Getting Kaepernick Going
The San Francisco 49ers will only go so far with Colin Kaepernick as "game manager." Against better defenses like the one they will play Sunday night, they will need to find ways to get yardage in chunks. Since his 412-yard effort in Week 1, Kaepernick has averaged 148 yards passing in three games.
Teams have done a good job taking away San Francisco's read-option attack to this point, pushing the 49ers to move away from it. Establishing the running game against the Texans' front could go a long way toward opening things up through the air. Designed runs for Kaepernick on the outside could help spread the defense out to allow Frank Gore to have another big game while running through the interior.
Expect Houston to load the box with eight or nine players for most of the night, which could allow Kaepernick to look for longer plays down the field. Vernon Davis only had two catches against the Rams but is the only weapon San Francisco has that provides mismatch issues for the Texans' defense.
Win the Turnover Battle
The Texans turnover woes are a big factor in their 2-2 start. Matt Schaub has thrown three interceptions returned for touchdowns in as many weeks and would set a record if he threw another Sunday night.
On average, Houston has out-gained their opponents by 156 yards and have just two wins to show for it. The team's -4 turnover differential has them at the bottom of the league.
There's a good chance the Texans would be 3-1 without last week's late pick-6 to Richard Sherman that sent the game to overtime.
The 49ers haven't been good in the turnover department either. They've given away nine while forcing just five. They haven't won the turnover battle since Week 1's 34-28 win over the Packers.
There might not be a player in the NFL playing at a higher level than J.J. Watt is right now.
"He stirs it up run game, pass game, front side, back side, double teamed, single blocked," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said this week. "This guy is a handful. So, we're taking a hard look at studying him and he could appear anywhere really."
The 49ers offensive line is coming off its best performance of the season and will have to continue that level of play against Watt. His ability to line up in various spots on the field make him tough to prepare for. Center Jonathan Goodwin will be pressured to make the right pre-snap checks for the line to slow Watt down.
Stop the Run, But Beware
"Really nobody does as good a job as the Texans do at simulating the play-action pass and making it look exactly like the run, making the bootlegs look like the run," Jim Harbaugh said Friday.
With a talented running back duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the Texans' offense is built around a ground game that opens things up for the pass. San Francisco allowed just 18 rushing yards to St. Louis, and will need a similar effort to try and make Houston one-dimensional.
The challenge lies in being stout against the run while remaining aware of play-action and the big-play ability of Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Eric Reid will have to remain disciplined and not jump at play action.
San Francisco's lack of weapons on the outside has been well documented. With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out, the 49ers will have to get production outside of Anquan Boldin and Davis, whom defenses have keyed on forcing Kaepernick to look elsewhere.
Baldwin made a pair of third-down catches in the win in St. Louis - his first game active since joining the team. He spent the extra days off between games working with Kaepernick on the practice field and will become a bigger part of the offense as Harbuagh and Roman indicated during the week.
When throwing to Kyle Williams, the team's unofficial No. 2 receiver through the first four games, Kaepernick has completed just 9 of 19 with two interceptions and a 21.1 QB rating.
*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*
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