The Patriots are looking to get back to a .500 record when they host the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. Last week was a game to forget, but Belichick will have this team more focused than ever. Here are some key players and matchups to watch for.
Patriots Run Game
New England should look to take advantage of an injury bitten 49er front line by rushing the ball. San Francisco’s front line is missing Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and Dee Ford. The Patriots offensive line will look much different than last week as well. David Andrews is eligible to return off IR, which allows Joe Thuney and Isaiah Wynn to slide back into their normal spots. So with the Patriots O-line improving against a weakened 49er D-line watch out for Damien Harris. The second year back could have a big day in this matchup, which could be how the Patriots come away with a win.
The 49ers Passing Attack
Jimmy Garropolo is back in town ready for a game he’s had circled on his calendar for a long time. The former Patriots backup is coming off a solid game last week, despite nursing a high ankle sprain that has held him out a couple of games this year. Garropolo will be without his best running back but certainly has weapons in the passing game.
Tight end George Kittle is Garropolo’s favorite target and arguably the best tight end in the NFL. The Patriots will have to slow him down to have any chance of winning this game. So far New England’s defense has been solid against the tight end position. Kittle however is a different animal than anyone they’ve faced this season. He is a tremendous pass catcher who is dangerous after the catch, punishing would be tacklers with stiff arms, similar to a young Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots will have their hands full with Kittle, besides his catching ability, he is also a top run blocker and pass protector. Belichick will likely show him many different looks and double teams, using players like Joejuan Williams, J.C. Jackson and Kyle Duggar. If the Patriots can’t slow Kittle down, it will be a long day for the defense.
George Kittle isn’t the only pass catcher the defense needs to worry about. Wide Receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are two versatile players that can beat you over the top or out of the backfield. The defense will be tested in the passing game, so this secondary will need to step it up to help their offense.
Patriots Pass Game
The Patriots passing game does not strike fear in any opponent. Edelman is obviously banged up, not looking like himself. N’Keal Harry had 0 receptions last week, and the tight ends were non existent. Dameire Byrd was the best wide receiver with 3 receptions, so Josh McDaniels may need to come up with a different strategy. One way the offense can get going early is to let Newton complete some easy short passes. He could look to running backs James White and Rex Burkhead for that. The Patriots pass game will need to be effective for the run game to work, and vice versa. So Cam needs to connect with his receivers early and often. The passing attack is my main thing to watch, this offense needs to improve and a lot is riding on this group’s performance.
The Patriots didn’t play well last week and that’s putting it nicely. However, to be fair, the team only practiced twice in two weeks to get ready for the game. New England has been practicing this week, they’ve gotten players back from IR and they know this could be a turning point in their season.
So I expect Bill Belichick and this team to have a big bounce back win. The main things to watch out for will be the Patriots offensive line, the run game and how the defense can slow down George Kittle.
–Michael Quilty is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @boston_sp0rts20