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Originally published January 18, 2014 at 6:00 PM | Page modified January 18, 2014 at 8:17 PM

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49ers’ speedy linebackers pose problem for Russell Wilson

San Francisco linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will keep a close eye on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on Sunday.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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The 49er's are a much better team than the were early in the season. It's pretty... MORE
Speedy Linebackers? Willis runs 4.5 40 yd dash, the other LB's ran 4.7. I'd say run... MORE
The Niners just keep playing better every week, and Seattle has been a little stagnant... MORE

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Quarterback Russell Wilson couldn’t have been more generous to San Francisco’s defense this week. Great defense, he said. Great players. Great speed.

All true, and Wilson has given similar praise to most of Seattle’s opponents this season. But this week just seemed a little ... different. A little more direct.

When talking about San Francisco’s two Pro Bowl inside linebackers, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, Wilson clearly laid out the challenge they present.

“I don’t think you can get any faster,” he said. “They can chase me down like that. I can run pretty good, but they can run extremely fast and make a lot of plays.”

In a game full of juicy story lines and individual on-field matchups, Wilson vs. the two-headed monster of Bowman and Willis should be one of the best. And most important.

In Seattle’s 19-17 loss in San Francisco, the 49ers had Bowman and Willis keep close watch on Wilson. Both took turns spying on him, meaning they stayed near the line of scrimmage and kept their eyes on him in case he took off running.

Wilson had just one carry in the game, a season low. But it was more than that. He didn’t have much success moving around behind the line of scrimmage like he normally does. The 49ers suffocated him.

“The thing with Russell is a lot of his plays are rollouts or keeping plays alive behind the line of scrimmage,” said former NFL scout John Middlekauff, who is now a radio host in the Bay Area. “The 49ers can spy with Willis and Bowman, and those guys can run with him. They have unique chess pieces to put on Russell.”

On Seattle’s opening drive in San Francisco, Wilson left the pocket and rolled to his right. Bowman was spying Wilson and took off after him from the middle of the field. He closed so fast that it looked like he caught Wilson off guard, and Bowman forced a fumble.

“They usually have a spy on me, always having someone watching me,” Wilson said. “And they’re very athletic. They can make a lot of plays. Just being aware of where they are and what they’re doing.”

Wilson said “95 percent” of teams use a spy to defend him. But as Wilson pointed out, “most teams aren’t as athletic as their linebackers.”

The 49ers’ outside linebackers, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, are above-average pass-rushers. They, too, are fast enough to chase Wilson on the edge when he rolls out or starts to improvise.

Wilson will have to find a way to counter that, either with his arm or legs. This game is so evenly matched that it could come down to one or two plays (think something similar to Frank Gore’s 51-yard run in the fourth quarter that gave the 49ers the win in San Francisco).

“At the end of the day, you have to trust what you see,” Wilson said. “When you’re playing the quarterback position, things happen so fast, especially when you’re playing a good defense like the 49ers. You drop back, you hit your fifth step and you make a decision. It’s either yes or no. You make that decision and you trust it.”

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or jjenks@seattletimes.com



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