New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief acknowledges he wasn’t completely focused on his television earlier this week when the San Francisco 49ers were playing the Chicago Bears.
“I was doing chores with my wife and running around the house,” Strief said with a smile. “The game was on. I was watching but not watching."
Maybe it’s better that way. Because what 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith did to Chicago’s offense was enough to give any lineman or quarterback nightmares.
No player in almost 43 seasons of Monday Night Football has ever produced more sacks in one game. Smith notched 5.5 after dominating Bears tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi to pace a 32-7 victory.
Smith will now be trying to keep that momentum going when the Niners face the Saints in the FOX America’s Game of the Week matchup Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET).
“There are some guys who get on rolls and it’s tough to stop them,” Strief told FOXSports.com. “He’s an elite rusher. Let’s be honest — he has more sacks (29) through 26 games than any player in (NFL) history, and there have been several decent players roll through this league.”
Beginning with his 14-sack campaign in 2011, Smith has shown potential to become one of those “decent” players who are spoken of in reverence. And in his second NFL season, Smith is doing more than playing predominantly in passing situations, as he did as a 49ers rookie.
During a Wednesday telephone interview with FOXSports.com, Smith agreed with Strief’s assessment that he was “grasping their defense completely.”
“I’m a totally different player because I’ve got more experience,” said Smith, who is now a full-time 49ers starter. “I’ve grown up as a football player. It’s the attention to detail I’m paying and understanding the game more.”
Smith also is staying humble despite the attention his Monday night performance has brought (Smith’s high school and college coaches were among the dozens who sent congratulatory texts). Rather than offer self-praise for his dominance against the Bears, Smith heaped credit on his teammates, including first-time starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“I’m really most happy with Colin’s performance,” said Smith, who was part of San Francisco’s 2011 draft class with Kaepernick. “I was really excited to see him get the start. The rest of the defense had a really good game, too. I’m happy with how the whole game came together, period.”
Smith should feel ecstatic if Strief can’t play because of a groin injury that has sidelined him the past two weeks. Strief had limited participation in Wednesday’s practice.
That was more than Strief’s backup could do. Charles Brown (knee) will likely be out, which could push undrafted rookie free agent Bryce Harris into his first NFL start.
Smith, though, also knows that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is one of the NFL’s most elusive passers. Brees has gotten sacked only four times in the past five games.
“He does a good job getting rid of the ball and using his pocket protection,” Smith said.
No matter who is assigned to block Smith on Sunday, Strief expects the Saints game plan will be better than the one Chicago deployed.
“I watched that game and was like, ‘Man, they need to throw a chip (blocker) or put two guys on him or something. Don’t just let the (tackle) go out there and be on an island,’” Strief said. “That’s tough with players like (Smith).”