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Maiocco's Take: The Matching of Wits Between Shanahan, Belichick

Each week, NBC Sports Bay Area 49ers insider Matt Maiocco will preview the upcoming matchup and key storylines heading into Sunday's game. For more takeaways and features from Maiocco, visit


Throw out the high and the low, and what do you get?

We should all find out on Sunday, when the 49ers line up against the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots in a pivotal Week 7 game.

And, just so you know, as intriguing as this matchup looks, an even-bigger one awaits when the 49ers travel to Seattle a week from now. But let's not look ahead too far.

Things can change a lot from one game to the next. We have already learned that lesson.

The 49ers are not the team that got whupped by the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago. Their bounce-back performance against the Los Angeles Rams was a lot closer to the 2020 expectations.

But with so many moving parts on this team, there is no such thing as continuity. There is no such thing as momentum. There seems to be little carry over from week to week.

After all, the 49ers will again feature a new look when they hit the field against New England.

Top running back Raheem Mostert is out for a while. There will be a new center, too.

And two safeties will make their first starts of the season with Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward among the team's latest front-line starters to be sidelined with injuries.

But all those missing pieces do not take away any of the luster or importance of this game.

Jimmy Garoppolo still returns to face the team for which he played during his first three and a half NFL seasons. Coach Bill Belichick is still designing the defense specifically to beat his former pupil.

And 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, one of the game's top offensive minds, is still matching X's and O's against Belichick, one of the game's top defensive minds.

Belichick is known for his ability to identify the strength of the opposing offense and then effectively reduce that area to a non-factor.

Did you hear what Belichick had to say about 49ers All-Pro tight end George Kittle this week?

"I don't think there's a tight end in the league, and we've seen a lot of good ones, and had a lot of a good ones, but I don't think there's anyone in the league that does everything overall as well as he does," Belichick said. "Really doesn't have any weak points at all. Just outstanding at every phase of the game."

OK, so those glowing words from Belichick would seem to supply a jumping-off point for the 49ers to begin to get inside the mind of the Patriots coach.

But Shanahan believes it is not going to be that simple, that well-defined. Yes, that would be too easy.

Shanahan believes the 49ers have the kind of balance on offense that makes it difficult for defenses to merely focus on one area.

"I don't think it will be one specific thing, personally, which isn't always the case with him, just because we're pretty balanced in a lot of areas," Shanahan said.

But that balance is also a strategic disadvantage because there are a lot of different ways

Shanahan is confident the Patriots will not be able to eliminate Kittle from having a huge impact on the game because Kittle's involvement stretches across every facet of the 49ers' offense.

"I think everyone knows George has been our biggest threat, but it's very tough to just take away a tight end when he's run-blocking all the time," Shanahan said.

"Blocking and running routes, it's hard to always put two guys on him because that can mess up some run fits. I think it's a little different. I guess you could say that makes harder for us because we don't know as much."

Belichick figures to mix it up and keep Shanahan and the 49ers guessing. And that guessing and matching of wits will not end until Shanahan and Belchick meet at midfield for the post-game fist bump.

And then it's on to Seattle.

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