The 49ers beat the Houston Texans for their sixth win in their last eight games. San Francisco's offense had a few rough moments in the first half, but rookie quarterback Trey Lance settled in and moved the offense effectively.
We take a look at my five takeaways below.
Trey Lance settles in
Niners offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan watched his rookie phenom go through some growing pains in the first half. He was reluctant to let Lance throw early and watched Lance take a few big hits on quarterback-designed runs.
Lance had a few off throws (which was expected for a guy with six quarters of play heading into this game), but his interception was likely the pass he wanted back the most. Lance had George Kittle and Deebo Samuel open, and he ended up throwing a duck to Kittle that was underthrown and late, which resulted in an interception.
Trey Lance brought a vertical element to the 49ers offense in his second career start.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 3, 2022
Lance averaged the most air yards/attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10+ air yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons.#HOUvsSF | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/EBe38tvrUU
Lance’s mechanics need work, but he was able to hit receivers at all levels. He threw for the most yards on 10+ air yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons. I complained about Jimmy Garoppolo holding the vertical passing game back, and Lance provided a new element in his second career start.
Lance was just six attempts shy of my prediction of 30 attempts, but he did exceed my expectations of 275 all-purpose yards.
Mitchell continues to be a workhorse in his rookie year
Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell continues to be a key aspect of the 49er offense. Shanahan is used to having a committee of running backs throughout his Niner tenure, but Mitchell has been able to carry the load.
I’ve complained about the rushing attacks in weeks that Mitchell didn’t play, and you could see why Sunday.
DeMeco Ryans’ defense continues to thrive
San Francisco forced four straight three-and-outs to start the game. Ryans’ defense held the Texans to 222 total yards on offense, and they had a dominating performance outside of the Houston touchdown drive. The defense has continued to put together strong performances despite being deficient at cornerback. San Francisco was able to limit former Pro-Bowler Brandin Cooks to 66 yards on 11 targets.
Linebacker Marcell Harris had an impressive game in Azeez Al-Shaair’s absence. He made several plays against the run and was good in coverage, including an interception that led to a 49er touchdown drive.
Should Dontae Johnson start over Josh Norman?
The cornerback situation has been sticky since Jason Verrett went down in Week 1. San Francisco desperately needs Emmanuel Moseley back to bring some stability back to this group. Rookie Ambry Thomas might have had his best game to date. He missed an opportunity for an interception early in the game, but he was solid in coverage all game.
The 10-year veteran cornerback (Josh Norman) got benched in the fourth quarter for Dontae Johnson. Where Johnson entered the game and immediately got called for defensive pass interference, Johnson would clean up his game and ultimately get a key stop on 4th and 2 late in the fourth quarter.
Moseley is expected to return for the playoffs, which led me to the idea of Johnson starting over Norman next week.
The 49ers will need all hands on deck for the regular-season finale
The 49ers’ playoff scenario is relying on them to win next week. They have to beat the Los Angeles Rams next week because the Atlanta Falcons will likely lose to the New Orleans Saints. This will be the hardest game of the season. The Rams are coming off five straight losses to the 49ers, and they recently squeezed a win out Sunday.
Sound defense mirrored with an offense capable of scoring touchdowns should be enough to beat Los Angeles. San Francisco's defense forced turnovers early in the last matchup, but I think the offense will have more pressure on them next week. If the 49ers don't handle business next week and New Orleans wins, we will have to reevaluate someone’s front office position.