So much for posting these every Wednesday. Well, I think you guys will survive with getting it a day late. This week we look at an intriguing opponent, at an intriguing time of the season for the 49ers - @ Houston, coming off the bye week. More importantly, it's the start of a 3-game jaunt versus the AFC South: @ Houston, @ Indianapolis, vs. Tennessee. Arguably the toughest 3-game stretch all season.
I have to admit, Matt Schaub is one of my favorite non-49ers in the league. A college buddy of mine was a huge Virginia fan and he turned me on to Schaub back in his Wahoo days. Schaub took a very solid step forward last season, but early season struggles for the team, yet again, sumbarined any playoff chances. They finished 8-8 for the second straight year, but once again they fell short of the playoffs in the always tough AFC South.
The Texans were in excellent shape on offense. Their offense finished the season
11th 14th in the league thanks to a career year from Andre Johnson and a huge rookie season for 3rd round pick Steve Slaton. That seems like a recipe for success. Unfortunately, their defense finished a robust 29th in the league overall, equally abysmal against the run and the pass.
In the draft, the Texans added some defensive talent early on in OLB Brian Cushing and DE Connor Barwin. To say Battle Red Blog was not pleased with the Cushing pick is putting it mildly. On the other hand, they seem to be excited about Connor Barwin bringing a pass rushing presence to join the formerly panned Mario Williams. On offense, the team drafted Antoine Caldwell in the hopes that he'll unseat Chris Myers at center.
Elsewhere, the biggest offseason addition has to be the duo of Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman........ok, maybe not. The Texans were fairly active in free agency, adding a lot of depth guys like Cato June and hoping to find some defensive line answers in Shaun Cody and Antonio Smith. Cody has yet to reach his potential, so we'll see if he's able to provide some answers in Houston. We'll see if Smith can build off his solid playoff performance for the Cardinals.
The Texans didn't do too bad in the minus department. Most of their losses came from releases that were just as much to do with ineffective performance as anything else. The notables include Ahman Green, Will Demps, Ephraim Salaam and Anthony Weaver among many others. As you'll see in the Q&A below, the question becomes who will be a sufficient backup to Steve Slaton now?
2009 Questions & Answers
Personally, I'm most curious to see how the running back unit plays out for the Texans. Steve Slaton blew up in his rookie season without much of anything in the way of help (294 yards from Ahman Green). There is of course the worry of a sophomore slump. However, beyond that is who will help out in the backfield? Ryan Moats? The team did not add any running backs of significance so at this point Slaton will have to carry the load.
The offense seems well put together otherwise. The question then becomes whether the defense will show some improvement. They've added some talented football players, but it's tough to tell if they've really sufficiently solved the problems they had last year. As great as that offense can look, it won't matter much if they can't stop the other team.
vs. San Francisco
In our schedule discussion, ProfessorBigelow and I both predicted a 49ers win. As I said in the discussion, if the 49ers are going to take that proverbial step forward as a team, this is a must-win game for them. At the same time, I think this ends up a battle down to the wire. While the teams are built in very different ways, I think they're similar in the sense that they're both on the verge of taking that step into the playoff promise land. A loss here could send the Texans to yet another .500 season and home for the playoffs. Either way, I think this has the potential to be the most entertaining game of the season for 49ers fans.