The 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back has become one of the most feared runners in the NFL during his four years with the Seattle Seahawks.
Lynch, Seattle’s featured offensive weapon, can give every defense fits, even the 49ers.
In his last four games against San Francisco, the former University of California running back has carried the ball 93 times for 384 yards and has scored four rushing touchdowns.
Divide those numbers by four and Lynch has averaged 23.25 carries, 96 yards and one touchdown per game against the 49ers in the last two seasons.
Stopping Lynch’s hard-charging running style is essential if San Francisco wants to advance to the franchise’s seventh Super Bowl.
“He’s either the best or second best back in the league depending upon who you ask,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said on Thursday. “He and (Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian) Peterson are the two top running backs in this league.”
San Francisco’s seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was asked about Lynch’s habit of laughing while rushing the football in games. Willis didn’t deny it, but also said that he’s been known to crack a smile on the field.
Both players show emotion for good reason.
“You smile when you're having fun,” Willis said. “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.”
Lynch has enjoyed postgame smiles in two of his last four meetings with the 49ers, both of which were in Seattle. But in a Week 14 loss in San Francisco, Lynch was held to 72 yards and 1 touchdown run on 20 carries.
The 49ers are looking to repeat the performance that saw the defense hold Lynch to 3.6 yards per carry.
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“I think that’s where the game comes down to, if they can lighten up the box and run the ball,” Bowman said. “I think that’s what makes us unique. We’re able to do that more than other teams and it forces them to do other things. That’s the reason why they run the ball so much when we’re in nickel, because the box is lighter. But if we can stop it, they have to go to another plan.”
“He just does a great job of fighting through it and breaking tackles,” the fourth-year linebacker said. “So, he’s a hard tackle I will admit, but it can be done.”
Fangio added that Lynch’s North-South running style is also complimented by jump-cuts in the open field.
“He’s very strong, very relentless in his running style, and yet he’s got some allusiveness to him that he can jump-cut, makes really good cuts and can jump-cut laterally, gets you a little bit off balanced,” the 49ers coordinator said. “He’s got you a little off balanced and now he turns his power on. He’s a powerful back, but yet he has the ability to get you off balanced, which now makes his power even more effective.”
Lynch’s involvement in Seattle’s game plan will be key on Sunday.
The Seahawks are 7-1 this season in games where Lynch has 20-or-more rushes.
The only blemish was the Week 14 loss to San Francisco.