The San Francisco 49ers have a full house of media on hand leading up to the NFC Championship Game, and the 49ers have made additional players available in the media tent. Patrick Willis was one such player Wednesday afternoon, and he had a chance to touch on a variety of topics.
He mentioned the Seahawks tight ends, Zach Miller and Luke Willson. We'll have more on that matchup, but Willson had success against the 49ers in Week 14. He only had three catches, but they went for 70 yards and a touchdown. I'm going to take a further look at those plays in the next day or so given that Russell Wilson will probably look his direction on Sunday.
Willis spoke about Marshawn Lynch, and it sounded almost like he was describing Frank Gore. He talked about how he runs low to the ground, and "actually runs underneath his pads, good leverage". That's Frank Gore for you. I think Lynch brings more power to the table, while Gore has more vision, but both are excellent running backs. The Seahawks are hoping to get back their own notable linebacker in K.J. Wright, so it will be interesting to see how both groups handle the opposing running backs.
For the most part, Willis looked fairly locked in. Of course, he almost always does. His best line though had to be when he was talking about smiling and having fun during the game. He said, "You smile when you're having fun, you smile when you know the next man is in trouble." You can check out video of press conference at 49ers.com.
What's the biggest difference you notice in this team heading into this NFC Championship and just last year as opposed to your first NFC Championship?
"Really, I think what we experienced last year, getting to a Super Bowl and understanding what it took to get there to beat the Falcons, it took everything we had. And I think we understand that this game, especially playing against a rival, a team in our division who we play twice a year, we understand what kind of football team they are. And we just know what it's going to take to get it done."
S Donte Whitner said the key defensively, is to stop the run and get to the quarterback. Is that--?
"Yeah, they have some good skill players. [Seahawks RB] Marshawn [Lynch] being one of those guys at the running back position, runs the ball really hard. One of the best running backs in the National Football League. And then you have [Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, who's done everything he's done this year, and gotten even better than he was last year. So, we understand that they love to run the ball. Marshawn's a big part of that. But also, Russell Wilson, he's able to scramble and able to throw the ball as well. So, we just have to play a complete game."
What makes Marshawn Lynch so difficult to defend?
"He's a strong guy, one. He runs real low to the ground. He actually runs underneath his pads, good leverage. He's just a tough guy to bring down. There's no question about that."
Does a guy like Seahawks QB Russell Wilson make it particularly tough on linebackers, because he makes you have to choose if you're going to drop back or come up if he starts running? Is the linebacker position maybe the toughest for a guy like that?
"Yeah, it is. Not only just for the linebacker position, but anytime you're in coverage you have to play the whole down. Sometimes you know a guy who you know is not as mobile you can kind of get your eyes back and kind of see what's going on, but with him you have to make sure you keep your eyes on your guy at all times. And it is. I think he got me last game one time like that. They ended up dropping the ball, but it was one of those kind of plays where if he'd caught the ball it would have been bad. So, we have to make sure we stay back in coverage and not come up until he's broken the line of scrimmage."
How much dislike is there between these two teams?
"There's no question there's a lot of hostility between us, but at the end of the day they're another football team. So, there's always going to be dislikes. They're an opponent of ours and we want to win. If we weren't in this race right now there'd be no doubt that if they were playing against someone else, I would wish them well because it's in our division. But it's us playing, so there's not going to be any like at all there."
What makes Jim Harbaugh a good head coach? What's his best quality as a head coach?
"Really, I think his best quality as a head coach is really just understanding us as players. Understanding what we need to help make us a better football team. And since the day he got here he's always been about us. It's about the team, the team, the team. And that's how all our coaches are, in particular our linebacker coach, coach [Jim] Leavitt. I never forget the first day we had our team meeting, not our team meeting, but our linebacker meeting. First year they got here we walked in, and we sat down and he told [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] and I with the linebacker corps, he said ‘I'm going to let you guys know now, there's no egos here on my part, we leave that at the door.' And when he said that it kind of just let me know then, I'm going to enjoy working for this guy. And it's been fun every year."
With this being the third straight NFC Championship game, has Jim's approach changed at all over each playoff time?
"No, not really. His approach is no different than if we were playing a regular season game, in the sense that we got to come out and play with everything we got. He expects nothing but our best every time we step on the field, whether it was this game or a regular season game. And at the end of the day we all just want to win."
He was talking to us about how he would trade anything to play in this game. Does that vibe come across with you guys in the locker room?
