It has become fairly apparent that the 49ers will give their starters extended playing time on Saturday against the Houston Texans. Based on comments from Coach Harbaugh Tuesday, and QB Alex Smith and OC Greg Roman yesterday, the 49ers will roll out their starters into the third quarter.
It's possible the 49ers might not be quite where they want to be in terms of fully implementing their offense and defense. However, most other teams will be using this game as their big dress rehearsal, so it the 49ers might as well let their starters get out there for some extended time. Week four will likely see most teams going with fairly limited time for their starters so the evaluation period for starters more or less maxes out this weekend.
Do the Texans present the type of challenge the 49ers need in this dress rehearsal? Although they've been up and down at times, I'd say they will be a nice challenge for the developing 49ers. On offense Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson remains as tough a matchup as you'll find. Owen Daniels is likely at 100% health and while Arian Foster did lose Vonta Leach, he's still likely to be a tough running back to contain.
On defense, the Texans added half a new secondary in Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning via free agency, and J.J. Watt in the 2011 NFL Draft. If a stronger secondary can help the Texans pass rush, they could be a tough one this year. We'll see how the new-look 49ers offense is able to contend with the Texans upgraded defense (let's hope Johnathan Joseph is able to play).
A strong 49ers performance doesn't mean the team is ready to roll through the 2011 regular season, but for me it would bring at least a little more confidence. Every little bit helps at this point.