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Matchup of the Game

!Nate Livings


What was once a drill on the Paul Brown Stadium practice fields in 2006 and 2007 is now a matchup Sunday on the game field when the Bengals probe San Francisco's top-ranked run defense anchored by their former No. 1 pick.

There is no better person to break down this matchup than social networking pioneer and Big East TV analyst John Thornton, the former tackle who played for five seasons on the Bengals defensive line with Smith:

"Justin is playing better with the 49ers than he was here. When he was here as a 4-3 end, he was a little stubborn. He didn't want to go inside or do any stunts or games. He just wanted to beat his man. Just play. He's a natural football player. It was an old school thing.

"But now that he's out there and playing end and tackle in a 3-4, he's put on 20 pounds and he's doing more things and it's really helping his game. He's not in the same spot all the time. He's got to be 290 pounds and the most he was here was about 275. I've watched both 49ers games and it's the same old Justin.

"He never comes off the field. He's extremely strong and plays the run well. That was always his strength, making tackles whenever they ran at him. And he's a tough matchup inside for a guard on third down on the pass rush.

"It's really interesting because the Bengals like to run left behind Whit and Nate and that's where Justin is. Whit will get him on running downs and that should be fun to watch because they know each other and practiced against each for two years.

"I always give Whit the edge at home. Smart guy, no crowd noise, size, and I will here. He and Justin have the same physical styles and they're going to be mauling each other. The tougher matchup for the Bengals is going to be when Justin moves inside over Nate on passing downs. But that's the way it always is no matter who it is. Defensive ends have the edge over guards.

"I would have liked to have seen Justin stay here. He's a Midwest guy and he liked playing here. He didn't mind playing for the franchise tag that one year. He didn't care about that stuff. If they tagged him three straight years he wouldn't have said anything.

"But when you're the fourth pick in the draft and you don't get double-digit sacks, it's going to be hard for the team that drafted you to pay you that second contract. And for the first year it worked out for everybody. Justin got the big contract in San Francisco (six years, $20 million of $45M guaranteed) and the Bengals got Antwan Odom (the most expensive free agent in Bengals history at $6 million per year) to replace him and he produced when he wasn't hurt for about a year.

"That was a tough break for the Bengals. I'm glad Justin is still playing and playing like he always has. I never met Tim Krumrie, but they sound a lot alike. Tough, strong, never missed a game.

"I just want to sit back and enjoy the fun matchup."

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