Monday morning mailbag: Where was Willis?

Monday morning mailbag: Where was Willis?
September 10, 2012, 2:44 pm
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The 49ers answered many questions with their 30-22 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.But other questions remain, and perhaps I can lend some assistance . . . Q: Any word on why Bowman was the primary LB in the dime package instead of Willis? (@49ers5XAs9X)
That was certainly the first question I had when I noticed Patrick Willis coming off the field on the Packers' first drive when the 49ers went with six defensive backs. NaVorro Bowman played most of the time when sixth defensive back Perrish Cox entered the action.The Packers lined up for 72 offensive plays (including penalties). Willis was on the field for 48 plays, while Bowman played 59. Cox played 55 snaps.Here's how 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio explained it:"I think Bowman played a little more than Pat did just because the position that's left for that linebacker is Bow's normal position," Fangio said. "But Pat did play some in there, too."There were times when both Willis and Bowman were on the field when the 49ers had six defensive backs in the game, too. Willis would replace Ahmad Brooks and the 49ers would go with a three-man defensive line. Brooks came off the field for 16 plays.
"It's difficult to take him off the field," Fangio said of Willis. "But it's either that or he has to line up on a receiver sometimes, which he did a couple of times."Bowman had an outstanding game with 11 tackles, an interception and another pass broken up. Willis had six tackles. Afterward, Willis was all smiles in the winning locker room as Bowman was getting praise from coach Jim Harbaugh.Said Bowman, "You put the work in week-in and week-out. Me and Pat are in this thing together. It doesn't matter who's on the field. We are rooting for each other, and whenever he needs a breather and whenever I need a breather, we're there to help each other out."The 49ers can be expected to use more of their six-DB package on Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Candlestick.Q: Did any rookies get any snaps? (@youngmannyp)

On offense, no.On defense, no.On special teams, safety Trenton Robinson, a sixth-round pick from Michigan State, was on the field for 15 plays. Robinson was the only rookie to see action.First-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins suited up for the game. He and newly added veteran linebacker Clark Haggans were the only players in uniform who did not get into the game.Running back LaMichael James, chosen in the second round, was a healthy scratch. He was among the seven inactive players. NFL teams can suit up only 46 of the 53 players on the roster.Fourth-round draft pick Joe Looney, a guard, was also declared inactive, as was undrafted free-agent tight end Garrett Celek.So what does this mean? Obviously, the 49ers have a veteran roster and did not require any help from the first-year players to go into Lambeau Field and emerge with a victory.Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the 49ers look at the big picture or developing their young players and not rushing them into service. It's quite possible both Jenkins and James will both be inactive in future weeks, as Brandon Jacobs and Ted Ginn get healthy.Q: Would you say this was a GPS game? (@AntonyJones12)
I resisted the temptation of declaring this a GPS Game -- a contest that provides an exact location of where a team stands within the NFL -- because everything we think about teams this early in the season is based off last year.But, yes, this was an eye-opening performance.
It's only Week 1 of the regular season, but the 49ers showed that they're not going to sneak up on anybody. They clearly established themselves as a Super Bowl contender. Look for them to rise atop NFL power rankings throughout the country.The most impressive part was how the 49ers physically dominated Green Bay. They ran the ball effectively, and they completely shut down the Packers' half-hearted attempt to run the ball.Backup offensive linemen Leonard Davis and Daniel Kilgore, along with defensive lineman Will Tukuafu, saw plenty of action as extra blockers. Davis played 12 snaps. Tukuafu and Kilgore saw six and five snaps, respectively.
Running back Frank Gore gained 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and Kendall Hunter added 41 yards on nine attempts. The 49ers rushed for 186 yards. Meanwhile, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gained a team-high 27 yards on five scrambles. Cedric Benson managed just 18 yards on nine attempts."They got their win," Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We'll see them again."For the first week of the regular season, it doesn't get much better than what we saw Sunday. A January rematch would be great fun.