Following a convincing win vs the Los Angeles Rams, with several outstanding individual performances, the 49ers head to Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots. Whilst this is not a matchup to be feared in the same way against the Pats of recent years, it is still a team coached by mastermind Bill Belichick. Tom Brady is now in Tampa Bay and former Panthers star Cam Newton has taken over at QB. Last week against the Broncos, however, Newton did not present himself in a great light. With a passer rating of just 51.6 and total passing yards at 157, it looked like he was struggling.

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This is good news for the Niners who have fought their way back to a 3-3 record. Last week saw a hugely improved performance by the offensive line, in particular from Mike McGlinchey and Daniel Brunskill. The latter often found himself up against the previously unblockable Aaron Donald 1-on-1, and proved himself up to the task! Donald finished with one solo tackle and one assist, and no sacks. A fantastic turnaround from the offensive line who are hoping that Trent Williams is able to rejoin at LT following an ankle sprain.

49ers vs. Pats: Who wins? Make your pick below!

The other beneficiary of the improved line play was of course the run game, which racked up more than 100 yards, even when Raheem Mostert got injured. Jerick McKinnon was the next man up, but it was JaMycal Hasty who looked very impressive when his name was called and I feel he should see more time even with Jeff Wilson Jr’s return. The run game will, as ever, be important in controlling the clock and sustaining long drives.

Before last week’s game, the offense was searching for its identity: I think we have a pretty good idea of how that looks now, albeit without the deep threat which would help keep the free safety from drifting forwards. However, an effective and creative run game combined with slants and screens to get the ball into the hands of the YAC Bros will be the recipe we are likely to see on Sunday.

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The other group who impressed after some shaky performances (looking at you,Brian Allen) were the defensive backs. Moseley came back into the starting lineup after a concussion forced him to miss a couple of games, and he looked comfortable. But it is the play of Jason Verrett which was most notable. With 3 tackles, 2 passes defended and an interception, Verrett allowed for a passer rating of just 14.6 when targeted. The resurgence of #22 is huge, given the news that Sherman is now expected to make a return only after the bye week in over a month, along with Dee Ford.

With solid coverage downfield, the defensive line will be looking to cause more backfield disruption. The 49ers traded with the Jets for OLB/DE Jordan Willis which should move Armstead back inside, but Willis will not be available to play until Week 8 because of the NFL’s Covid-19 regulations. Even though the 49ers have had a hard time defending mobile quarterbacks, I’d argue that the struggles are more with shifty and slippery QBs of the types of Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, whereas Newton is more of a long strider. With decent gap management and perhaps a spy, I believe the 49ers can limit his effectiveness running the ball. 

Matchups to watch:

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Cam Newton vs Fred Warner

Should Newton find a lane through the defensive line, he can expect to be met by the best ILB in the game, whether between the tackles or on the outside. Warner has been playing sideline to sideline better than any defender in the league through week 6. Newton leads the Patriots in rushing yards.

49ers DL vs Pats OL

I know I say this every week, but in the trenches is where the game can be won or lost. The Patriots offensive line is banged up, with Center James Ferentz and RG Shaq Mason out. Javon Kinlaw, DJ Jones and Kerry Hyder will be aiming to wreak havoc on the right side of the line, whilst Armstead will butt heads with former 1st-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn.

Injury update:
OUT
Kwon Alexander
Raheem Mostert
Jaquiski Tartt
Jimmy Ward

QUESTIONABLE
Trent Williams
Jeff Wilson Jr.

Prediction: 49ers win 31 – 24

What are your thoughts on this game, will it be another step in the right direction?

Tweet me @TaggSimon

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