"Yeah, it comes across with all our coaches. Again, coach Leavitt told us today that, he said, ‘Man, I just wish that I could strap up one play.' He said, ‘I might get run over, but I would hold on for my dear life.' And when you got a coach saying that he's willing to step out there and it means that much to him that if he could pad up he would give everything he has, you have to look inside yourself and say you know what, he can't do it but I can so let me do it for the both of us."
Marshawn's grandfather says that he laughs when he runs, and that showed up on some of the mic'd up stuff. Have you noticed that about him?
"No, me and Marshawn trained together coming out, and he's always been that type of guy. It's funny, you said he loves to laugh when he's running the ball, people sometimes look at me and they always ask why I'm smiling. You smile when you're having fun, you smile when you know the next man is in trouble. And maybe that's what he has in his mind when he's running the ball. But I kind of have that a little bit about me, when I'm tackling, when I'm out there playing. I like to smile a little bit too. Let you know you aren't worried."
What's the biggest difference you see in QB Colin Kaepernick, this week, going into his second NFC Championship, the last time he was a rookie quarterback in the playoffs?
"Really, again, he's been here on this stage, we've been here on this stage, and at the end of the day, I'll say it again, with us it's all about winning. And coach Harbaugh, he says it to us, winning's not the only thing, but it's everything, or something like that, and it's true. At the end of the day it's all about getting that W. And, again, whether it's this game or a regular season game we want to go out there and play our best football. And this game is the game to go to the Super Bowl and it's going to take everything we have."
How important are the tight ends to what Seattle does, and what do you have to do to keep those guys in check?
"They do a little bit in the sense that 86 [Seahawks TE Zach] Miller, he's a blocking guy, but he can also catch. [Seahawks TE Luke] Wilson is more of their receiving guy, can get down the field. But again, we just have to play complete team defense and let the chips lay where they may."
Do you guys get sick and tired of the 12th man talk, and the fact that you guys have had struggles the last time two times you went in there?
"You hear them talk about that, and I would be lying to you if I said that the crowd is not loud, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. We have to play to the best of our abilities and we have to play with everything we have. And if we do that, and God forbid we lose and we play our best football then maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. But I know for sure we're going to give it everything we have, and 12th man or no man in the stands, we just want to win."
Does this give this added value because they've beaten you the past two times in their building?
"I'm not going to say it added value, it's the game to go to the Super Bowl. So, whether it was them or anyone else we understand the value of this game."
You and RB Frank Gore have been here a while together. Your coach says he's mystical and that he sees things nobody else sees. What do you think he means by that and can you give me an example of that?
"Frank is one of the best human beings that I think I've ever been around. A complete team player and will do whatever it takes to help our team win. And to me is a true, I can't say I can say what a Hall of Famer is, but if I can say this guy as a person, and from what I've seen on the field, is every bit of that and more. Frank is all of that. And when he says he's mystical, I don't know, sometimes when you're a player and you've played this game for a while there are some things you can't explain and you don't know how to put it in words you just know what it is and you get it done. Frank is that guy. We have a lot of guys like that but Frank, my hat goes off to him."
What's the wisest thing he's said to you or the best piece of advice he gave you that pops into your head?
"I don't know, Frank, he says so much sometimes. I don't know. He's said so much over the years that it's not a word that comes out of his mouth that I don't hear. You can hear someone when they talk, but I actually listen to him. And he says so much. I can't just go back and hit on one particular thing, it's just whatever comes out of his mouth, I listen."
At your position, every game is a physical battle. Is there something about this matchup with Seattle and their running game that's tougher than other matchups?
"I don't know. They do a good job, the offensive line does a good job at what they do and how they run the ball. They have kind of a, I call it a stretch cut or a zone cut type of offensive line where those guys can stretch you out and cut you at the same time. And that makes it hard for a linebacker at times. Regardless of what they do, again, we're going to have to come out and play our best football."
It seems like the team has made a conscious effort to rest DT Justin Smith and DT Ray McDonald. Is that paying dividends right now? Do they seem fresher than they might have been?
"Those guys, when they are out there on the field they come to play. So, if they took the whole week off I wouldn't care, because what they give us on Sunday, I'm grateful for it. Those guys come to play every Sunday and that's all you can ask for. Whether they rest one day or all week, I just know they're going to show up on Sunday, and that's just who those guys are."