The New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers both entered the 2020 regular season among the favorites to win their respective conferences, or at least be among the major competitors. Entering the seventh week of play, however, they are sitting at 2-3 and 3-3, respectively, with neither team having looked all that convincing since the calendar turned to October.
The upcoming game between the two is therefore an intriguing one beyond the classic (and oftentimes overblown) “Hey look, it’s former Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo!” storylines. In order to get a better perspective about the game, we spoke wit Kyle Posey from SB Nation’s 49ers blog, Niners Nation, who answered a handful of questions about the upcoming game and the team he is following and analyzing on a daily basis.
1.) How do you think the Patriots should attack the San Francisco defense?
This defense has been pretty sound across the board. When you factor in the plethora of injuries, they’ve been impressive. A quarterback with the slightest ounce of mobility has given this defense problems over the past two seasons, so I’d imagine we see a game plan similar to Week 1, where the Patriots ran Cam Newton a ton. With the backups playing, play-action has had more success as well. Speed is what generally gives the Niners defense issues.
2.) How do you think the Patriots should attack the San Francisco offense?
Most teams have gone the route of loading up the box, covering up each lineman, so they have to block 1-on-1 and don’t have the numbers advantage for their zone running schemes, and force Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball outside of the numbers and make the wideouts win 1-on-1. That’s what Miami did, and they had great success. I’d be surprised if the Patriots run anything other than man coverage with one deep safety. It’d also be surprising to see a New England leave one defender to guard Kittle. No Raheem Mostert will make it hard for explosive plays, so that’s even more of a reason for Belichick to load the box.
3.) There’s been a lot of talk about Jimmy Garoppolo this season. What is your assessment of him so far in 2020?
He hasn’t played well. This season was always going to be a approve it year for Garoppolo the way his contract His constructed. Jimmy is 19th in quarterback rating, 16th in EPA per play, 18th in success rate, and 26th in completion percentage over expectation. All of this comes with averaging the third-lowest air yards in the NFL. That’s problematic, and there’s no denying Kyle Shanahan has taken the keys away from Garoppolo once you take the fan goggles off. Playing on a high-ankle sprain didn’t help against Miami, but Garoppolo is no longer on the injury report, and neither he nor the coaches have made excuses. Since the Saints game last season, Garoppolo has struggled. He’ll need to improve if he wants to remain in the Bay Area next season.
4.) The Patriots defense loves to take away what teams do best. What do you think it will try to eliminate this week?
Belichick will have a Patriots defender on Kittle as soon as he hops off the plane. If Kittle has over 50 yards this game, New England is in trouble. My guess is the Patriots take away Kittle, especially in the red zone and on third downs, and force the 49ers to run up the middle, where they’ll be starting their third center this season. If the Niners can get to the outside, that’s when they start to use all of their motions, end arounds and can build off that with play-action. That’s what makes this offense dangerous.
5.) Who are some under-the-radar players Patriots fans need to know, and why?
JaMycal Hasty is an undrafted free agent running back that led the 49ers in carries in the fourth quarter because he had “fresh legs.” Hasty was impressive during training camp and often made defenders miss. That was the case against the Rams as well. Keep an eye on Hasty, as he’ll likely have double-digit touches with Raheem Mostert injured.
On the other side of the ball, D.J. Jones doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the work he’s done this season. Fred Warner is an All-Pro at linebacker, but that’s because Jones does the dirty work in front of him. Jones fights through double teams and clogs up the middle. He’s been fantastic this year.
Thanks to Kyle for answering the questions, and make sure to check out his work over at Niners Nation!