The 49ers made Justin Smith available to the media Wednesday afternoon, and he told the media that he expected Patrick Willis would play on Sunday against the Houston Texans. He was asked about his status, and was pretty straight forward in saying Willis would play. The media asked Jim Harbaugh about this following Smith, and Coach Harbaugh seemed relatively optimistic. He wouldn't confirm he would play, but did say they would see how he looks in practice, and go from there.
While Michael Wilhoite was solid in place of Willis, and NaVorro Bowman stepped up in a big way, getting Willis back would be huge. We all know he is one of the best linebackers in the NFL, but against the Texans in particular, the 49ers need to have that athleticism available. The Texans bring a dominant rushing game in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Justin Smith talked about the zone blocking scheme they use, and the need to maintain lane discipline. While Wilhoite likely could do solidly in the game, I have a little more faith in Willis when it comes to the necessary discipline against the run.
Additionally, the Texans are developing into a solid two-tight end offense. Owen Daniels has always been a solid tight end (when healthy), and now they are getting solid play from Garrett Graham. The Texans three most frequently used lineups feature both Daniels and Graham, and the two tight ends are used in quite a few of their offensive sets. The 49ers will need every man available to cover both tight ends. I think the 49ers can win these matchups, but the talent is there, so getting back a guy like Willis only boosts the 49ers chances against the tight ends.