The San Francisco 49ers are 3-3 and of to Foxborough to face the Patriots. This game’s line initially opened up with the 49ers as 5.5-point underdogs, but that line is down to two, now. The total for this game is set at 43.5. Let’s take a look at how each position group compares to each other.
Both Jimmy Garoppolo and Cam Newton have underwhelmed for their teams this season, albeit for different reasons.
Not great, Bob! Both quarterbacks have had issues surrounding them, whether it’s the lack of weapons, poor offensive line play, or injuries. That can be true while acknowledge both have underwhelmed. Their struggles when you factor in how little they’re throwing the ball down the field is concerning. Sunday, like Week 6’s Rams versus 49ers matchup, could come down to which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes.
The 49ers are 17th in passing DVOA, while the Patriots are 25th.
On the ground, New England boasts the third-best rushing attack in the NFL, with the 49ers, ranked ninth in DVOA. The Patriot’s offensive line ranks eighth in adjusted line yards, second in short-yardage situations, and has allowed the fourth-fewest runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. New England is also No. 1 in the NFL in rushing EPA and success rate. San Francisco will have their hands full. Newton has seen his carries drop in each game, going from 14 to nine to eight and down to seven last week. I’d expect that number to change this week, knowing the 49ers have struggled to contain quarterbacks who have an ounce of mobility. Josh McDaniels used Cam in high-leverage situations, like third and short or near the goal line.
While the 49ers have struggled to bring down the quarterback, D.J. Jones has led the way upfront, and that’s allowed Fred Warner to run freely behind him. The Niners are third in rushing EPA but 12th in success rate defensively. Cam and company have generated the fewest explosive passing plays through the air but the fifth-most on the ground. If San Francisco can stop New England’s screen game and tackle in the open field, the Patriots will struggle to score.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers have to win the battle on the ground. The Pats are 21st in rushing success rate and 16th in rushing EPA. They’re also 18th in DVOA. New England is slightly above average in allowing the big play as they’ve allowed the 14th fewest explosive passing plays and 10th fewest explosive running plays. Will the 49ers offense be able to sustain drives without the big play? That’s what it’ll come down to. The good news is the 49ers rushing attack also includes their pass catchers, who Bill Belichick is aware of and has said all week how difficult this group is to tackle.
A big game for the backs?
The Patriots live in man coverage. Against the Broncos, I’m not sure they ran a single play in zone coverage. Stephon Gilmore is the best man coverage cornerback in the NFL and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. The usual pick routes don’t work against New England as they run a man-match coverage or “Cover 1 cross” to take away your crossing routes. Last week, the Broncos won on the outside down the field. One of their plays came on a 3rd & 20+. That’s not sustainable, and it’s not the way the 49ers operate on offense. Where this team can take advantage is by attacking the Patriots linebackers underneath.
This would be an ideal game to have Jordan Reed. The Broncos tight ends gave rookie safety Kyle Dugger issues. Ja’Whuan Bentley is going to have a target on his back. The linebacker looks slow. Him, safety Adrian Philips, and Dugger are who the Niners will throw at over the middle of the field. Denver was able to get rookie wideout Jerry Jeudy lined up against Bentley in the slot—knowing the Patriots would run man coverage—and the result was predictable.
The Patriots are 31st in the NFL in DVOA at defending running backs. After watching Bentley run, it’s easy to see why. Jerick McKinnon on JaMycal Hasty in the open field is an advantage for the 49ers this week. New England’s defense is slow, San Francisco’s skill players are not, and that should be the difference when the ball is in their hands. Expect the 49ers to get to the edge and use those edge runs to set up play-action and create open windows for Jimmy. The wideouts will have to get open, and once they do that, they’ll have to catch the ball, but mistakes are the only reason the Niners lose this game. The Patriots don’t match up well with San Francisco.