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Lay it on the line

Posted by Tom Wilcox October 2, 2008 05:59 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Coming into the season, the Patriots' defensive line was seen not only as the strength of
the entire defense, but as one of the best units in all of the NFL.

Through three games, the unit hasn't exactly looked like the Fearsome Foursome.

Sunday seems like the opportune time to break out. San Francisco leads the league in sacks allowed: 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan has been taken down 19 times in four games. He has also lost three fumbles.

"Obviously for any defensive player that's the ultimate -- to get sacks on the quarterback," said Richard Seymour. "That's what we want to do, but we have to get them in those situations. We have to put them in situations where we can go after the quarterback and pin our ears back and kind of just let loose."

The Patriots have recorded six sacks in three games and forced just two turnovers. They fell behind early in the loss to Miami, enabling the Dolphins to run the ball, and the defensive line didn't have too many opportunities to rush the passer.

"It's not just the defensive line," said Seymour. "It wasn't like Miami ran through big, gaping holes. The holes were tight, it was just the funky formations that they threw at us. We're aware physically that we can get the job done, it's just going to take everyone on the defense, not just three guys up front."

Joining Seymour up front in New England's base 3-4 defense are end Ty Warren, who led the line with 83 tackles last season, and Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Jarvis Green gets a lot of snaps as well.

For the Patriots to exploit the 49ers' apparent weakness, they will have to shut down their strength. San Francisco has rushed for 474 yards in four games behind fourth-year running back Frank Gore. Gore has accounted for 369 of those yards (4.9 per carry) and three touchdowns.

"[Gore] is a guy that can make all the different types of runs, like a LaDainian Tomlinson," said Rodney Harrison. "He stays on the field all three downs and is a guy that can definitely hurt you in so many different ways."

A fond memory--for the winners
The Patriots haven't faced the 49ers since 2004 (a 21-7 victory in Foxborough), but new San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Martz is a familiar foe.

Before New England defeated Detroit, 28-21, two years ago when Martz was the Lions' offensive coordinator, their most notable meeting came in the Super Bowl in 2002. Martz was the Rams' head coach, and the Patriots held his potent "Greatest Show on Turf" offense to 17 points in winning their first championship.

"We started [our preparation] in the off-season to get familiar with their personnel, but Mike Martz has come in there and, as usual, turned it into a very efficient attack," said head coach Bill Belichick. "It's Mike's offense. It's basically the same plays. As he always does, he tailors to the personnel he has. When he had Marshall Faulk, he did some things in the passing game that were pretty special for those backs. Frank Gore is a good receiver, but he is a different kind of runner, and the running game is tailored to him."

California dreaming
The Patriots will leave for San Francisco Friday and stay on the West Coast after Sunday's game prepping for their game in San Diego against the Chargers on Oct. 12 (8:15 p.m.). "I don't think much will change," said left tackle Matt Light. "We'll still go out there and practice and sweat it out. Staying in a hotel is the only thing that's different." The Arizona Cardinals tried the reverse strategy this season when they visited the Redskins and the Jets in back-to-back weeks. After starting the season 2-0, the Cardinals lost both East Coast games ... New England plays all four West Coast teams this year for the first time in team history. The Patriots visit Seattle on Dec. 7 and Oakland on Dec. 14 ... Sunday will mark the first time the Patriots have visited San Francisco since 1995 and just the fourth time overall. San Francisco is one of just two NFL cities where the Patriots have never won (0-3). The Pats are also winless in Washington (0-2).

Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots for OT and can be reached at twilcox@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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