Starting defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have played a significantly smaller percentage of the 49ers' defensive snaps through the halfway point of the season than they did at the same mark a year ago.
Smith has been on the field for 412 of the team's 548 defensive snaps, 75 percent of the total. Through eight games a year ago, he had played 93 percent of the defensive snaps, 464 total.
McDonald also was in on 93 percent of the defensive plays (466) at the halfway mark a year ago. This year, that percentage is down to 74 percent of the total, 406 snaps in all. McDonald tore a biceps tendon in the third quarter in Week 5 and sat out the rest of the game. Since then, his snap count has been about normal for this year, and he reported that his arm has felt better in the last two contests.
The 49ers played fewer defensive snaps at the halfway point last year (499) than they have so far this season (548), which mitigates somewhat the rest the starting defensive ends have received. Still, the 49ers seem committed to giving Smith, 34, and McDonald, 29, more plays off this season. And with rookies Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine being worked into the mix, there certainly will be more talent at defensive end than the 49ers have had in some time.
Meanwhile, as was the case all of last year, the 49ers' starting offensive line - easily the team's greatest strength - has been intact through the first half of the season. Left tackle Joe Staley and right guard Alex Boone have played every offensive snap, the only players on the roster with a 100 percent mark through eight games.
Running back Frank Gore has more carries - 146 to 119 - than he had at this point last season. He also has a decidedly lower average - 4.2 yards per carry vs. 5.5 yards a carry at the midpoint of 2012. But he is healthier than he was a year ago and has more touchdowns - seven vs. four.
- Matt Barrows