The hard-hitting 49ers safety is comfortable with the attention on this week’s matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
San Francisco’s coaching staff has maintained the divisional matchup is another contest like any week, but Whitner’s not exactly buying it. If Seattle is victorious on Sunday, the Seahawks will become division champions and snap the 49ers two-year streak as the NFC West's top team.
“Coaches are always going to say that, but we’re excited to test ourselves,” Whitner said on Thursday. “We really believe we’re the mighty 49ers and they’re the mighty Seahawks. We’ll see who comes out on top.”
San Francisco’s defense, a group filled with Pro Bowl talent, has raised its level of play since a Week 2 loss in Seattle. The unit ranks No. 5 in total defense, allowing 311.7 yards per game. San Francisco is No. 3 against the pass (allowing 206.2 yards per game) and ranks No. 11 against the run (allowing 105.5 yards per game).
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With Seattle’s No. 1 ranked total defense and pass defense coming to town, Whitner said he was eager to compete on the same field as the secondary known as the “Legion of Boom.”
“There’s so many matchups and so many positions on the field where you want to say you’re better than the opposition,” Whitner admitted. “A lot of people don’t say that, but you really do.”
So while Whitner and the 49ers defensive backs will look to limit the production of Seattle’s offense, they also want to win the game and walk off the field feeling like they were the best defense at Candlestick Park.
“Inside of that, it’s a team game and we want to win that game,” said Whitner, who ranks third on the 49ers with 48 tackles.
“We’re very confident,” Whitner went on to say. “They’re very confident. (It’s) two teams that are similar when you look at us and it’s going to be a good game on Sunday.”
The 49ers defense expects a different matchup with a re-loaded offense. San Francisco had to defend short fields in a Week 2 road loss to Seattle because of turnovers. Whitner felt like it was an even matchup back then, but recognized that the location of Sunday’s rematch will help tilt things in the 49ers favor.
“We’re a little better when we’re at our place, so that’s a good thing,” Whitner said.
“Tackle 24, 22 and 3,” the 49ers safety said in a robotic tone.
No. 3, quarterback Russell Wilson, has everyone’s attention these days with his MVP-like play. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the second-year pro has a “legitimate” chance of winning the prestigious award.
Players like Whitner don’t want to be at the expense of Seattle’s quarterback building his credentials.
“We understand he’s a tough guy, mentally tough guy,” Whitner said. “If we want to beat him, we understand we have to come tough on defense and be ready to play each and every play like it’s our last.”
Whitner and the 49ers will also look to limit Wilson’s ability to escape the pocket and make throws on the run.
“This guy’s just a really good quarterback who happens to be very fast, very quick and very elusive,” Fangio said of Wilson. “He’s not just a guy that runs around. He’s a passer, too. He can run any offense and be a confident quarterback.”
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The last thing San Francisco wants to see is “playground football” from Wilson, an area where the young quarterback excels on a weekly basis.
“Don’t allow him to get out of the pocket, maintain our lane integrity when we’re rushing him,” Whitner explained. “We can’t just be thinking about ourselves as individuals trying to get sacks, but we have to think of ourselves as a unit and keep him in there.”
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