Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the 49ers

Steve Balestrieri
November 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm ET

Good time to get back on track this week

The Patriots head out to the West Coast after a close loss last week to the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. They’ll be looking to get back on the winning track and keep their lead in the AFC with a win on Sunday versus the 49ers.

The Niners are 1-8 and have dropped eight games in a row. They’re looking to get off the shneid and Chip Kelly’s team will use the game a year ago when he coached the Eagles and they came into Foxboro and beat the Patriots as their motivation.

For the Patriots, they will look to continue their offensive hot streak since Tom Brady has returned. With Dion Lewis now activated, this Sunday we may get our first look at the talented and elusive running back. This week will also be a chance for the defense to get untracked. After they’re worst performance of the season last week, this will be a big opportunity to turn things around in a positive way.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

RB LaGarrette Blount: The Patriots big man in the backfield is having a very solid season and has 678 yards rushing in the team’s first nine games. He also leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns.

This week he’s facing the worst statistical rushing defense in San Francisco’s. The Niners defense is allowing more than 180 yards per game and seven opponents have had 100+ yard rushing days against them.

It would be a shock if Blount doesn’t get 20 or more carries in this week’s contest. Until the 49ers can show that they can stop the run, I’d feed him the ball and let him pound the rock as it will open up a lot of things for the rest of the offense.

QB Tom Brady: And the person who would benefit the most from the running game getting off to a great start? Tom Brady. The game plan this week has to have Blount pounding the ball down low and waiting for the Niners’ linebackers and safeties to start cheating up to the line of scrimmage to help in run support and using play action.

Brady is the master at play action and this scenario could set him up to have a big day throwing the football. He too must remember the game a year ago against Chip Kelly’s Eagles, where he didn’t have a great game. Nothing like a big win to erase the bad memories from that one.

Brady should be able to find plenty of room to attack the 49ers secondary with the plethora of weapons he has at his disposal. He’s also playing at home for the first time in his NFL career and will have a lot of friends and family in attendance. That alone should prompt him to be spot on with his preparation and his performance this week. A motivated Brady fresh off a tough loss is an even better indicator of good things for the Patriots offense this week.

LB Elandon Roberts: For better or worse, he’s going to be under the microscope for the rest of the season because he’s now the man in the middle since the Jamie Collins trade. He and Dont’a Hightower will be tasked with rebounding this week after a rough outing against Seattle.

The 49ers have a good running game with Carlos Hyde, DuJuan Harris, and Colin Kaepernick scrambling out of the backfield. The Patriots first task on defense will be to make the SF offense one-dimensional and take away the running game. That area will be compounded by having the front seven keep Kaepernick in the pocket. He’s not the most accurate thrower but has a very strong arm. The defense will want to pressure him into trying to fit the ball in tight spaces.

Roberts had a tough game in both run defense and trying to defend RB C.J. Prosise, a converted wide receiver out of the backfield last week. Truth be told, Collins wouldn’t have done any better at trying to cover him. But this being Boston, the coverage capabilities of Collins will now take on the status of a myth. The best way for the rookie Roberts to quiet the critics is to play solid and within himself. Here is a big chance.

TE Martellus Bennett: Bennett had a big game a week ago with seven catches for 102 yards and without Rob Gronkowski this week, he’ll be tasked with being a much bigger part of the offense. Bennett’s numbers would have been even higher a week ago had Tom Brady not missed him on a play down the seam.

On the play that Gronkowski was injured, Brady passed to him down the seam, with Kam Chancellor in coverage and fellow safety Earl Thomas moving up in support. What Brady missed was Bennett streaking down the opposite seam on the left, all alone.

But this week against the Niners, Bennett will once again play a key, dual role. He’s been a fantastic blocker in the Patriots running game and with the focus this week on running the ball, he’ll be a key contributor, hooking up with the outside linebackers and attempting to get Blount to the second level.

But in the passing game, he’ll be the sole target for Brady attacking the seams. We won’t see the two tight end set this week, as they’ll opt for more three wide receivers with Gronkowski out. So Brady’s focus will be on Bennett, who has proven to be up to the task earlier this season.

Safety Pat Chung: The Patriots veteran safety also had a tough game a week ago. Several of the communication breakdowns last week against Seattle involved Chung and he’ll be looking to get back on track. He’ll be a key component in trying to stop one of the 49ers most productive weapons.

Tight end Vance McDonald has been very productive averaging 18.4 yards per reception with three touchdowns this season. He and fellow tight end Garrett Celek, promise to be targeted often on Sunday by the Niners’ offense.

Chung will match up with them underneath and be the first line of defense in slowing down the tight ends in this week’s contest. He’ll also provide the in-the-box run support the Patriots will need to slow down the Niners running game. After a week where so many things went wrong for the defense, it is the veterans who must turn things around and show the leadership for the younger players to follow. This is a good opportunity for Chung to do just that.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.




AROUND THE INTERNET:
THE LATEST FROM PATSFANS.COM: