The 49ers didn’t activate rookie running back Trey Sermon from the injured reserve before Sunday’s game against the Texans. Last week, head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sermon could have played, but the team decided to play someone that could contribute to special teams.
Speaking of special teams, punter Mitch Wishnowsky was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. After signing Colby Wadman earlier in the week for emergency purposes, San Francisco won’t have to worry about using a different punter.
Tight end Tanner Hudson was promoted to the active roster from the practice squad, and linebackers Mark Nzeocha and Curtis Robinson were listed as standard elevations. Azeez Al-Shaair and Dre Greenlaw are unlikely to play, which is why both linebackers were activated from the practice squad. The corresponding move for the addition of Hudson was to waive running back Brian Hill.
The 49ers are relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league. They’ve been able to overcome the injury of Mike McGlinchey along the offensive line while missing Javon Kinlaw, and Dee Ford hasn’t slowed down the defensive line.
Here are three bold predictions for today’s game.
Davis Mills has multiple turnovers
Davis Mills had a game earlier this season where he threw four interceptions against the Bills. Two weeks later, he threw two more to the Colts. Since then, Mills has improved each week steadily and has only turned the ball over three times in six games.
It took the 49ers until Halloween to pick up their second interception on defense. Since then, the Niners have had four interceptions and have recovered eight fumbles.
Mills has played the Seahawks, Jaguars, and Chargers in his previous three games — all below average in takeaways, pass rush and passing defense. You cannot say the same for San Francisco. Despite subpar cornerback play, the 49ers are slightly above average in dropback success rate.
The defensive line forces Mills into uncomfortable situations, which leads to mistakes. DeMeco Ryans will make the former Stanford product look like the player he was earlier in the season.
Elijah Mitchell has a career day
The 49ers' running game has been underwhelming during the second half of the season. A large part of that is due to Mitchell missing Week 11, 14, 15, and 16. However, when he plays, San Francisco runs the ball well.
The last time Lance was under center, the quarterback carried the load on the ground. This time, it’ll be Mitchell as the featured runner. The Texans leaving an extra defender to honor Lance as a ball-carrier will open up creases that Mitchell isn’t used to having.
I don’t expect Mitchell to have 50+ yard carries. The Texans are 21st in defensive rushing EPA per play since Week 9 and 23rd in success rate. Kyle Shanahan leans on the ground game, and Mitchell is the beneficiary. He’ll rush for more than 125 yards.
Trey Lance eclipses 300 yards passing
Here are how the previous quarterbacks have fared against the Texans:
Justin Herbert - 336 yards passing
Trevor Lawrence - 210
Russell Wilson - 260
Carson Wentz - 158
Zach Wilson - 145
The game script allowed Herbert to chuck the ball all over the yard while Wilson and Wentz had significant leads. That leaves us with the two quarterbacks selected ahead of Lance, who fell well short of 300 yards.
This is more about the 49ers supporting cast and the matchup. The Texans play passive zone defenses. If you’re patient and take what they give you, yards won’t be difficult to come by.
The difference between the other rookie quarterbacks is that Lance has three players that can take a slant and turn it into an explosive play. The trio of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk will be the reason the 49ers' offense surpasses 400 yards and why Mitchell eclipses 300 yards passing.