Bracing for impact

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The answer came swiftly and without hesitation.

Which Seattle Seahawks player must the San Francisco 49ers defense try to take out of the NFC Championship Game?

" Marshawn Lynch," Niners safety Donte Whitner said. "You have to take him away. Like he said, he doesn't run to get tackled. He's one of the best backs in the National Football League, very rough style. We have to take him away and make the quarterback beat us.

"(It's) very difficult. Everybody's been trying to do that all year, and they haven't been able to do it. But if we want to go to where we want to go, we have to do it, so that's the mindset."

The Niners have to derail "Beast Mode." It is that simple. Russell Wilson is one thing. Lynch is something else. He is the one who makes Seattle's offense go. He is the one who sets the tone with his physicality, his strength and his refusal to go to the ground easily.

Lynch is the player who will keep San Francisco defensive coordinator Vic Fangio up this week. How do you slow him down? How do you bring him down? How do you wear him down?

It is very, very hard to do.

Historically, the most telling indicator of an NFL team's success is turnover margin. Usually, teams that finish with a plus-2 turnover margin emerge victorious.

This season's playoffs have been an anomaly. Turnover margin hasn't mattered. In the eight games leading to the conference championship games, only three of the winners have won the turnover battle -- San Diego against Cincinnati on wild-card weekend, Seattle against New Orleans and New England against Indianapolis in the divisional round. Five have survived despite a negative turnover margin.

The biggest indicator of success this postseason has been rushing yards. All eight playoff winners eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. Six of the eight winners gained more yards on the ground than their opponent.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, during the regular season, teams combined for a record 471 passing yards per game, but in the postseason have combined for 265 rushing yards, up from 226 in the regular season. They have called runs on 42.9 percent of offensive plays, up from 38.7 percent in the regular season.

According to Elias, this is the second most rushing yards through the first two rounds of the playoffs since 1997, trailing only last season's playoffs, when teams combined for 293 rushing yards per game.

In many instances, the weather has necessitated teams keeping the ball on the ground. In the case of New England, injuries and personnel deficiencies have turned the Patriots from an explosive offense through the air to one that could run the ball 46 times against Indianapolis last weekend, gain 234 rushing yards and score six touchdowns.

Who knew?

Of all the feature backs remaining in the playoffs, Lynch is the most violent runner. He is the most dangerous. He is the most feared. And he is why the Seahawks should walk away from their NFC title game tilt against their hated rival, San Francisco, with a W. Lynch is that big of a difference-maker.

"Us personally, we had a hard time tackling him when he got into the secondary," said one head coach who faced the Seahawks this season. "It's definitely a mismatch if he's going to make it a physical confrontation. He runs so well behind his pads and has the speed to bounce the ball outside. He's very unique for a guy his size that has the start and stop ability he has."

The Niners' Frank Gore may not be the fastest back left in the playoffs, but other attributes make him a dangerous weapon.

"Of all the backs (left in the playoffs), he's probably the slowest, but he's got very good vision," said one coach. "He's got very good anticipation. He does a very good job setting his blocks up. He gets behind ( Mike) Iupati, ( Joe) Staley and ( Anthony) Davis and let's those guys create that separation that you need to have between the defensive line and the linebackers. I think it's going to be a hell of a game."

In his three full seasons since arriving in Seattle via a trade from Buffalo, the 27-year-old Lynch has carried the ball 901 times for 4,051 yards and 35 rushing touchdowns. He has never been held below 1,000 yards in a season.

In two games against San Francisco this season, Lynch carried the ball 48 times for 180 yards and three scores. The Seahawks won the Week 2 matchup at CenturyLink Field 29-3 and lost 19-17 in San Francisco in Week 14.

"Outstanding," Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday when asked to describe Lynch. "Consistently been great game after game. Huge task for us and challenge for our defense. That's the kind of competitive struggle that we all anticipate, and that's what makes it just so much darn fun."

That's one way to describe it.

For the Niners to keep having fun beyond this weekend, they will have to contain Lynch. Given his relentlessness, it is easier said than done.

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