The Patriots remain home in Foxboro for a very big game against the San Francisco 49ers. They are attempting to get back to .500 as last week they let another winnable game escape from their grasp. Even still, they are only a game behind the division-leading Bills in the loss column. While we still don’t know what this 2020 team is made of, these next two games against the 49ers and Bills will give us a much better idea.
The Niners are the NFC’s defending champs are present a very difficult challenge. They run the ball extremely well and use the running game to open up their passing game. It is a very diverse attack and is difficult to defend. Defensively the Niners have suffered a slew of injuries to several key players, but they still present a difficult challenge. Look no further than their game last week holding the Rams to just 16 points after a disastrous outing against the Dolphins the week before.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots (2-3) lost to the Denver Broncos 18-12 in a very ugly game where the offense just couldn’t get anything going, dropping the team to under .500.
The Niners (3-3) beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-16. Jimmy Garappolo was razor-sharp in the first half but after the offense lost RB Raheem Mostert to an injury, things tailed off a bit for them in the second half.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2020 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
So, here is our look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Niners Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots running game was not successful a week ago against Denver as the running backs could only garner 41 yards on 15 carries, but a lot of that had to do with the flux of the offensive line where four players were playing in a different position and only RT Jermaine Eluemunor was playing in his usual place. But he was injured in the first quarter adding further flux to an already confusing situation. The team got away from RB Damien Harris a bit too early last week. But with Rex Burkhead, James White, and possibly J.J. Taylor this week, they have plenty of options.
The Niners play a base 4-3 under defense that is designed to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, which is very close to what the Seahawks run. And despite the number of injuries, they remain stout against the run.
Obviously having more members of the offensive line back this week is imperative for the Patriots, as well as getting a full week of practice in. But the difference here can be Cam Newton. The Niners have struggled against mobile quarterbacks and it stands to reason that Josh McDaniels will mix in plenty of option runs for Newton to take advantage of.
Patriots WRs vs Niners Secondary – Razor’s Edge San Francisco
The Patriots passing game was a mess last week. Julian Edelman was clearly laboring with a knee injury that has kept him limited in practice and on the field. N’Keal Harry was shut out and the lack of a true weapon in the passing game at tight end has really put the offense in a bind. But much of the problems last week had to do with Newton himself. He was out of sync, off-target, and holding the ball too long. That all has to change.
The 49ers defense is missing a ton of talent (Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford) but looked a lot better last week. Cornerback Jason Verrett who has had a nightmarish run on injuries is finally healthy and playing at the level he was several years ago and had a pick last week.
Like Seattle, the Niners play a zone behind that 4-3 base, which the Patriots have always done a great job of exploiting (See Week 2), the WRs find the soft spots in the zone and gather up chunk plays. I expect Robert Saleh to play more man this week and try to pressure Newton and force the Patriots to beat them through the air.
Next up the San Francisco offense:
Niners RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge San Francisco
The Patriots have had almost as many injuries along the DL as the OL. As a result, they’ve played with a smaller, front seven, which is not set up well to handle the 49ers outside zone running scheme. But there is some hope on the horizon. Bryon Cowart was back and there was an actual Beau Allen sighting, the first since the first week of training camp… So, if those two and possibly Adam Butler is able to go, there is some help on the way.
The Niners lost their very talented back Raheem Mostert in their very diverse running scheme which also features jet sweeps with Deebo Samuel. But while they can’t compare with Mostert, they still have the rookie JaMychal Hasty and Jerrick McKinnon. The offensive line has had some injuries as well but this is a tough unit to stop because it sets up play-action passing to Samuel, and George Kittle…more to that below.
Look for the Patriots to put a five-man front to try to take away those outside zone concepts and drop into coverage for play action. They’ve done this before but execution will be paramount this week. I look for the rookie Hasty to get more reps this week and setting the edge and forcing the ball back inside will be their goal.
Niners WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
New England has the secondary depth to take away the Niners passing game. Corners Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones are all outstanding. The big question is how will they decide to cover the Niners’ excellent TE in George Kittle. Will it be Joejuan Williams, who got the nod earlier this year, or Kyle Dugger, who’s limited with an ankle injury.
Jimmy G. returns to Foxboro and with Samuel, Kittle, Kendrick Bourne, and rookie Brandon Aiyuk, they have plenty of weapons in the passing game. Garoppolo is still probably not 100 percent from his ankle injury but he’ll be motivated to show his former team the form that took his team to a Super Bowl last year.
The key from a NE perspective is to take away those play-action passes and force Garoppolo from beating them from the pocket. If they can do that, the secondary can take away those weapons in obvious passing situations.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
New England has solidified the kicking game with Nick Folk getting much more consistent. Robbie Gould does the kicking for the Niners and gets the edge there. But Jake Bailey has been outstanding for the Patriots at pinning opponents deep inside their own zone. He gets the edge over Mitch Wishnowsky. Neither team has made much noise in the return game and both teams coverage units are solid… Push
Next up, who wins and why…
This is a game that the Patriots really need to win, a loss puts them two games below .500 and four losses this early in the season would put any thoughts of making the post-season in some serious jeopardy. So, while it isn’t a “must-win”, it is pretty damn close after dropping some earlier close games.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Win The Turnover Battle – The Patriots have been turning the ball over far too much this season and especially so in the past two games. That will kill any hopes of winning against the better teams. This needs to be cleaned up quickly. And the defense, which did get two late turnovers last week, has let too many other opportunities slip away.
Mistake free football is the key here and forcing Jimmy G. into making mistakes. While he’s playing well, nobody knows him better than his former team. Look for Bill Belichick to try to bait him into making a mistake or two off of prior film study.
Rekindle the Running Game – Obviously, a lot depends on the health of the offensive line. If they are seemingly back to normal…whatever that is, then they have a good chance of opening things up for the passing game. But this week, the running of Newton will be the focus. Designed option runs will be the game plan and keep the Niners defense honest. If they’re forced into too many obvious passing situations, then things could get ugly again for the offense.
Slow Down the Run and Force Jimmy G to Throw – The Patriots secondary as we mentioned above has the ability to take away the talented weapons of the Niners’ offense. But it has to be on their terms. They have to force Garoppolo to throw from the pocket and bring pressure on him. Guys like John Simon, Chase Winovich, Shalique Calhoun will be looked to in that part of the game plan. Could we see some Josh Uche on Sunday? This would be a great time for the rookie to make his first appearance.
I think this is going to be a tough physical game. The health of so many of the Patriots, despite being back at practice this week is still a big question mark. And besides the OL/DL is Julian Edelman, who has been invisible for two weeks with lingering knee woes. After watching some more tape, I’ve changed my score from our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast but not the winner. The Patriots keep it close but lose… 49ers 24-20
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandon Aiyuk Cam Newton Deebo Samuel Devin McCourty George Kittle James White Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman New England Patriots NFL Patriots Raheem Mostert Rex Burkhead Robert Saleh San Francisco 49ers Stephon Gilmore