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49ers Vs. Saints: Donte Whitner Leads Physical Defensive Effort

Last week, I posted some comments from Bill Romanowski in which he said the 49ers defense needed to lay people out and send some of the Saints to the hospital. While I disagreed with the specifics of his vision, I understood the general idea of getting physical on defense.

The 49ers defense did not need to hear this loud and clear because they continued to do what they have done all year: play extraordinarily physical football and beat the very will out of their opponent. The Saints did not give up after all these hits, but the 49ers physicality was key in forcing so many turnovers. Nowhere was it more evident than Donte Whitner's brutal hit on running back Pierre Thomas on the Saints opening drive. It stopped the Saints short of the end zone and forced a key early turnover.

This was just one of numerous examples of the 49ers absolutely laying out the Saints. It was also in line with how the defense has played all season long. Early on, there was a ridiculous stretch where they knocked out something like six running backs in the first two months of the season. While I don't wish injury on a player, I am perfectly fine with a physical defense playing a physical brand of football.

In the Thomas fumble, the play involved a helmet-to-helmet hit, but that is not illegal when a ball carrier is running. Specific types of players are protected from those hits, but Thomas was not one such player. It would not surprise me to see the NFL try and further legislate helmet-to-helmet hits this offseason, but for now, the hit was as legal as they come.

One downside to the 49ers physical, aggressive nature is the fact that they sometimes can get overly aggressive going for the big play or big hit. We saw that on several of the Saints touchdowns as the 49ers gave up numerous big plays on Saturday. Fortunately the 49ers overcame those plays, but it will be something to keep an eye on heading into Sunday's NFC Championship Game. The Giants have their own big play guys and Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham could cause havoc if the 49ers get too aggressive. Much like the big plays were an important matchup this past weekend, they will continue to be important this Sunday.

As we continue through the week, how about one more instance of Mr. T?