Linebackers are usually the ones who do the hitting, especially inside linebackers. Two of the best at dishing out big hits are San Francisco 49ers inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Both are first-team All Pro linebackers and they have done an excellent job at plugging holes in the defensive front seven, leading the Niners to a top-five defense in the regular season and giving them one of the best run defenses in the league.
For more on the story, visit Niners Nation
However, they aren't the only players that deal in punishment on the football field. They'll be going up against a fell first-team All Pro in fullback Vonta Leach, who opens holes for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. It's considered one of the biggest matchups of the game and it will be interesting to see if Leach is better at opening holes than Willis and Bowman are at filling them back up.
Willis knows that he and Bowman will have a tough job on Feb. 3 and he shows quite a bit of respect for Leach.
"Vonta, he's an animal," Willis says. "He plays the fullback as a true fullback. We had an opportunity to go against him last year. I'll be honest, you give credit where it's due and he's a hard-nosed fullback. There's no question in my mind that there are going to be times in this game where we'll have some one-on-ones, and we've got to come through. In this kind of game, at this kind of magnitude, it's all or nothing. We'll see."
Bowman feels the same as Willis. He just knows that it's going to be a physical game between two physical teams.
"Leach is good, definitely good," Bowman says. "(Jim) Harbaugh likes us to play physical, and I think they're a physical team, too. I think it's a great matchup. We'll see who the better man is."
Leach has been with the Ravens for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, allowing Ray Rice to run for more than 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns. That running game has also allowed Joe Flacco to mature as a passer and has created a well-rounded offense capable of winning a Super Bowl.
The last time these two teams met, though, it was the Niners who left the field with the upper hand as they held Leach and Rice to just 59 yards on 21 carries, even though the Ravens won, 16-6. While focusing on stopping Rice and Leach may not win them the Super Bowl by itself, it is certainly a huge key to the game.
Leach colliding with Bowman or Willis on running plays should provide plenty of excitement for the fans who love smash-mouth football.