49ers headcoach Jim Harbaugh announced before the game that he will be giving many 2nd and 3rd stringers chances against 1s and 2s during this game in order to evaluate them. This includes having Colin Kaepernick get some experience against the Texans defense 1st stringers.
It should be a great game for watching and for evaluating players, and I for one cannot wait.
After the jump are the things I'll be watching tonight:
1. How does the 49ers defense handle the Texans explosive offense?: The Houston Texans have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. With a solid quarterback in Matt Schaub, I’d like to see if the 49ers will be able to pressure him and disguise their coverage against him, maybe force him to throw a pick. Andre Johnson is arguably the best wide-receiver in the game (I for one, argue that he is the best). How will the team handle him? Will he be double-teamed all game long or will they trust one of the cornerbacks with the enormous assignment of covering Johnson? Also, will Johnson have a productive game, or will the defense be able to stop him? This is a huge test for a 49ers defense that was very suspect against the pass last season. Can they handle the elite combo of Schaub and Johnson?
Of course, don’t forget about the Texans elite running back in Arian Foster, who was explosive last season. Can the 49ers run defense, their supposedly strongest asset, handle Foster while also making sure Johnson doesn’t catch a long one?
2. How does the 49ers offense fare against an improved Texans defense?: The Texans defense was just horrific last year, especially against the pass, but with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and new pieces for Phillips to play with (CB Jonathan Joseph, DE J.J. Watt), they should be much more stout on D.
The 49ers offense has actually looked pretty good this year, which I haven’t said in a long time. I’m really interested to see specifically how Alex Smith attacks the Houston pass defense and how the O-line handles the Texans’ pass rushers.
3. Will strong performers from last week’s game continue to impress?: Many players had impressive performances last week but there are some specific players I’ll be watching closely. These are not players that are on the bubble, as they are predicted to almost certainly make the roster. Rookie O-lineman Daniel Kilgore impressed with his aggressive play last week. He will surely get a chance to go against Houston’s 1st-stringers, how will he perform? Rookie running back Kendall Hunter also impressed last week. I’d love to see if he can continue showing the power and finesse he has showed so far as a runner when he faces the Texans’ 1st-stringers. D-Lineman Ricky Jean-Francois really played well last week, showing great penetration. I’ll be watching to see if he can get the same penetration this week.
Those are just some of the players I will be watching out for this week.
4. Players on the bubble get a chance to show what they’re worth: Harbaugh announced that he will let 2nd and 3rd stringers with promise come into the game against the Texans’ 1st-stringers. This is a huge chance for players on the bubble to impress the coaching staff. Some players I will definitely be keeping an eye on are: Wide-receivers Dominique Zeigler and Ronald Johnson. Johnson was drafted in the 6th round this year but hasn’t shown anything in the preseason so far while Zeigler has returned from an injury that sidelined him since last season. Both of them are looking to perform and I’ll be looking at them closely. A catch or two for any one of them could mean a much increased chance for a sport on the final 53-man roster. I’ll also be looking at D-linemen Demarcus Dobbs and Ian Williams, both undrafted rookies. They both have impressed and it seems like they have a good chance to make the roster, but a strong performance in this game could lock up a spot for them. Cornerback Philip Adams is also a player to watch. He seems to have recovered fully from a devastating ankle injury that sidelined him last season. He has definitely showed some promise as a punt returner, but will he be able to impress at cornerback as well?
5. Players in position battles could take huge steps towards a higher spot on the depth chart: With countless position battles going on and with the regular season approaching, these players need to impress to fend off their competition. Just to make it clear, these players are competing for a starting job, not for a roster spot. There are a few position battles I will be keeping my eye on:
RB: Anthony Dixon vs. Kendall Hunter – The battle for Frank Gore’s backup is in full swing. Even though both players looked impressive last week, Hunter was much more impressive, and he seems to have started to create some separation with Dixon. I fully expect the 3 running backs on the 49ers roster to get playing time, but obviously the #2 running back will see much more time on the field, especially if Gore is injured.
CB: Shawntae Spencer vs. Tarrell Brown vs. Tremaine Brock – Carlos Rogers and Shawntae Spencer seemed destined to be the #1 and #2 cornerbacks respectively. However, Spencer has been injured since the first week of camp, opening the door for Brown and Brock to impress and possibly snatch the #2 spot away from Spencer.
So in about 8 and a half hours these questions should start to get answered. I personally can’t wait.
Let me know what you’ll be watching this week.