Sunday will mark only the fifth time the 49ers have played against Bill Belichick's New England Patriots. Even if it was the 50th, it's not like the notoriously cagey Belichick would provide his opponents with any real sense of what makes him tick.
Every rule has exceptions, though, and Belichick's is his weekly "Belestrator" segment on the Patriots' team-run media channels. Belichick broke down the 49ers' offense in this week's installment, paying particular attention to how the 49ers involve their wide receivers -- namely Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel -- in the running game.
"They do a good job of complementing their running game, and primarily the stretch running game, with play-action passes and other types of alternative runs," Belichick said of the 49ers' offense. "Reverses, split screens, speed sweeps and things like that [are all used] to get their receivers involved in the running game as well, primarily to the outside."
Although Samuel lost six yards on his only carry in last week's win over the Los Angeles Rams, coach Kyle Shanahan practically schemed Samuel as a running back. Samuel caught all six of his receptions behind the line of scrimmage, ending the game with minus-32 targeted air yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Even though Samuel and Aiyuk have only rushed a combined four times since the former made his season debut in Week 4, both players are threats to make plays in the open field after the catch. Belichick stopped short of calling them the "YAC Bros" in his weekly segment, but he might as well have.
"They're very good with the ball in their hands when they get out in space," Belichick said. "They're big, they're fast, they run hard and they can eat up a lot of yardage in a hurry."
The 49ers relied on Garoppolo to get rid of the ball quickly and rely on his pass-catchers to make plays in space during Week 6, and Belichick's segment indicates he wants to take that away Sunday. Belichick also continued to praise tight end George Kittle in the segment, and you can bet his defense will pay a lot of attention to the All-Pro, too.
Few coaches are better at identifying -- and neutralizing -- offensive strengths than Belichick, so even an offensive mastermind like Shanahan could have a tough time matching wits with the legendary coach.