Patrick Willis. This year, the niner defense is getting big contributions from all angles of the defense. Aldon Smith is relentless on the edge. Dashon Goldson is hawking the ball at any opportunity (though he needs to stop leading with his helmet). Carlos Rogers is all over the field snagging passes. Justin Smith is on the field for every snap, and is getting the big plays late in the game.
But the defensive MVP is, and always will be, Patrick Willis. We know he's tough and we know he's versatile. While linebackers like Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware get all the publicity for all their sacks, it's Patrick Willis that anchors a team defense who continuously comes up big. And he does it by doing all of the little things well.
After the jump, we gonna get visual with this claim. You ready?
After 3 plus quarters of back and forth football, and the ball down in the niner's red zone, Patrick Willis made the 2 plays that sealed this game for 49er victory.
With 1:19 left in the game, and the Giants at the 49er 12 yard line, Niner D is looking at 2 stops to seal the game. 3rd and 2, the giants dial up a run play. Soap, Justin, and Aldon attack the strong side of the Giant OL. Parly stands alone to take on the RG and RT. The Giant LG pulls and the RT traps down on Parly at the edge of the niner DL. Here's where Patrick Willis gets nasty. Seeing the handoff and the guard pulling, Patrick missiles into the backfield to get a big push on the pulling guard. His attack sends the guard backwards, into the ball carrier, and he's tackled for no gain on an important 3rd and 2.
(here's where an experienced fanposter would include a screen shot- I am not him) Please check this link and flip to the 5:09 mark to see what I'm talking about.
With the 3rd down attempt thwarted, the Niner defense lines up to face 4th and 2, with the game on the line. The Giants show 3 wide left and 1 wide right. The niners adjust before the snap to get man on man. Whitner takes far left, Brown has cruz in the middle, and Patrick takes Ballard, off tackle.
Manning notices that Whitner has abandoned the center field, and likes his match up of Cruz on Brown. Cruz's route attacks the hole left by Whitner. Slam dunk, right? Wrong. Patrick Willis sends so much Chuck Norris-like fury into the gut of Jake Ballard that it made the earth stop for a split second. Justin Smith makes the legendary play on the ball, but Patrick made sure that the pass would not have been caught anyway by creating a log jam in the throwing lane they were trying to exploit. See the play here:
Let it be noted that Justin Smith also makes key plays on both downs to secure the Niner victory. Harbaugh is on record as a proponent of Justin as MVP. And while I don't have the football knowledge of Jim Harbaugh, I have the bias of a great football fan. I love me some Patrick Willis. He's the bedrock of this Niner defense, and he's really emerging as a vocal leader. Bamm Bamm!