Here are Five Things to Watch when the Texans face the 49ers during their Week 5 matchup in San Francisco.
- Jones Keeping Up** - Ben Jones returns to the starting lineup Sunday night in place of the injured Brandon Brooks. After serving as the swing guard/center in 2013, Jones returns to the position he played as a rookie last season. During Week 2 of 2012, Jones was thrust into the mix as a starter at right guard and held down that position through the middle of December.
He will have his hands full with a rugged San Francisco front seven. Jones will likely clash at times with physical menaces like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and NaVorro Bowman.
"They play hard every snap and their linebackers are guys you grew up watching and stuff like that," Jones said. "They are a great team. We'll just go out there and try to get a hat-on-hat and execute."
Brooks had started to establish himself as a solid starter at the position, and the quickness he displayed with such a large frame was a strength.
2. Reed'ing Kaepernick - Last February in the Super Bowl, safety Ed Reed picked off the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick. The wily veteran jumped a route and intercepted the young quarterback's dart over the middle, and it will be interesting to see how much Reed gets tested.
In his return against the Ravens, and last Sunday versus Seattle, Reed didn't see many passes come his way. In fact, Reed has been targeted just once in those two contests. His Ravens won the Super Bowl, and he described the way they dealt with the talented young
"Our plan was to hit him every play," Reed said. "Have somebody on him. Have eyes on him. The approach here is a little different, but we've definitely got eyes on him at all times."
After a brilliant 2012 campaign, the early going in 2013 has been a little tougher for Kaepernick. He's thrown five touchdowns, but been picked off four times. He's also completed just 58-percent of his passes, and been sacked 10 times.
3. Brown returns - After missing the past two games because of a toe injury, left tackle Duane Brown is set for a return to action. The absence of the 2012 All Pro lineman was a tough blow to the Texans' offense, so his return is a welcome sight.
"I wanted to be confident in going out there and playing on it, and know I can play like myself and not feel like I'm less of a player on it," Brown said. "You had to be careful."
Ryan Harris filled in for Brown in each of the last two weeks.
- Texans Pass Rush **- Whitney Mercilus, Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt have combined for 9.5 sacks through the first four games of the year, and Smith missed the opener at San Diego. They'll need to get to Kapernick to either drop him for losses, or force him into making bad decisions with the ball. Mercilus picked up 2.5 sacks on Sunday versus Seattle, and also added in a tackle for loss.
"He's been very consistent with his play, very productive with his play," Kubiak said. "I think he's an ascending player form a standpoint of playing with his hand off the ground. Bright, bright future."
Smith has gotten to the quarterback in each of the three games he's played, and Watt has filled up the stat sheet so far in 2013.
- Tight end togetherness** - Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham share the team lead in touchdown catches with three apiece in 2013. The tight ends are an integral part of the offense, and together, they've combined for 318 receiving yards this season.
With linebacker Patrick Willis hobbled by a groin injury, the 49ers linebacker corps will be tested underneath by Daniels and Graham. Daniels rang up 123 yards receiving on seven catches when the two clubs last met in 2009. Both teams were a lot different then as opposed to now, but the threat of Daniels and Graham is something San Francisco has to consider.