Justin Rogers | firstname.lastname@example.org
on September 16, 2012 at 2:15 PM
SAN FRANCISCO — While football is the ultimate team game, when disassembled, it consists of a number of individual matchups. The results of these one-on-one battles can often be a determining factor in a team’s triumph or defeat.
One of more underrated matchups to watch in Sunday’s primetime showdown between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers will be tight end Brandon Pettigrew vs. linebacker Patrick Willis.
Last season, the two engaged in a epic battle. Pettigrew was targeted a career high 14 times in the contest, catching eight balls for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford regularly looked to Pettigrew in the short passing game to compensate for Detroit’s inability to consistently move the ball on the ground against the 49ers’ stout run defense.
“They were manning me up, so it was just matchups, just taking the easy throw,” Pettigrew said. “They were kind of sloughing off, giving us the short pass, laying up, making the tackle. It was just taking what they were giving us.”
Stafford tried to connect with Pettigrew in the end zone on three occasions. On the first, the tight end slipped behind the coverage down the seam, but Willis made a remarkably athletic play, closing the gap and diving to knock the pass away. Two drives later Stafford attempted to find Pettigrew on a post pattern to the back corner, but he lost his footing and fell to the turf.
Two plays later, Pettigrew got his revenge, hauling in a 16-yard pass for a touchdown despite being blanketed by Willis. The linebacker actually had his arm in between Pettigrew’s hands as the two tumbled to the ground, but the tight end maintained possession long enough to secure the score.
According to Pettigrew, there’s no question Willis is among the best linebackers he’s matched up against.
“He’s definitely one of the best we have to face because he’s extremely physical,” Pettigrew said. “There’s no doubt that he’s fast and that he can move.”
Despite Willis’ outstanding coverage skills, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the team won’t be afraid to look for Pettigrew consistently this Sunday.
“We won a couple; not as many as you’d like last year,” Linehan said. “Brandon is a guy that we feel very comfortable utilizing when we have those kinds of matchups. It’s the type of matchup that’s going to be fun to watch between those backers. We’re going to win some, we’re probably going to lose some, but we have to stick with it for four quarters.”
Like teammate Rob Sims, who explained going head-to-head with San Francisco’s All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith means more than a normal matchup, Pettigrew also gets amped facing an elite defender such as Willis.
“You kind of have to when you know that opponent is of a different caliber and just a better athlete,” Pettigrew said. “You say, ‘Okay, gotta get your swagger up this week even higher and be ready for what they’re going to bring.’ You know they’re going to bring it.”