The similarities are uncanny.
The San Francisco 49ers' outstanding foursome of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks is almost an exact replica of the New Orleans Saints' legendary “Dome Patrol” from the 1980s and early ‘90s.
Their specific body types and skill sets are reminiscent of Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson, Pat Swilling and Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson. They even have the same coach -- 49ers defensive coordinator Vig Fangio, who was the Saints' linebackers coach from 1986-1994.
The Saints remain the only unit in NFL history that sent four linebackers to the Pro Bowl, in 1992. But the 49ers almost did them one better last year, with Willis, Bowman and Smith being named first-team All-Pros and Brooks being named a second-team All-Pro.
They'll be giving the veteran fans inside New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome a case of déjà vu on Sunday -- if not nightmares -- when they try to lead the 49ers (6-3) to their third victory over the Saints (7-2) in three years.
“This is the best thing I've seen, man, since us. And really, I put them right up with us. I don't see nobody else being close,” Jackson said when I caught up with him earlier this year -- the last time the 49ers were in New Orleans, for Super Bowl XLVII.
“They're even kind of built like us,” Jackson said. “No. 55 (Brooks) is built like I was. No. 99 (Smith) is built like Pat was. The other two are kind of built like Sam and Vaughan.”
San Francisco's physical, aggressive defense has knocked the Saints offense off course in each of the past two meetings -- first in the playoffs at San Francisco following the 2011 season, then in the regular season last year in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Brooks made the biggest impact of the bunch last year with several big plays, including a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown and 1.5 sacks. During the last two meetings, Brooks and Smith each have 2.5 sacks. Willis has a combined 18 tackles and a half-sack. And Bowman has a combined 17 tackles.
They've had some issues this year -- with Smith missing five games while in substance-abuse rehab and Willis battling hand and groin injuries. But Smith returned to the lineup in a limited role last week, Willis has been gradually healing, and Brooks and Bowman have continued to play at an elite level.
They'll remain a huge obstacle for the Saints when they're on patrol inside the Dome on Sunday.
Worth a click:
For more on the 49ers throughout this week, head to ESPN.com's 49ers page and follow 49ers reporter Bill Williamson on Twitter @BWilliamsonESPN.
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