Wednesday afternoon, the folks at Battle Red Blog put together a look at under-the-radar-players to watch for this Sunday. As we've done through the first month of the season, I contributed my thoughts on 49ers players to watch.
Today, we're back with a look at why each team will win. The folks at BRB put together their offensive and defensive thoughts on why the Texans would win, and I've got some thoughts on why the 49ers will win. First up BRB:
Why The Texans Will Win:
Unlike years past, you can run the ball on this San Francisco 49ers defense. Recently, America saw the Indianapolis we've-never-been-a-freakin'-
On the season, the 49ers defense are 19th in rushing yards allowed per game and have given up 24 first downs on runs, tied for eighth most in the NFL. The most surprising statistic is the six rushing touchdowns the 49ers have allowed, tied for the most in the NFL. Arian Foster and Ben Tate should be salivating by now.
The Gary Kubiak offense is one that butters their bread by running early and often to set up the play action pass. When the Texans offense hits the field they'll do so with the NFL's seventh-best rushing offense at 134.2 yards per game. Fostertate put up 149 yards on Seattle's defense, and they entered the game only giving up 95.7 YPG. Seattle's defense has a reputation of being disciplined, great in ball pursuit, and fundamentally sound in tackling. To have that kind of effort would bode well entering a game against a slightly struggling 49ers run defense that is a little banged up in the front seven with Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, and Patrick Willis all practicing on a limited basis.
Before the season, I didn't think I'd be saying the following sentence this week but things change. For the Texans, running is the way they can win this game on offense.
Somewhat surprisingly, based on some commenters on Sundays, the Texans have, by far, the best pass defense in the NFL. They are tops by 47.8 YPG and holding opposing quarterbacks to completing only 55.7% of their passes. With a five sack performance against Russell Wilson this past Sunday, the Texans also have to feel good about getting after a mobile quarterback. Admittedly, Colin Kaepernick is a bit more decisive when he starts to run, as opposed to Wilson who's looking to pass first, but Whitney Mercilus flashed a lot of speed.
A big reason why I believe the 49ers have struggled on offense is the lack of quality receivers. Vernon Davis, a true mismatch, has been hurt off-and-on this year while Anquan Boldin can only do so much. Losing Michael Crabtree has hurt and the 49ers lack a true speed threat to make safeties nervous. You can play a lot of man or shallow zones and fare generally well. With Johnathan Joseph, coming off his best game of the season, and Kareem Jackson outside and Danieal Manning and Brian Cushing available to cover tight ends, the Texans appear to match up well against the 49ers.
If the Texans can man-up against the 49ers receiving corps this will allow defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to do what he does best: send an extra man or two on the blitz. Alternatively, Phillips could free up a linebacker, as Mercilus did this past Sunday, or safety, like D.J. Swearinger, to spy on the fleet-footed Kaepernick if the secondary can lock down the receivers.
Shutting down the pass could turn this side of Sunday night's match-up into Frank Gore versus J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing. I think any of us would be comfortable with those odds.
The 49ers haven't hit their stride yet, so the Texans are catching them at the right time. This game doesn't appear as daunting as it did before the season started. Houston has the weapons necessary to win and can if they stop shooting themselves in the foot.
Why The 49ers Will Win:
The 49ers were able to handle the Rams last Thursday, but the offensive woes of the previous two weeks are still on my mind. The 49ers went to their bread and butter, the ground game, and ran over the Rams with relative ease. Frank Gore had a great game, and Kendall Hunter was the icing on the cake.
The question now is if the 49ers will stick with their ground game once again. The Texans bring a better defense to the table, ranked No. 8 by Football Outsiders. They have a tough pass rush and strong secondary, so it seems to me that the 49ers best chance at winning is sticking with the ground and pound. The question then becomes whether or not Greg Roman will be amenable to such a suggestion.
The 49ers will win this game if they win the ground game. That works time off the clock, but also opens the door for play action. When the 49ers can get deceptive on offense, good things happen. The deception develops because of success running the ball.
The 49ers defense shut down the Rams running game, and they will need to do what they can to contain Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Matt Schaub has great weapons in the passing game, but given his wobbling play of late, shutting down the run game would be bad news for Schaub.
In shutting down the Rams, it opened the door for the jail break on Sam Bradford. The same potential exists against Matt Schaub. But the key is containing Foster and Tate. In order to do that, the 49ers will need to maintain discipline with regard to cut-back lanes. If they do that, I think they are technically sound enough to make the necessary tackles.
As BRB pointed out, the Texans run heavy to set up their play-action. If that running game is contained, Matt Schaub becomes an inviting target for the 49ers pass rush. Given Schaub's struggles, the 49ers need to do whatever they can to keep him rattled and on a short leash. The 49ers will be without Aldon Smith, but Corey Lemonier showed he can bring some serious heat. Of course, he and Dan Skuta will need to show they can handle the run as well, opposite Ahmad Brooks. It makes for an interesting chess match.