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.
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.
- 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.