49ers game plan

The 49ers should take this opportunity to get a good look at some of their younger players.

Receiver Rashaun Woods, the team's top overall pick, has played sparingly this season. And third-round pick Derrick Hamilton, also a receiver, has yet to step on the field. Quarterback Ken Dorsey will make his seventh start of the season, and he needs a lot of help from the rest of the offense to be successful against the Patriots, who rank ninth in the league in overall defense.

Running back Kevan Barlow showed some spark in his return to the starting lineup last week, rushing 15 times for 72 yards and a touchdown. Dorsey can only be successful if he's able to use effective play-action passes to get the ball into the hands of his receivers. Because of his limited arm strength and mobility, Dorsey has experienced troubles escaping the pass rush and getting the ball down the field. Dorsey has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The 49ers have gotten spotty production from their receivers, and tight end Eric Johnson has been up-and-down in recent weeks. Cedrick Wilson caught just one pass for 18 yards last week against the Bills, and veteran Curtis Conway might get the start in place of Brandon Lloyd, who is listed as questionable with a toe injury.

Defensively, the 49ers will just try to keep things together with their makeshift lineup. Chris Cooper makes his second start at defensive tackle for Anthony Adams; Andrew Williams starts at right defensive end in place of Andre Carter; LB Saleem Rasheed takes over for Jamie Winborn.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers TE Eric Johnson, who has been about the only offensive threat on the team, vs. Patriots SS Rodney Harrison, a physical player who is generally regarded as the heart of the defense; FS Ronnie Heard, a heady player who has a difficult time covering half the field in Cover-2 defenses, vs. QB Tom Brady, who may or may not see significant playing time in the season finale; MLB Derek Smith, who has produced a solid season against the run, vs. RB Corey Dillon, who has piled up 1,519 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season with the Patriots.

INJURY IMPACT: DT Anthony Adams, who had been having a solid season, will not play because of a stress fracture to his right kneecap. Chris Cooper will get his second start in Adams' place. DE Andre Carter was placed on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from his back. Andrew Williams will start for the second game in a row. QB Tim Rattay is out for the rest of the season with a partially torn right plantar fascia, the tight band of muscle under the arch of the foot. Rattay also underwent surgery Tuesday on his right forearm. He should be ready to go for training camp. Ken Dorsey starts his seventh game of the year.

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