“Yippie-Ki-Yay Motherf*****!!!” is the colorful expression used by Bruce Willis’ classic John McClain. In the action series “Die Hard,” Willis portrays a regular, blue-collared police officer thrown into action and saves the day (mostly) single-handedly. Much like Bruce, the 49ers’ Willis has been put in the position to conquer unfavorable odds. But instead of stopping terrorists, he beats up on opposing players. And instead of killing them, he only makes them wish they were dead. Patrick “Die Hard” Willis, (I’m coining his nickname now, spread the word) has taken it upon himself to make sure the 49ers are seen as a dominating defense, and thanks to his persistence, they rank as the number six defense overall, and have surrendered the second fewest points in the NFL. He leads the team in sacks (2.5), tackles (37), AND interceptions (2). What other player around the league can boast that?
Die Hard’s constant pursuit and ability to always be near the ball provides the 49ers with the kind of playmaker that Troy Polamalu is for the Steelers. He is so important to the success of the defense. Even though I like Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson, and Parys Haralson, without Willis, the linebacker corps would be weakened dramatically, and the defense itself would be in trouble.
Many analysts will say Frank Gore is the best player on the team and will overlook Willis. I attribute that to the offensive bias that has and will always plague football. Gore is easily the best player on offense, but not too many non-49er faithful would put him on a top five running backs in the league list. Willis however would be a consensus number one pick, with a few wild cards giving him second or third at the absolute lowest. Without Gore, the 49ers are still winning thanks to the strong play by the defense, and it will be exciting to see how well they do when Gore returns. If the Niners can continue their success on the defensive side of the ball, they can overtake the Broncos as the team that allows the fewest points per game.
Speaking of the Broncos’s defense, how about that new defensive coordinator of theirs? Although we fans have every right to hate Mike Nolan, his saving grace is Patrick Willis. Mike Singletary has admitted he wasn’t a believer in Willis, but Nolan was insistent in drafting him after coaching him in the Senior Bowl. If Mike Singletary told me his thoughts on a linebacker, I would take his opinion as infallible. Whether it was Nolan’s stubbornness, risk-taking, or sheer stupidity, we saw it all last season folks, the 49ers have the former coach to thank for one of, if not the best linebacker in the league.
When the 49ers take on the Falcons, Die Hard is going to have to fire up all of the Samuel L. Jackson’s, Mac Guy’s, and Carl Winslow’s of the team and stop a very effective and efficient Falcons offense. After holding Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson in check the past two games, the D faces another challenge against Michael Turner. Turner is only averaging 3.5 yards a carry and 75 yards a game, but we know from last year he can do much better (4.5 yards a carry and 106 yards a game in 2008.) Matt Ryan is also worrisome as he enters week 5 with a 100.4 QB rating. The 49ers should bring the pressure and knock the second year quarterback out of rhythm early, forcing them to hand the ball off to Turner, where the 49ers rank fourth against the run.
This game means a great deal and it will feature Die Hard in the spotlight. Tony Gonzalez isn’t showing his age and will probably be under surveillance by number 52. If they can pull out a victory and go into their bye week at 4-1, the 49ers could be a team to go deep in the post season, but they have to prove that they can beat playoff teams. Happy trails.