With Patrick Willis being a late inactive in the game against the St. Louis Rams, a couple of San Francisco 49ers defenders had to step up and assume a bigger role as a result. Thankfully for the 49ers, the likes of NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite answered the call in what was a fine defensive performance in the 35-11 win over their division rival.
Bowman stepped up in two big ways. First and foremost, he assumed and took over the duties of calling coverages and other defensive signals as the quarterback of the defense, something that is done by Willis when he is playing. Aside from that responsibility, Bowman also played a very good game as his final stat line read six combined tackles, one and a half sacks, and a pass deflection. Bowman’s play against the Rams showed why despite playing alongside Willis, he is one of the best linebackers in the league and why he and Willis together are possibly the best inside/middle linebacker tandem in all the league.
As for Wilhoite, all he did was finish with five combined tackles and turn in a very good and respectable performance in playing extended time as a starter in the Week 4 win. Needless to say that he did his job as was required and expected from him.
Now as the 49ers prepare to take on the Houston Texans in Week 5 action, Patrick Willis’ participation in the Sunday night game is still in question. Presuming that he is unable to play again because of his hamstring injury, Bowman and Wilhoite will once again be expected to fill the roles they did against the Rams. If that is the case, the 49ers will be able to cope without having Willis for another game.
Yes, you never want to go an extended period without being able to rely on an All-Pro player like Patrick Willis, especially a player who is considered the best in his position. But, when it comes to hamstring injuries, coming back too soon can only make the injury worse, leading to a player re-aggravating the injury and being out for a longer time period. But with the play of Bowman and Wilhoite last game, the 49ers can take solace in knowing it can hold out Willis for another game to let his hamstring fully heal because his replacements are more than capable of holding the fort and playing exceptionally well.