Patrick Willis had no chance in December to do his part in stopping Marshawn Lynch and helping keep the 49ers’ impressive streak alive: 36 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
The All-Pro linebacker missed last season’s second meeting with the division rival Seattle Seahawks, sidelined for three games with an injured right hamstring.
And San Francisco’s run of holding rushers below 100 yards ended when Lynch went for 107 in the 49ers’ 19-17 win at Seattle on Dec. 24. Now, the former Cal star comes to Candlestick Park for Thursday night’s prime-time NFC West showdown with a healthy Willis waiting on the other side of the ball.
“He runs the ball hard, a very elusive guy,” Willis said Tuesday. “He’s a very hard tackle. We’re going to 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 the league and will be one of the best backs we face all year long. We’ve got to face him twice.”
And the Niners, tied with Seattle and Arizona for first place at 4-2, will be looking to bounce back from Sunday’s embarrassing 26-3 home defeat to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.
Slowing down Lynch will be a top priority if the Niners are going to win this one. He ranks first in the NFC and third in the NFL with 549 yards on 128 carries.
“Their running game is the bread and butter of their offense,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Tuesday. “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.”