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Patriots Week 7 opponent preview: Get to know the San Francisco 49ers

Related: Patriots opponent preview: Denver Broncos

San Francisco 49ers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Coming off a disappointing loss against the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots stay at home and will welcome the reigning NFC champions to Foxborough: the San Francisco 49ers, led of course by former Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, will visit town in a battle between two teams that have not lived up to their capabilities thus far into the season.

With that being said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.

Quick notes

Record: 3-3 (4th place AFC West)

Points scored: 20th (24.7/game)

Points against: 10th (21.7/game)

Head coach: Kyle Shanahan

Coordinators: Mike McDaniel (running game), Mike LaFleur (passing game), Robert Saleh (DC), Richard Hightower (ST)

After leading his team to the Super Bowl in his third year at the job, Kyle Shanahan did not just sign a contract extension with the 49ers but also was able to keep his most important assistant coaches on the team: offensive co-coordinators Mike McDaniel and Mike LaFleur — responsible for the running and passing game, respectively — as well as defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and special teams coach Richard Hightower. Keeping Saleh in particular was not a surefire development considering that the Cleveland Browns also set their sights on him during the offseason.


Season so far

Week 1 vs Arizona Cardinals: L 24-20

Week 2 at New York Jets: W 31-13

Week 3 at New York Giants: W 36-9

Week 4 vs Philadelphia Eagles: L 25-20

Week 5 vs Miami Dolphins: L 43-17

Week 6 vs Los Angeles Rams: W 24-16

While it is too early to speak about a Super Bowl hangover, the 49ers have not lived up to their expectations so far this season. They started with a home loss to the Cardinals before beating arguably the two worst teams in football in back-to-back weeks — unfortunately losing Jimmy Garoppolo to an ankle injury midway through the game against the Jets. San Francisco’s momentum failed to carry over as the team lost two straight games in Weeks 4 and 5 before bouncing back with a 24-16 victory against the Rams.


Series history

The Patriots and 49ers have met only 13 times so far, with none of the meetings coming in the playoffs:

  • Patriots wins: 5 wins
  • Broncos wins: 8 wins

Given that they are playing in different conferences and have yet to meet in a Super Bowl, the number of memorable games between the two teams is rather limited — as is the Patriots’ success: the organization is entering this week’s contest with a 5-8 record. That said, New England is 4-1 against San Francisco since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000. Those five games include a memorable shootout against the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers in 2012 as well a convincing 30-17 victory during Tom Brady’s return to the Bay Area four years later.


Projected starting lineups

Offense

QB Jimmy Garoppolo; RB Jerick McKinnon, FB Kyle Juszczyk; WR Brandon Aiyuk*, WR Deebo Samuel; TE George Kittle; LT Trent Williams, LG Laken Tomlinson, C Ben Garland, RG Daniel Brunskill, RT Mike McGlinchey

*rookies

The 49ers’ offense may be ranked only 20th in the NFL in scoring so far this season, but it features some intriguing talent even with running back Raheem Mostert likely headed to injured reserve. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has completed 63.6 percent of his passing attempts for 735 yards as well as seven touchdowns and two interceptions, is leading a unit that also features impressive talent along the offensive line and at wide receiver as well as the game’s best tight end: George Kittle is leading the team with 30 catches for 380 yards and two scores, all while being a tremendous blocker as well.

Defense

DE Arik Armstead, DT Javon Kinlaw*, DT D.J. Jones, DE Kerry Hyder; LB Fred Warner, LB Kwon Alexander, LB Dre Greenlaw; CB Jason Verrett, CB Emmanuel Moseley; FS Jimmie Ward, SS Jaquiski Tartt

*rookies

The story of the season so far for the 49ers’ defense is injuries: standout defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas are both on injured reserve, as are cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams. The unit led by the likes of Fred Warner and Arik Armstead still has plenty of talent left, though, and could get some additional help back this week: edge defender Dee Ford is now eligible to return from IR, even though it remains to be seen whether or not he is fully recovered from the neck/back issue that forced the team to move him there in the first place.

Specialists

K Robbie Gould, P Mitch Wishnowsky, LS Taybor Pepper; PR Richie James, KR Jerick McKinnon

*rookies

San Francisco has an experienced group of specialists at its disposal, led by former Patriots kicker Robbie Gould and veteran long snapper Taybor Pepper. Mitch Wishnowsky, meanwhile, is in his second year in the league and ranked 15th in net yards per punt (46.1) — while also seeing one of his attempts get blocked. The 49ers do not have a clear number one return option both in the punting and the kickoff game, with Richie James and Jerick McKinnon projected to get top billing each time.


Three things to watch

1. How will the Patriots defend Jimmy Garoppolo? Even though he is in his fourth year in San Francisco after getting traded there midway through the 2017 season, the Patriots are quite familiar with the 49ers’ starting quarterback: he started his career as a second-round draft pick by New England and even started two games in place of a suspended Tom Brady in 2016. How his ex-club will defend him will be interesting to see in the first ever matchup between the two.

2. Will Cam Newton return to form... Coming off a stint on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, the Patriots’ starting quarterback was rusty in his return last Sunday against the Broncos: while he did gain 77 yards on nine rushing attempts, Newton also threw a pair of interceptions and was unable to find a rhythm all game long. A week full of practice — he and the rest of the team had only two sessions over the last two weeks — could help him return to form, though.

3. ...and the offensive line find some groove? The Patriots’ offensive line saw considerable personnel turnover recently, leading to a disappointing outing versus Denver. With David Andrews eligible to return off injured reserve and with Shaq Mason a candidate to come back off the Reserve/Covid-19 list, however, the unit could look a lot different and most importantly better this week — it better be given the quality of San Francisco’s front-seven.