Our 49ers.com staff writers break down San Francisco's next matchup, a Week 11 home game against the New England Patriots.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers upcoming matchup, presented by SunPower.
1st Down:What has you most excited for Sunday's game?@Joe_Fann: Phil Dawson's looming 400th career made field goal
I made it evident this week on 49ers Live that I'm a big fan of Dawson. And selfishly, I was hoping we'd have the opportunity to see the 49ers kicker reach the lofty milestone at home. Dawson will become the 10th kicker in league history to reach 400 made field goals. In addition, he'll have the best field goal percentage (84.7 percent) of any kicker to reach the plateau. Fingers crossed that the 18-year veteran gets his chance on Sunday.
@TaylorPrice: Tom Brady back in the Bay Area
This has never happened in my nine seasons covering the team. I've seen the 49ers play some of the game's most successful quarterbacks in recent memory here in the Bay Area. Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning ... you get the point. I'm curious to see the reaction that Brady gets in his homecoming game. I'm also excited to see how San Francisco's defense raises its level of play against a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If you're able to sack Brady, force a fumble or record an interception, you'll have a memory for a lifetime. It's that type of opportunity that will surely bring out the competitive juices of this 49ers defense.2nd Down: Who will be the 49ers unsung hero?
@Joe_Fann: Keith Reaser
Brady threw a pick last week against the Seattle Seahawks so we know that he's still at least part human. Reaser should continue to have a huge role in the 49ers defensive gameplan with Rashard Robinson (knee) questionable to play. The second-year cornerback broke up two passes in Week 10 agaisnt the Arizona Cardinals and forced the first fumble of his career. Could this be the week he gets his first career interception? I vote yes.
@TaylorPrice: Jeremy Kerley
The slot receiver leads the team in targets (71), catches (40), receiving yards (424) and is tied with Garrett Celek for the team lead in touchdown catches (3). It's hard to consider him "unsung," but Kerley hasn't been as involved as he was during the first five weeks of the season with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. But with Torrey Smith questionable to play, Kerley could have a bigger role along with Quinton Patton. Kerley caught seven passes for 71 yards last week in Arizona, including a 17-yard touchdown. It wouldn't surprise me if we saw him more involved against the Patriots.
3rd Down: What will be the stat of the game?
@Joe_Fann: Third down
What's the best way to defend Brady? By keeping him on the sideline. If the 49ers offense can put together consistent drives, they'll greatly increase they're chance of leaving Week 11 with a "W." San Francisco ranks 24th in the NFL with a 36 percent conversion rate on third down. That will have to improve on Sunday if they hope to keep up with Brady & Co. The same goes for the defense. Getting off of the field on third down is something that has been a struggle in 2016. The 49ers are currently allowing opposing offenses to convert 47 percent of third-down attempts, third-worst in the NFL.
@TaylorPrice: LeGarrette Blount's rushing yards
We all saw how competitive the 49ers were last week with a stout rush defense. Holding David Johnson to 2.9 yards per carry (19 rushes for 55 yards) made it a close game until the final seconds. Blount is averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season, but he's the type of physical player (250 pounds) that can wear out a defense. He's especially a threat in the red zone. Blount leads the NFL with 12 rushing scores and scored three times last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Sure, keeping Blount in check doesn't equal success when Brady is on the field. But it's a start. If the 49ers can't stop the run, it'll be tough to hand Brady's team an upset on Sunday.
4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@Joe_Fann: Quinton Patton finds the end zone
Patton is on pace for his best statistical season with seven games left to play. Over his past two contests, the fourth-year receiver has nine receptions for 158 yards, including his first 100-yard performance and a career long, 45-yard reception. Patton will continue to be a focal point of the 49ers passing attack with Smith (shoulder) listed as questionable. I think this is the week that No. 11 scores his first touchdown of 2016 against the Patriots 19th-ranked pass defense.
@TaylorPrice: Pierre Garçon gets back to flexing in the end zone
"El Guapo" produced six touchdowns through the first five weeks of the NFL season. Predicting an end-zone flex (Hyde's signature touchdown celebration) wouldn't have been a bold choice back then. But things have changed. Hyde' shoulder sprain in Buffalo led to the third-year running back to miss two games. Hyde was active last week in Arizona but was held to 13 carries and 14 rushing yards. The 49ers have been at their best this season when Hyde is involved on offense. A successful Hyde could provide Kaepernick with more room to run and make plays down the field. I'm expecting Hyde to find paydirt for at least the seventh time this season. He's scored four times at home this season, too.