It is dangerous to look ahead and past the Cleveland Browns this week to see how some recent injury news might affect the Steelers down the road. Who am I kidding, we play the Browns this week. Sure we can look ahead.
The San Francisco 49ers took a pretty big hit to their defense this week as middle linebacker Patrick Willis reportedly suffered a Grade II hamstring strain this past Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. Adam Schefter reported on ESPN that Willis "could miss a little time" with the injury. The 49ers play the Arizona Cardinals in week 13 and while his status is unclear right now for that game, it is very realistic that Willis could sit it out.
The 49ers clinched the NFC West this past weekend, but have not locked up anything more past that as they still are playing for some home field advantage and continue to chase the undefeated Green Packers for the best record in the NFC. Every game still remains important for them.
The Steelers travel out west two weeks from last night, and missing Willis would really help ease the task for the black and gold, as Willis is 6th in the NFL in solo tackles. His teammate, and fellow linebacker, Navorro Bowman leads the league with 86 and the two make one hell of a one-two punch. Willis is the leader of the 49ers defense and would likely be replaced by Larry Grant if he sits. Grant played well in relief of Willis this past Sunday, but he is not Willis.
The Steelers can speak from experience losing a linebacker to a hamstring injury as left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is still trying to get back to 100% since injuring his hamstring several weeks ago against the New England Patriots. Woodley was on a nice sack run before suffering the injury and was replaced by Jason Worilds while he was sidelined. Worilds managed just 1 sack in his 3 starts, and while he is progressing, he is still not the caliber of player that Woodley is just yet.
One defensive player certainly i snot the difference between winning and losing, but the 49ers will certainly miss Willis if he is down a while. This will certainly be a bigger story line heading into the game against the Steelers should the current status of Willis not change. I think the 49ers should do the smart thing and rest him. At least until after the Steelers leave town.