You hate them. I hate them. I’m pretty sure their head coach drinks the blood of Wes Welker to keep the team competing.
Yes, it’s New England Patriots week.
Only half of the evil duo is still in Boston, but this team still among the best in this league.
So far, the San Francisco 49ers have done the opposite of what I’ve predicted every week, but let’s take a dive in.
Why the 49ers Will Win
First things first: takeaways.
The New England Patriots have given the ball away seven times in their last two losses. That is an insane number of turnovers by a Bill Belichick-coached team.
The 49ers haven’t been particularly good at taking these type of gifts away this season, but this would be a great chance to turn that around. Former MVP Cam Newton has looked afraid, at times, to throw the ball downfield to his receivers. This would be a blessing for the 49ers, as the secondary has been up-and-down all season.
Kerry Hyder, Jr. and Arik Armstead are going to be in charge of containing Newton this week. So far this season, the 49ers have been awful against running quarterbacks, giving up a massive 231 rushing yards against these type of signal callers.
This week, that needs to change.
Contain Newton, and this offense will sputter to a halt. It’s not often you want to force a former MVP to throw, but this is one of those times.
On offense, Jimmy Garoppolo needs to be allowed to open up the offense. With Raheem Mostert out once again with an ankle injury, the running game will likely stutter a bit. Obviously, passing against a Belichick-coached defense with cast members such as Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore is a huge undertaking. The 49ers, however, need to use the YAC brothers — Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel — to their advantage.
Belichick has often been lauded for his ability to take away a team’s most dangerous threat. Enter George Kittle, who may be used to draw coverage away from other members of the team this week. Sending him downfield or on crossing routes to occupy McCourty, could allow open lanes for other receivers to do their work. Expect to see creative plays from the genius of Kyle Shanahan. Think run plays to get Aiyuk or Samuel open, or jet sweep-type plays to get the ball in their hands early and often.
Jerick McKinnon needs to get himself going in this game, as well. The Patriots are giving up 4.2 yards per carry to opposing running backs. This is slightly less than the 49ers’ average of 4.6 yards per carry. Garoppolo always looks much better when his running game gets going and allows him to work with the short game.
Why the Patriots Will Win
Yes, the Patriots are currently on a two-game losing streak. This unusual early-season skid is slightly misleading. These two games are coming off a crazy COVID schedule that included reduced practices and short weeks.
Now, they finally have a normal practice schedule in place once again. Bill Belichick will have them well-prepared to face his former prodigy this week.
Sure, Cam Newton hasn’t lit the world on fire passing so far this season, but look at the teams he’s played. Excluding the Miami Dolphins, who dismantled the 49ers, he has faced nothing but good defenses. Newton has passed for over 175 yards only once all season. This would look like a quarterback who isn’t playing well. However, the Patriots have made sure to use him in their running game quite a bit; Newton has had more than 10 carries all but once this year.
If Newton, along with running backs Damien Harris and James White, get off to a hot start, this could be a long game. Read options and QB power have been a heavy part of the offense this year. As mentioned above, the 49ers already struggle against running quarterbacks, and Newton is unlike any other. Newton doesn’t have the shiftiness of a Lamar Jackson, nor the speed of a Kyler Murray. Newton hits you like a Mack truck. It’s unusual to go against a quarterback with the mentality of a bruising running back, but it wears a defense down over the course of a game.
The Patriots defense, as always, will be well-prepared. If Lawrence Guy, Chase Winovich, and John Simon can contain the outside runs of the 49ers and force them to pass against this secondary, it will go a long way in securing a victory.
It is hard to find a real weakness in this secondary. Former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore always comes ready to take away whatever receiver is lined up in front of him. Meanwhile the McCourty twins — Jason and Devin — help Gilmore anchor this secondary. Both are still playing at a really high level.
This is a team with the talent to take away any of the 49ers receivers.
The question mark is George Kittle. The tight end is very fast, and very big. No linebacker is covering him alone, and not many safeties are either. Look for a bracket coverage with Devin McCourty helping whoever is watching him during this game.
Well, the 49ers have been really great at just ruining my predictions as of late. This week, let’s try to use that to our advantage.
As the great Michael Scott once said, “I am not superstitious, but I am a little ‘stitious.”
Using this logic, I’m taking the Patriots in this one, 24-21. So San Francisco, do what you do best and prove me wrong.
Please, I’m begging you.
(Featured Image Credit: 49ers.com)