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49ers defense needs to shine in spotlight

SANTA CLARA — Not one drop of love is lost in the bitter rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, as their increasingly physical meetings have grown into annual tests of will for the divisional foes.

On short rest for Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup, the 49ers will have to display not only their physical fortitude, but their mental toughness.

Prior to taking the field for their first regular season practice inside of Levi’s Stadium on Tuesday, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio talked about the challenge of a short work week:

“We’re squeezing six days of work into three. You’d like to get everything done that you get done on a normal week. And it stresses everybody, but it’s equal for both teams and it’s only a distraction if you allow it to be.”

After squaring off three times last year, the two teams’ familiarity with one another be a large factor in a defensive showdown to get a leg up in a tightening NFC West race.

For the 49ers, their defense will need to start up front, as the defensive line will need to overcome a quick turnaround to face perhaps their most physical running back yet in Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch has secured his reputation as one of the most tenacious running backs into the game due to his hard hitting style and ability to break tackles. He ranks fifth in the NFL with 852 rushing yards on 192 attempts on 4.4 yards per carry.

With NT Ian Williams being placed on injured reserve and Glenn Dorsey still a few weeks away from returning, a heavy onus will be placed on second-year Quinton Dial to try to stop the pounding run game of Seattle.

After 14 years in the trenches, 35-year-old Justin Smith‘s ability to return to top form on short rest will also be a crucial in stopping Lynch, whose nine rushing touchdowns leads the NFL.

Complimenting Lynch will be the elusive and athletic quarterback Russell Wilsonwho ranks 15th in the NFL with 644-rushing yards on 84-carries for a league leading 7.7-yards per carry. 

With Lynch and Wilson forming perhaps the most dangerous running tandem in the NFL, Fangio noted the 49ers’ challenge in stemming the Seahawks ground game:

“They’re a tough running game to defend. They’ve got Marshawn Lynch, who we all know is if he’s not the best back in the league he’s second to somebody. And then you’ve got Wilson back there who could pull the ball at anytime and become a runner himself. So, it’s like defending Lynch and his great running style, and when Wilson has the ball in his hand, he’s like defending Barry Sanders with his quickness and speed and elusiveness.”

One area that looks to strongly favor the 49ers is the outside linebacker position, as the newfangled rotation between Aaron Lynch, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith will allow the 49ers to keep a fresh set of legs on the field at all times.

Accounting for 10 of the team’s 22 sacks on the season, the trio of linebackers be instrumental in keeping the speedy Wilson contained in the backfield and in causing disruption to the lowly Seahawks passing game.

While the 49ers secondary doesn’t look to be busy, as the Seahawks own a league-low 314 passing attempts, the defensive line will need to capitalize on their chances to reach Wilson with the pass rush after Seattle’s offensive line surrendered seven sacks to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at for full coverage of the San Francisco 49ers.

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