The San Francisco 49ers are coming off their most complete performance of the season with their 35 – 11 beat down of the St. Louis Rams. The Niners rediscovered their offensive identity of being an in your face, grind it out power run offense to the tune of 219 yards rushing as a team. Frank Gore showed he has gas left in the tank with 153 yards on 20 carries. The defense had a reemergence with a dominant performance by holding the Rams to just 188 yards of total offense, including just 18 on the ground. After that performance, fans are questioning if the Niners are back on track or they just flashed against a bad team.
The Niners next opponent, the Texans are coming off a heartbreaking loss, as they blew a 20 – 3 halftime lead against the Seahawks. The Texans are going to be chomping at the bit to get the taste of that loss out of their mouths. The Niners have homefield advantage and an extra several days to prepare for their Sunday night showdown.
The extra days of prep should serve the Niners well, as they should be able to iron the wrinkles that have plagued them early in the season. The Texans present an excellent challenge for the Niners on both sides of the ball. Last week, Houston held the Seahawks to 270 of total offense, while putting up 476 yards of their own. Depending on which Matt Schaub shows, the Texans passing attack has the potential to find some success against a struggling Niners’ secondary.
The interesting match up is going to be the match up of rushing offenses and rushing defenses. Both offenses are ranked in the top-eight, with the Niners at eight and the Texans at seven. Last year, these teams finished fourth and seventh, respectively. The defenses on the other hand have struggled to slow down their opponents this season, as they rank 19th and 23rd. Last year, they finished fourth and seventh. So both teams have a history of being strong against the run, but have struggled lately. The Niners showed flashes of turning the corner, as they held the Rams to just 18 yards rushing on 19 attempts. The Texans on the other hand gave up 179 rushing yards to the Seahawks.
Looking briefly at the stats, it shows what the Niners should be striving towards as a game plan. The Niners need to emphasis their strength in the trenches. The Niners’ offensive line is one of the strongest and best at run blocking in the league. They dodged a bullet with a potential injury to Joe Staley, and they should be a major boon to their game plan this week.
The Niners need to work on getting more dynamic in their running game and be able to establish the run outside to go along with their ability to run inside. They also need to utilize the speed of Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James more effectively. The ability to run out of multiple formations will allow them to open of the passing game, as the Texans will not be able to key in on certain formations. The Niners should also emphasize their play-action passing, as that is a strength of their offense and it helps the receivers to find separation against defensive backs. The Niners receivers have failed to defeat jams and coverages in straight passing plays for much of this season.
On the defense, the teams should be lifted by the return of all-world linebacker Patrick Willis. Navarro Bowman had an outstanding performance against the Rams, but adding Willis to the mix should only help this defense that found its former swagger. Stopping the run is going to be key for the Niners, as the Texans lean on their rushing attack to set up their passing game. Taking away the run and forcing Schaub to be the one to beat is the best bet to beating the Texans. For as productive as he is, Schaub is prone to making mistakes and putting the ball into his hands is going to be the best way to make a play on defense.
The Niners’ plan for the week should be planning to play to their strengths. Lean on their offensive line and stable of capable backs to combat the Texans’ tendency to attack upfield and blitz. Taking advantage of a soft Texans’ run defense, will allow the Niners to dictate the pace of the game and keep their defense rested.
The defense should lean on their front and be aggressive shutting down the run and getting pressure on Schaub. Getting the Texans in third and long and getting pressure has a tendency to force Schaub into poor throws. Keeping it simple, the Niners need to work on building the momentum of dominating in the trenches on both sides of the ball.