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Game Preview: Patriots @ 49ers

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The 2-1 New England Patriots play the first of their 4 west coast games against the 2-2 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday at 4:15.  Coming off of what many thought was an early bye week and, in my opinion, proved to be well timed after the 38-13 rout by Miami, Belichick and the boys hope to redeem themselves with a win on the left coast.  There are many things they need to do better after Miami tore them up at Gillette, so let's get into it.

Offense

  • Matt Cassel and the passing game - It is absolutely critical that Cassel develop a better relationship with his receivers, specifically Randy Moss.  Cassel has commented Moss is such a smart player that he routinely adjusts during routes in recognition of how he's being covered; Cassel needs to pick up on those adjustments.
  • Matt Cassel and reads - Matt needs to do a better job of picking the most eligible receiver.  At 22 for 35 and 3.4 yards per catch against Miami, throwing efficiency is not there.
  • Third down efficiency - 4 for 15 against Miami kept the defense on the field too much.  Convert...convert...convert.
  • Neutralize Patrick Willis - He's one of the best young LBs in the league and can be a difference maker.  He's big, fast, and smart.  If the Patriots can't contain him, the running game will suffer.

Defense

  • Pressure...pressure...pressure - Mike Vrabel seems to be off to a slow start.  In 2007, he was constantly in the backfield of our opponents creating pressure and forcing QBs to make rushed decisions; we need more of that.
  • RB Frank Gore - A 3 down back averaging 4.9 yards per carry and great hands, he's a major offensive threat for the Patriots.  Our front 3 need to jam the line and the OLBs need to watch for options to Gore and minimize his yardage.
  • 49ers like the deep ball - OC Mike Martz likes throwing long.  If the Patriots can generate enough of a pass rush, O'Sullivan will be forced to dump the ball to options.  In addition, starting CBs Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal need to jam the receivers more than they have.  I don't know why they've been playing soft, but drop the conservative crap, 'cause it ain't working.  Nickel packages may help here.
  • Don't get fooled again - Miami's Wildcat trickery accounted for 4 TDs in 6 attempts.  If I was Mike Martz I'd be looking at that.  Granted, DC Dan Pees is most likely scheming to prevent that, but fact remains our defense was caught dumbfounded.  4 TDs in 6 attempts - C'mon guys.

As usual, the game thread will be open a few hours before the 4:15 start.