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Grant Cohn: Without Aldon Smith, 49ers rate mediocre


This is not about the fairness or the morality of the NFL suspending Aldon Smith nine games without pay. Fairness and morality are beside the point. This is about reality.

No one on the 49ers objects to the suspension. Just after the news broke Friday afternoon, Trent Baalke released a written statement saying, “It’s time to put this matter behind us and focus on the season ahead.”

Even Aldon Smith doesn’t object. He released his own statement in which he apologized for getting suspended and said, “I have learned a lot and I’m working hard to grow from my experiences.”

I’m sure he has learned a lot — specifically, if he screws up again the NFL probably will suspend him for an entire season. And then who will want him? He already has gotten in trouble four times — arrested twice for DUI, once for owning and shooting illegal fire arms and once for making a bomb threat at LAX. No fifth chance for him.

Where do the 49ers stand without Smith? That is the only relevant question. The 49ers have three backups — Dan Skuta, Corey Lemonier and Aaron Lynch. Skuta is a run defender, not a pass rusher. Lemonier and Lynch are pass rushers. Last week, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Lemonier has “rushed the passer pretty good” in the preseason, and Fangio said Lynch has “decent athletic ability.”

In the UCLA English Department, professors taught us freshmen to circle key words. What were the key words in Fangio’s quote? If you circled “pretty good” and “decent,” you get a check-plus.

The 49ers have a one-two punch of “pretty good” and “decent” trying to replace a freak, one of the best pass rushers in football. Yikes.

Let’s go game-by-game and figure out exactly how much Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension will affect the 49ers.

Week 1: In Dallas. The Cowboys have one of the best left tackles in football, Tyron Smith. He gave up just one sack last season. He probably won’t get beaten by Lemonier or Lynch, and that means the Cowboys will score a lot. They have an excellent offense that scored 27.4 points per game last season and they could score more than 30 against the Niners Week 1.

But the Niners could score 40. Dallas has the worst defense in football. Four of their best defenders are gone. Sean Lee tore his ACL and meniscus during OTAs, DeMarcus Ware signed with the Broncos, Jason Hatcher signed with the Redskins and Orlando Scandrick is suspended for the first four games of the season. The 49ers’ offense should look better than ever and the 49ers should win.

Week 2: The Bears. Another game the 49ers should win without Aldon Smith. The Bears scored 27.8 points per game last season, but their quarterback is Jay Cutler. He always throws critical interceptions because he is Jay Cutler — it’s in his DNA.

Like the Cowboys, the Bears have an awful defense. They gave up 30 points per game last season. You couldn’t even call them a defense — they were an adjunct offense for the opposing team, aiding and abetting their quest to score points. The 49ers should start the season 2-0.

Week 3: In Arizona. A game the 49ers probably would win with Aldon Smith. Last season, the 49ers barely beat the Cardinals in Arizona and Aldon Smith played in that game. It took a last-second field goal for the 49ers to win. Without Smith, this game won’t be so close. The Cardinals signed Jared Veldheer this offseason, a very good left tackle who should have no trouble blocking Lemonier or Lynch. The Cardinals should win this game.

Week 4: The Eagles. A loss with or without Aldon Smith. Chip Kelly’s no-huddle offense is difficult to defend, especially the first time you face it. The fast pace will tire out Justin Smith who turns 35 two days after this game.

Week 5: The Chiefs. Kansas City lost its left tackle Branden Albert this offseason — he signed with the Dolphins. The Chiefs are replacing him with Eric Fisher who has been terrible since they drafted him No.1 in 2013. He will make Lemonier and Lynch look like Hall of Famers and the Niners will beat the Chiefs.

Week 6: In St. Louis. This team had a chance to split the season series with the 49ers before Sam Bradford tore his ACL. Now the Rams will be lucky to win three games. The Niners will win this one, no sweat.

Week 7: In Denver. A second game the 49ers might have won if they had Aldon Smith. Without him, they have no chance. Peyton Manning will have forever in the pocket. His left tackle, Ryan Clady, is one of the best. He missed most of last season with a Lisfranc foot injury, but he’s back and will erase Lemonier and Lynch. Clady is good enough to erase Aldon Smith, too.

Week 8: Bye.

Week 9: The Rams. See Week 6.

Week 10: In New Orleans. A third game the 49ers might have won if they had Smith. The Saints beat the 49ers by just three points in New Orleans last season, a game in which Aldon Smith played. The only way to beat Drew Brees is to harass him with a strong four-man pass rush, and the 49ers don’t have one without Aldon Smith. The Niners will have to blitz, and Brees’ passer rating last season when blitzed was 114.4. The Niners should lose this game.

When Aldon Smith finally comes back, the 49ers probably will be 5-4 with two games still to go against the Seahawks. The Niners also have to play the Chargers Week 16 and the Cardinals Week 17.

10-6 is the best-case scenario for the 49ers this season, and 9-7 and 8-8 are realistic outcomes, too. Please don’t blame me. I’m merely doing the math.

Missing the playoffs for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh Era is another possible outcome.

You can’t blame it all on Aldon Smith. But he didn’t help.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.