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Why the 49ers’ rushing attack — not Trey Lance — should be the catalyst to defeating the Texans

Kyle Shanahan should lean heavily on his rushing attack on Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo missing his second-straight practice, there’s a high probability that rookie Trey Lance will be making his second start under center.

The 49ers are 12.5-point favorites with the total set at 44 over at DraftKings Sportsbook. Vegas is expecting San Francisco to score.

While Lance is stepping into a pressure-packed and challenging situation, his opponent won’t be as challenging compared to his first start. The 49ers are in a dire situation, needing a win on Sunday to keep their postseason dreams alive, and will turn to the 21-year old rookie with the injury to Garoppolo.

Against the Cardinals, Lance was thrust into a tough spot, facing a Vance Joseph-led defense that was statistically one of the best in the NFL at the time, led by a pass rush featuring Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt.

The Houston Texans don’t nearly have that caliber of player or have any defensive metrics that would scare opposing offensive coordinators. The Texans’ rushing defense is the biggest area that the 49ers will look to exploit, as the majority of Houston’s opponents have tried to do the same this season.

Houston’s rushing defense is currently 32nd in rushing yards per attempt allowed. They’re 26th in adjusted line yards, 25th in rushing defense DVOA, 30th in rushing defense EPA/play, and 27th in rushing defense success rate. They’re bottom five in every major metric that characterizes their poor rushing defense.

In simpler terms, against good rushing offenses, the Texans have been thoroughly outmatched. David Culley’s defense gave up 156 yards to the Browns, 174 and 238 yards on two separate occasions to the Colts, 165 yards to the Rams, and 193 yards to the Seahawks on the ground.

The 49ers’ rushing attack found a groove as the season went on, leaning heavily on the legs of Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel to provide some pop. With Mitchell and rookie Trey Sermon likely returning to action this week, San Francisco will boast its full suite of running back options for the first time in a while.

Both of these things bode well for a 49ers’ offense that Lance will lead. The North Dakota State product will still have to be efficient on third down, make key throws, and execute in the red zone, but I imagine his workload on Sunday — as a thrower — will be fairly light.

In a must-win game, I’d imagine that Kyle Shanahan will look to make his rookie quarterback as comfortable as possible, and that involves a lot of Mitchell, Samuel, and Jeff Wilson Jr. out of the backfield against a weak Texans’ rushing defense.