Editor's note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Bears matchups to watch Sunday, 5:30 p.m., at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Bears TE Martellus Bennett
Tale of the tape
Willis (52): 6 foot 1, 240 pounds, eighth season, Mississippi
Bennett (83): 6 foot 6, 265 pounds, seventh season, Texas A&M
Willis returned to the mike linebacker position this season, taking over NaVorro Bowman’s old role. He found himself in coverage against Dallas tight end Jason Witten in the season opener.
Willis came through with a big day, holding Witten to just two catches for 14 yards and providing a big play with an interception in the end zone.
“I feel like we did a decent job, but I always feel like we can be better,” Willis said. “I always feel like I can be better.
"There were times I could’ve played a little tighter. Every week is a challenge, and I won’t tell you something I wake up looking forward to every day is going out there and covering, but we do what needs to be done.”
[REWIND: The Willis & 'Cowboy' show]
The challenge for Willis on Sunday will be Bennett, who had a strong season-opener in the Bears’ overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills. Bennett caught eight passes from quarterback Jay Cutler for 70 yards and a touchdown.
With wide receivers Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) limited, the Bears could look to target Bennett more than usual to take advantage of his 5-inch advantage over Willis.
A Pro Bowl performer in each of his first seven NFL seasons, Willis’ coverage skills have been an underrated part of his game for several seasons.