Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Willis and the 49ers are on notice.
Rice said Thursday he doesn't think "a lot of linebackers can cover me, not just the 49ers," according to Carl Steward of The Oakland Tribune:
"This game will come down to matchups," Rice said. "In the run game, the linebackers, they might get their fair share of plays. They might make some tackles. But there comes a point in the game when you have to cover me."
"I don't think a lot of linebackers can cover me, not just the 49ers," he said. "Linebackers are built a different way. They're built to tackle. They're not built to cover, so when I've got them man-to-man, I'm going to win my fair share. Let's pad up. We've got to pad up to see."
49ers linebacker Patrick Willis won't let those comments slide:
"Let Ray Rice say what he says," Willis said. "He's a good football player. But we believe we can cover any back in the NFL. In the Super Bowl, the best cornerbacks cover the best receivers. The best safeties cover the best tight ends, and the best linebackers cover the best running backs. Watch the game tapes. We've been covering more elusive backs than him."
Willis's temmate, NaVorro Bowman, answered Rice's comments by saying: "Obviously, he's underestimating us."
Rice has been one of the best backs in the NFL since his sophomore season in 2009. He rushed for 1,143 yards this season, which was his lowest total since his rookie year when he amassed just 454 yards in 13 games.
Rice led the league in yards from scrimmage in 2011. He rushed for 1,364 yards and caught 76 passes for 704 yards. He's a versatile back, but that's nothing new to the 49ers' defense and its coordinator, Vic Fangio:
"He's extremely quick and fast, No. 1," Fangio said. "He has the ability to jump cut and cut the ball back at any moment. He's only 5-8 but he's a very strong 5-8. He's very tough to cover. Joe Flacco likes to throw it to him, and he has been one of their leading receivers every year since he's been in the league. So he's a dual threat, and he doesn't have a weakness."
Rice will keep an eye out for Willis, who is a five-time First Team All-Pro in his six seasons in the league. Willis had 88 total tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and a half of a sack this season.