The San Francisco 49ers will have had 10 days rest between their game against the St. Louis Rams and their upcoming tilt against the Houston Texans by the time they take the field Sunday afternoon. The Rams provided very little in the way of a challenge with the 49ers walking out of the Edward Jones Dome with a 35-11 victory over their division foes. Meanwhile, the Texans were shut out in three out of four quarters in Sunday’s contest with the Seattle Seahawks, dropping 20 points on Seattle in the second quarter, putting them up 17 points at the half. The Texans were unable to contain Russell Wilson and allowed the Seahawks to score 14 points in the fourth quarter. Wilson used great field vision to dissect the Texans secondary, his elusiveness came into play, scrambling for big gains and necessary first downs in the fourth quarter, and with the loss of Brian Cushing to a concussion, the Texans defense crumpled like a cheap aluminum can.
The Texans and 49ers both head into this weekends matchup with a record of 2-2. The 49ers are looking to go over the .500 mark for the first time since their week 1 matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Armed with a great secondary, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in J.J. Watt, and Brian Cushing (possibly the most athletic middle linebacker in the NFL not on the 49ers), Colin Kaepernick and Co. will surely have their hands full and need to make good to great decisions quite often Sunday afternoon. Kaepernick will benefit from watching what Russell Wilson did against the Texans last week, because he is going to get pressured and he is going to need to keep his eyes down field and give himself an opportunity to see his receivers get open after the play breaks down.
In week 1 against the Packers, Kaepernick was able to roll out to the right while under pressure and find Anquan Boldin who had slipped his coverage and made a tough catch for a first down. This completion was not huge in terms of it being a touchdown catch or a big post pattern for a huge chunk of yards, but it spoke volumes about the trust Kaepernick has in Boldin and it showed Kaepernick in a more mature light; instead of running or forcing something, he simply rolled out, stayed calm, and completed a pass for a first down which allowed the drive to continue.
The 49ers will need to make sure they keep Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and LaMichael James heavily involved in the offense this week. Kaepernick is a talented runner and a gifted passer, no doubt, but the 49ers still need to be a run first team. Having arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and having Frank Gore leading a backfield that is immensely talented is wonderful, but it is only an effective weapon if it is utilized properly. The Texans defense is incredibly talented, but by giving them a large dose of the running game in the first half will wear them down and allow them to be gashed for big gains in the second half.
Think back to the Super Bowl against the Ravens (believe me, I don’t want to either, but my point is perfectly illustrated by revisiting the worst loss in 49ers history). In the first half against Baltimore, the 49ers ran the ball well, but not for any big gains. It was Gore for six yards here, Kaepernick for nine yards there, Gore for no gain, etc. In the fourth quarter, Gore had runs of 21 and 33 yards while Kaepernick had his 15-yard touchdown scamper. The run game in the beginning of the game serves to wear down the defense and allow bigger holes to open up in the second half (unless you’re the St. Louis Rams and you allow Gore to score a 34-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter).
The run game is going to be crucial to the 49ers success this Sunday. If the Texans have to respect the run, Boldin and Vernon Davis will have better opportunities against less intense coverage from the Texans secondary. An effective run game opens up the pass game and an effective passing attack opens up running lanes for the most talented mobile quarterback in the NFL, Colin Kaepernick.
The Texans have an offense to be reckoned with as well. Owen Daniels will be a force in the middle of the field and it will take good to excellent coverage to shut him down. Andre Johnson is still one of the most effective wide receivers in the NFL. At 32 years old, Johnson may be dealing with a little more soreness week in and week out, but he has consistently been at the top of every major statistical category for wide receivers and is widely regarded as one of the best wide outs in the league.
Ben Tate and Arian Foster also provide a solid 1-2 punch for the Texans rushing attack. Both running backs are capable of being starters on a number of teams in the NFL, which is a great problem for Gary Kubiak and the Texans to have. Tate has rushed 34 times for 228 yards and zero touchdowns while Foster has had 76 attempts for 292 yards, finding the end zone once.
The recipe for success this Sunday is the same as it is every Sunday for the 49ers. Offensively, the 49ers need to create a power rushing attack, find Vernon Davis down the seam for a couple 20+ yard receptions, allow Boldin to work his magic by throwing the ball his way and having him make a solid play, and let Kaepernick be Kaepernick. Defensively, the front seven needs to get pressure on Matt Schaub, forcing him to make poor decisions and allowing the 49ers offense to get back on the field. The 49ers secondary has to make sure everything stays in front of them, not falling for double moves, and staying with their assignments.
A solid hit by Donte Hitner on Johnson or Daniels wouldn’t hurt; in fact, it may give Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels a case of alligator arms, which could benefit the 49ers greatly. Think back to when Dashon Goldson crushed Roddy White in the NFC Championship Game last year. After that hit, White was skeptical to leave himself vulnerable to another hit and missed some catches he would normally have made.
Ultimately, this is the game plan for the 49ers every week and has had proven success. Frank Gore doesn’t need to rush for over 100 yards every game (he did so only three times in 2012), Crabtree doesn’t need to be on the field (although wouldn’t he be a nice addition?), and the defense doesn’t need to lead the league in turnovers to be effective. The offense needs to have a potent rushing attack, a good passing game, and the defense needs to allow 20 points or less and the 49ers should come out on top more often than not.