Following an impressive victory last week, the San Francisco 49ers head east to take on the New England Patriots. This is the second trip to the east coast for the 49ers, their first to a state not named New York. The 49ers would apply pressure to the rest of the division and conference with a road victory. San Francisco is desperate to contend in the NFC West. New England needs to keep pace with the AFC East. Standing in the way of a winning record for the 49ers are the Patriots. Today we take a look at the matchup and focus on the three keys to a San Francisco victory.
Stop the Ground Game
In one fewer game than the rest of their counterparts, the Patriots find themselves as the fifth leading offense on the ground. New England has rushed for 836 yards on the season, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. The Patriots ground game is led by quarterback Cam Newton. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has not been shy about using Newton as his main ball carrier. Newton leads the Patriots with 225 yards rushing. New England’s offense is built around the ground attack with running backs Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, and Damien Harris. Each of the three is averaging more than four yards per attempt. The 49ers will need to find ways to slow down the New England ground attack.
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The Patriots attack the line of scrimmage and get downhill quickly. Newton is typically used on read-option runs with his size and athleticism on display. The 49ers need to force plays to go east to west. This can be accomplished with penetration from the interior of the defensive line, primarily Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Jones. San Francisco has struggled against mobile quarterbacks over the past two years. With the lack of explosive playmakers for the Patriots on the outside, expect Robert Saleh to bring down an extra defender to the box. The goal is to clog the running lanes. The outside defender must keep containment and avoid getting sucked inside. This will open running lanes for Newton to pick up yards in bunches.
Rushing attempts per game by QBs:
1. Cam Newton – 11.3
2. Kyler Murray – 8.5
3. Lamar Jackson – 8.3
4. Josh Allen – 6.3
5. Patrick Mahomes – 5.7 pic.twitter.com/Phni6OnaWY
— PFF (@PFF) October 23, 2020
Win the Chess Match
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is making his first start against the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. The Patriots drafted the quarterback in the second round of the 2014 draft. It would be wise to assume that Belichick and his staff are fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses that come with Garoppolo. This is where the matchup between the head coaches will be paramount to the success of the 49ers on Sunday. Head coach Kyle Shanahan created an amazing gameplan last Sunday that helped the 49ers stun the Rams. Shanahan will need to do the same against a tough New England defense on the road. The Patriots have one of the better pass defenses in the league. Buoyed by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots rely on their secondary to do the job.
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) October 20, 2020
Expect the Patriots to bring pressure against Garoppolo. The 49ers have had their struggles in pass protection. Although the Patriots have not generated a high volume of sacks, Belichick and his staff have found ways to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. San Francisco will need to find ways to get the ball to playmakers like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. With running back Raheem Mostert out, it will be interesting to see who steps in and takes the bulk of the carries. It could be a combination of Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Jamycal Hasty. It was the rookie, Hasty, who saw an increase in carries at the end of Sunday’s victory over the Rams. Any semblance of an effective ground game will go a long way to helping the 49ers offense move the football and put points on the scoreboard.
The trip to Gilette Stadium to face the Patriots marks the third road game of the season for the 49ers. All three have taken place on the east coast with the previous two endings as comfortable victories against the Jets and Giants. San Francisco had fast starts in both previous road games and will need to continue that trend against the Patriots. New England enters with a 2-3 record, the first time since 2002 that the Patriots have a losing record in the month of October. The Patriots have lost the previous two games. For a Bill Belichick team, losing three consecutive games is unheard of. A quick start for the 49ers could put the Patriots in an uncomfortable position.
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It starts with the San Francisco offense. Specifically, getting Garoppolo comfortable. This was previously done with the quick passing game. New England’s offense will attempt to control the football with the run game. A few quick stops by the San Francisco defense will help their own offense get into a rhythm. If the 49ers can replicate their start from last Sunday, it should be enough to keep the Patriots at arm’s length. The Patriots offense is not designed to strike quickly or benefit from large chunk plays through the air. They are a control-based offense and dependent on establishing the run. An early deficit will help to negate the New England ground attack.
One Step Closer
San Francisco has been ravaged by the injury bug, losing multiple starting pieces on offense and defense. The defense is likely without Jaquiski Tartt on Sunday due to a groin injury. Losing someone like Tartt means losing an important piece to the run defense. However, if the 49ers can travel east and find a way to pull out a victory against the Patriots, the defense should be receiving reinforcements the following week. Offensively, the 49ers are looking to turn the corner and become the unit that many predicted they could be. Losing Mostert is a setback but the weapons outside could do enough to make up for it. San Francisco is in the middle of their toughest stretch of games and needs all the help possible. Sunday is another must-win for the team if they hope to climb back into the playoff picture.
Prediction: 49ers Show Up and Take Names, 27-17
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada