FOXBORO -- Don't be surprised on Sunday to see a lot of this: Vince Wilfork and the rest of the Patriots defensive line on the sideline, huddled on a bench and listening to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia bark instructions, or with Bill Belichick crouched in front of them diagramming what should happen on the next series. Same for every defensive positional group.
It's a short week for the Patriots. After Monday night's game, they have one less day of preparation time than they normally might, and because of the number of different formations employed by the Niners, it will be difficult to prepare for all of them by kickoff on Sunday night.
That's why Wilfork believes making the correct sideline adjustments will be critical. The Patriots are going to have to learn on the fly against San Francisco's myriad offensive looks.
"This week is going to be very, very crucial for us getting back to the sidelines every series to go over things they're doing differently," Wilfork said. "It's impossible to try to cover everything they do because they do a bunch of things -- two-back formations, three-back, sometimes four guys. Four tight ends. It's a lot of work. We have to prepare well and make a sideline adjustment. It's going to be crucial for us this week."
Aside from the number of formations the Niners use, they change personnel and make frequent substitutions, which adds another layer for which New England must prepare.
"When you turn on the film, you see a bunch of formations, different numbers come in and out," Wilfork said. "They change by the play, every other play, people coming in, running in and off the field. It's going to be some work. This week's going to be very, very crucial for us on sideline adjustments. Probably biggest one of the year so we'll have to do a good job on sideline adjustments and in practice also."
One player Wilfork expects to be on the field and the focal point of those unusual multi-back sets: his old college teammate, Niners running back Frank Gore.
In his eighth year in the league, Gore is over the 1000-yard mark for the sixth time and averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He's the No. 1 reason San Francisco has the second best rushing attack in the league at 167.8 yards per game.
"Frank is Frank," said Wilfork, who played with Gore for three years at the University of Miami. "Ever since I played with him till now. Still running the ball hard. He's one of those backs. He's an old school back. He could care less running sideline to sideline. He'd rather duck his head and get the hard 2, 3, 4 yards, and he's pretty shifty."
Then there's new Niners quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who's also a threat to run out of the backfield. Wilfork lumped Kaepernick with the new era of NFL quarterbacks -- like Weashington's Robert Griffin III -- who can run and throw with accuracy. Though a headache for a defensive tackle, Wilfork admitted that they're likely "the future" of the position.
"I get tired of chasing quarterbacks around," Wilfork said. "Chase running backs and then you have to worry about the quarterback's rush lanes and things like that. You can't set a front to a certain way. There are certain ways you have to play those guys and you have to be very cautious of how you play them. We're gonna have a test this week, I'll tell you that."
Wilfork said (a little sheepishly) that the Niners offense may have even more varied sets than the Patriots.
"We don't have more than three running backs in at a time," he said. "We don't have lineman in the backfield all the time. Like I said, these guys run some plays like, man, you can give an offensive lineman the ball. You never know. You can't be surprised what they show you because they show you so many things, and I'm pretty sure they have a lot more. So we're going to expect the kitchen sink."
When they get it, they'll head back to the sideline, talk it out, and hope that they're ready for whatever comes next.