There will be no shortage of players to watch this week for the New England Patriots. In fact, this list could be a lot longer than just three players for New England, as they square up to face Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Fransisco 49ers.
After a lackluster and rather discouraging loss to the Denver Broncos last week, many fans have posed questions this week on whether this 2-3 Patriots team does in fact have the legs to make it down the stretch. However, something that potentially has not been emphasized enough over the last two games New England has dropped (to the Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively) is that many key players have been missing from the equation and player health has not been a friend of the Patriots so far this year.
With all that being said, let's dive into the three players to watch this week for New England.
For a few weeks now, Asiasi has been a non-factor in the New England offense. While he has been open in the flat a good amount and has already run 31 routes as a Patriot (per Evan Lazar), he has yet to see his first NFL target. With Ryan Izzo not doing much as the number one guy and fumbling last week, Asiasi could find an increase in snaps this Sunday.
However, with all that, an Izzo fumble is not the reason to watch Asiasi this Sunday.
For weeks now, a few have speculated that New England is grooming Asiasi to be a security blanket for this offense and he is being slowly eased into a bigger, diverse role. Each week he has seemingly been asked to do a little bit more. With Asiasi finding himself open during the Denver game and putting good things on tape, maybe this week will finally be the week he is asked to catch a football.
Now, I am not here to call for the Asiasi breakout game with a monster stat-line. However, with him slowly being more and more integrated into this offense, Asiasi could see an even bigger role this week.
Week 7 is an opportune time for Asiasi to get more involved in the passing game, as the 49ers defense has allowed 23 catches over the last four weeks to opposing tight ends on 31 targets (74 percent catch rate). They have also allowed 256 yards to tight ends over that same span (64 yards per game), and 80+ yards each of the last two weeks of that span to tight ends (per CBS). In other words, this is Asiasi's week to at least register a catch or maybe even two, which is worth keeping an eye on.
If Dugger is good to go for this contest (as he is currently listed questionable for the game), he will face his biggest test this season. That test goes by the name of George Kittle, who is arguably the league's best tight end and someone who Bill Belichick raved about this week.
While Dugger would likely not be tasked with going one-on-one with Kittle all game, he could be asked to play him in man coverage for several snaps, which is something worth watching. Dugger has had some real bright spots this season and has seen snaps in man coverage versus tight ends. However, this is the grand-daddy of them all. With Dugger having experience against tight ends this season and with him stacking up best size-wise compared to the rest of the Patriots secondary, Dugger could play a major role on defense in Week 7.
This one has less to do with matchup, scheme, or San Fransisco. Watching Newton is a no-brainer after a tough game against the Broncos, along with a so-so performance in his second-to-last game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Newton needs to prove himself against the 49ers and shows that he can make the proper throws and reads to move the ball down the field through the air consistently.
Last week, Newton couldn't make the throws or the reads. Even with his receivers getting open and finding separation last week against Denver, Newton wasn't able to get the ball in their hands.
New England and Newton are running the risk of dropping their fourth game before even passing the midpoint of the season. Newton will need to be sharp against a Robert Saleh's defense that has been playing a good amount of Cover 3 Match and Cover 4. With Newton fairing well against both coverages this season, hopefully this game will be the game in which he gets his Comeback Player of the Year award campaign back on track.
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