49ers key matchup No. 3: Patrick Willis vs. Marshawn Lynch

49ers key matchup No. 3: Patrick Willis vs. Marshawn Lynch
October 18, 2012, 12:34 am
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This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Thursday, 5:20 p.m. (NFL NetworkKGO-TV, Ch. 7), at Candlestick Park.49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn LynchTale of the tape
Willis (52): 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, sixth season, Mississippi
Lynch (24): 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, sixth season, CalThrough three quarters, there was nothing out of the ordinary going on with the 49ers' usually stout run defense.But in the fourth quarter on Sunday, New York Giants running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson had five runs of 11 or more yards, including gains of 23 and 20 yards, respectively.Bradshaw finished with 116 yards rushing on 27 carries.Who was the last person to gain 100 yards rushing on the 49ers?The answer: He is coming to Candlestick Park on Thursday night.Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is the top running back in the NFC and he ranks third in the NFL with 549 yards on 128 rushing attempts."He's still the same running back. He runs the ball hard. He's an elusive guy. He's a hard guy to tackle," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "We have to have everybody swarming to the ball and not expecting one guy to make the play. He's by far one of the best running backs in this league and will be one of the best backs we face all year. And we have to face him twice."Willis and Lynch went back to back in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. The 49ers selected Willis at No. 11 overall, while the Buffalo Bills chose Lynch. In October of 2010, Lynch was traded to the Seahawks. He has been the focal point of the Seattle offense since his arrival.Lynch gained 107 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the 49ers' 19-17 victory in Seattle on Dec. 24.
"Their running game is the bread and butter of their offense," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "And everything works off of that. He's one of the best backs in the league. He's the best back we played last year by far."He broke more tackles than any back we played against last year. He broke the most against us. He runs hard. He's a slasher. But, yet, he's got really good cutting ability. So, when he's coming off his cut and maybe you don't have a clean, full shot at him, he's strong through the arm tackles."The 49ers know they'll be in an all-game battle against Lynch. And nobody will be tested as much as Willis, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons.
The 49ers' run defense experienced uncharacteristic breakdowns in the fourth quarter against the Giants, and that unit will expect to tighten it up against a formidable opponent.Former Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Millen, an analyst on 95.7-FM The Game, said the Giants' game was the worst performance he's seen from Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Millen has raved in the past about the 49ers' inside linebacker duo.Fangio referred to the run defense in the fourth quarter as "sub-par."He added, "We've just got to take on our blocks better. We've got to play a little bit more physical in the front seven. We've got to get off blocks better. We've got to tackle better."