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Know the Foe: Titans Aim to Neutralize Impact of 49ers ILBs Willis, Bowman

Posted Oct 18, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans know a major strength of the 49ers is the two-headed (and bodied) monster combination of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco’s 3-4 defensive front.

Inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman, left, and Patrick Willis helped San Francisco advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

Willis is a native of Bruceton, Tenn., which is less than two hours from Nashville. He earned five first-team and one second-team All-Pro and six Pro Bowl selections in his first six seasons. Bowman, who is from District Heights, Md., has been named an All-Pro in the past two seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012, but neither were able to play in that game because of San Francisco’s run to Super Bowl XLVII.

“I’ve played against Willis one time before in my career and never against Bowman, but there’s really no drop-off between the two,” Titans running back Chris Johnson said. “They’ve got two great guys in there, sideline-to-sideline making a lot of plays.”

Johnson rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns the last time the teams met (2009 in San Francisco).

Titans receiver Nate Washington said San Francisco has “probably the best linebacker corps in the league. We’re going to have to make sure we’re physical and try to match their intensity and be assignment sound.”

Bowman is leading the 49ers in tackles this season with 53 (40 solo) and has two sacks, three tackles for loss, four passes defensed two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Willis has 27 tackles (20 solo) on the season but returned to the lineup last week after missing two games and recorded eight tackles and a forced fumble against Arizona.

Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was asked this week whether Bowman was overtaking Willis as a more dominant force. The 49ers are the sixth of the Titans’ first seven opponents to have a defense ranked in the top 10.

“I’m not going to say (Bowman is) better (than Willis), but he’s in the conversation when you’re talking about some of the best linebackers in the NFL,” Loggains said. “He’s a really talented player, he’s physical, downhill. Every week, we talk about these top-10 defenses we’ve been facing, and every week it’s a different element. This team is really strong at linebacker … so it will be another challenge for us.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak said the way and speed with which Willis and Bowman process information allows them to get the most out of their physical attributes.

“They read things so fast, and they’re going to play our tendencies in a big way,” Munchak said. “They’re going to read our formations and dissect them quickly, and they can run.

“They’re a tough matchup for a back to block. In pass protection, they do a good job of trying to find a way to get them on your running back,” Munchak continued. “They can apply pressure to the quarterback, and they’re all over the field. They’re physical guys. They’ve got two special ones there. That’s going to be a challenge throughout the game for us dealing with them in the run game and the pass game.”

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