Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini, who’s coming off a sack shutout against the Bills’ Mario Williams, who entered the game with 10.5 sacks. “He’s quick. He’s long. And it’s his effort, too. You’ve just got to be really technically sound versus him, because he’s going to keep going until the whistle.

“But that’s the way we like to play, too.”

Although he’s only in his second season, Smith is no stranger to the Seahawks. He had a sack in the Week 7 game this season and another in the 49ers’ two-point victory in Seattle last December as part of his 14-sack rookie season.

“He’s got a wide variety of things he can do,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He can beat you with speed. I’ve seen him take tackles and just push them right into the quarterback with a bull rush, and tackle the quarterback and the offensive tackle. So he’s got a wide variety of skills he can use against a tackle.”

So does Clemons. He can be a whirl of flashing arms and hands on one snap, as slippery as the proverbial greased pig on the next and then get it done with a power move on the next.

“Clem has more speed than Smith does,” Giacomini said. “And Clem won’t stop, either. Clem uses his height and length to his advantage a lot more than other guys that are his height and length. He just knows how to use his body a lot more than other guys, and it shows.”

The player who shows most often in this matchup of sack-masters on Sunday night will have a definite impact on whether the 49ers clinch the division title or the Seahawks clinch a playoff spot.

Game Rewind: Seattle Seahawks