When the 49ers roll into the desert this weekend to take on the Cardinals, they will probably be doing so without their star linebacker, Patrick Willis. During the first quarter of the 49ers/Rams game, Willis left with what has now been diagnosed as a grade two hamstring strain.
Even if Willis isn't able to suit up, don't think for a second that the 49ers defense is going to stall.
The 49ers have plenty of other options to replace Willis. Larry Grant spelled him during the Rams game and looked like a guy that has been starting all year long. Next to Grant in the 3-4 scheme would be linebacker Navorro Bowman, who has arguably been even better than Willis this season.
Yes, Willis' ferocity, drive and coverage skills may be missed, but we must take into account how much this game truly means for the 49ers at this point. San Francisco has already clinched playoff berth by securing their first NFC West crown since 2002. With that in mind, maybe resting Willis would be a good move anyhow.
The Cardinals will still need to step up their intensity if they want to be the first team to score a rushing touchdown on the 49ers this season. During their first meeting, Beanie Wells rushed only eight times for 33 yards. Chester Taylor was able to break the longest run the 49ers have given up this season, collecting 34 yards on his lone carry.
So does Patrick Willis being unavailable increase the Cardinals' chances of winning? I would say no. We have seen that the 49ers defense as a whole is still quite dominant, even without Willis in the lineup. Yes, Willis is a big time playmaker and one of the leading tacklers for his team, but the guys behind him on the depth chart have shown that they can step up. I would expect the rushing numbers for Arizona to look relatively similar.
What do you think, fans? Will Willis' absence affect the outcome of this game? Why or why not?