49ers key matchup No. 3: Willis vs. Pettigrew

49ers key matchup No. 3: Willis vs. Pettigrew
September 14, 2012, 7:11 pm
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(This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Lions matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at Candlestick Park.

49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew

Tale of the tape
Willis (52): 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, sixth season, Mississippi
Pettigrew (87): 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, fourth season, Oklahoma State

While All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson will get most of the attention, another
matchup in the passing game might dictate how the 49ers plan to defend Johnson.A year ago, the 49ers locked Willis -- and, to a much lesser degree, NaVorro Bowman -- onto Pettigrew in man coverage. That allowed the 49ers to devote a safety over the top to help cornerbacks Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver contend with Johnson. Each of those cornerback covered Johnson at some point in last year's game, depending on what side of the field Johnson lined up."If you're going to pay any extra attention to (Johnson), which we'll have to do sometimes, you can't do it all the time," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "You can't even do it the majority of the time. That's going to create one-on-ones for them at other positions."Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to take advantage of the single coverage against Pettigrew, targeting him for 14 passes. Pettigrew caught eight passes for just 42 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown. Willis more than held his own with seven tackles and three passes broken up."So we've got to be able to hold up. And Patrick did a good job last year, for the most part, in covering (Pettigrew)," Fangio said "But he's a tough cover. He scored a touchdown on us last year down in the red zone. And he's one of the better all-around tight ends in this league. He's one of the few guys that is a confident receiver and a confident blocker."Willis sat out 24 snaps in the 49ers' dime package in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers. But the Lions do not use as many four-receiver personnel groupings as the Packers, so Willis should be on the field for nearly every snap on Sunday.AP Image