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49ers-Patriots: An early look at New England going into Week 7

QB Jimmy Garoppolo will play against the Pats for the first time in his career.

Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers got back into the win column with a 24-16 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6. The Niners are 3-3 going into a two-game road trip that starts this Sunday with a matchup against the New England Patriots.

There are some fun storylines going into the game. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will face-off against the team that drafted him for the first time in his career. The Niners traded for Garoppolo on Halloween day in 2017. Head coach Kyle Shanahan reflected on the past three years during his recent media availability.

“The more things you go through with a player, the more situations, the different types of years you go through with someone, the more you guys grow and the more you learn. I think our first year was weird. We just had six games together and he came to an 0-9 team. That year was just trying to learn each other and figure what things were out and figuring out how to get him to the field with knowing what to do. Then the next year we were all excited to go into it and he tore his ACL. So, almost felt like last year was our first year together.”

It will be interesting to see how the 2-3 Patriots bounce back after losing back-to-back games. Head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t lost three games in a row since the 2002 season. Coupled with the fact the Hoodie knows Garoppolo well, I expect New England to come out with a strong effort on Sunday in Foxboro.

Shanahan praised Belichick’s approach to the game.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but I just love his attention to detail. I love that he’s not a BSer. He is a very smart person who looks at football very hard in all three phases and tries to do what’s best from a common-sense standpoint and from his experience with teaching people. I love that he’s not going to sit there and try to make up some raw-raw story to get guys to go. He’s just going to keep it real, hold guys accountable and I think he has the experience and the preparation in what he’s done to be one of the most knowledgeable guys to ever coach in this game. His consistency has to do with him just being himself, which he seems like all the time. I think his players really respect him for it because he obviously knows what he’s talking about.”

New England’s starting QB Cam Newton missed some time after testing positive for Covid-19 and struggled in his return. Former Niners defensive coordinator and now Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio forced Newton to try and beat his team with his arm rather than his legs last week. Newton threw for just 157 yards and was picked off twice as he struggled to deal with the Broncos game plan of crowding the line of scrimmage. San Francisco’s defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will surely be taking some notes on how Denver slowed down New England.

The 49ers have struggled against running QBs the last two years. We saw Kyler Murray and Carson Wentz make some great plays against the Niners’ defense this season, so containing Newton — who’s averaging 56.2 rushing yards a game this season — will be imperative. Newton has only two passing TDs compared to four interceptions this year, and Pro Football Focus gives him a 74.3 grade in 2020, 14th among all NFL QBs.

New England ranks 14th in yards per game at 374.4 and is second in rushing at 167.2 yards per contest. Football Outsiders has the Patriots 20th in DVOA at -2.5%. New England’s offensive line has performed well through five games. The Pats are fifth in adjusted line yards and have only given up 4 total sacks this season.

Belichick’s defense has held strong as well. The unit if ninth in yards allowed per game, but Football Outsiders has New England’s defense ranked 21st in DVOA. The Patriots’ secondary is led by Stephon Gilmore, and J.C. Jackson, who ranks ninth in passes defended this season.

San Francisco’s offensive line is looking to build off a strong showing against Los Angeles when they didn’t allow a sack. New England ranks 24th in blitz%, but second in QB hurries per drop back at 15.8% and third in QB pressures.

The Patriots — like the 49ers — are having issues finishing off potential sacks. Despite hurrying opposing quarterbacks at a good clip, they only have 8 total sacks.

This is going to be an exciting matchup. Expect Belichick to make like difficult on Garoppolo by mixing up his coverages and forcing Jimmy G to throw some deep balls.

At 2-3, Football Outsiders gives New England a 32.7% chance to make the playoffs.