Five things to watch: Texans vs. 49ers

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Brian Cushing and the Texans must contain 49ers running back Frank Gore on Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

The Texans (3-3) look to get their record above .500 in Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) at Reliant Stadium. Here are five things to watch for in the game.

Ryans vs. Willis:They won't be on the field at the same time, but the Texans' DeMeco Ryans and 49ers' Patrick Willis are two of the premier inside linebackers in the NFL.

Since Ryans entered the league out of Alabama in 2006, he ranks second in the NFL with 440 tackles. Willis leads the NFL with 364 tackles since his arrival from Ole Miss in 2007. Both players won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and have earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.

"We both just love to play the game of football," Willis said on Wednesday. "I like the way he goes after the ball, and hopefully he likes the way that I go after it. We try to compete at a high level. I think to sum it up, that's SEC football."

With three more tackles, Ryans will pass Jamie Sharper for first place on the Texans' all-time tackles list with 443.

Crabtree factor:The 49ers selected wide receiver Michael Crabtree 10th overall in the 2009 draft, but the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner didn't sign with the team until Oct. 7.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that Crabtree would likely start against the Texans. That hasn't been confirmed by 49ers coach Mike Singletary this week, but Crabtree is expected to see plenty of action either way.

The rookie's debut will come in his home state of Texas. It may be his first time on an NFL field, but the Texans say they respect the former Texas Tech pass catcher's abilities.

"He's a big-play guy," cornerback Jacques Reeves said. "He made a lot of big plays at Tech, and I'm sure San Francisco wouldn't have drafted him in the first round if they didn't expect the same thing. I'm sure they'll try to get him the ball and showcase him a little bit."

In his two-season career in Lubbock, Crabtree set numerous school, Big 12 and NCAA receiving records. He caught 231 career passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns with and was a two-time consensus All-American.

Aerial assault:The Texans have the third-ranked passing offense in the league. Since Week 2, they're one of only teams six in the league with more than 400 total yards per game.

Quarterback Matt Schaub leads the NFL in touchdown passes (14) and ranks second in passing yards (1,810). Andre Johnson is second in receiving yards (572) and fourth in catches (36), and tight end Owen Daniels is already just one shy of his career high with four touchdown catches.

The 49ers rank 20th against the pass, but they were torched by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in a 45-10 loss in Week 5. Ryan wasn't sacked and went 22-of-32 for 329 yards and two touchdowns, while receiver Roddy White had a field day with 210 yards and two touchdowns.

Look for the 49ers to dial up plenty of blitzes in their 3-4 scheme to try to get pressure on Schaub, who has been sacked just twice in 90 pass attempts over the last two games.

Defensive surge: After a rough start to the season, the Texans' defense has hit its stride under first-year coordinator Frank Bush. The Texans have the second-best rushing defense in the league over the past three weeks, allowing only 45.0 yards per game, and have pitched three consecutive second-half shutouts.

Rookie linebacker Brian Cushing, the Week 6 AFC Defensive Player of the Week, has brought a physical edge to the Texans' defense. Cornerback Dunta Robinson, safety Bernard Pollard and rookie corner Glover Quin have brought sure tackling to the secondary, and the long touchdown runs that burned the Texans in Weeks 1-3 have disappeared.

A week after shutting down the NFL's leading rusher in Cedric Benson, the Texans get 49ers running back Frank Gore. He's averaging 6.2 yards per carry in three games this season, with almost all of his production coming in a 207-yard game against the Seahawks.

"He's another big challenge for us," Ryans said. "Just like we faced last week, Frank Gore is a top running back in this league. He has the capability of tearing it up on us. We respect him and we definitely have to be honed up on our assignments and be in tune to what we're doing to put the fire out in the run game."

Salute to the Miltary:The Texans will offer their annual "Salute to the Military" at Reliant Stadium on Sunday.

Weather permitting, members of the Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Team will descend into Reliant Stadium from a Black Hawk helicopter before the game. That same Black Hawk helicopter will do a fly-over of the stadium after the national anthem, which will be performed by a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant.

Also before the game, there will be a special performance of "God Bless the USA" by 2008 "America's Got Talent" winner Neal E. Boyd. The Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon will perform at halftime.

The game will be broadcast on the American Forces Network, which is available in 175 countries and territories worldwide.

"We owe so much to the military," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "It's important that we make a special effort to say thank you."

Follow Nick Scurfield on Twitter at *twitter.com/NickScurfield or find him on the "I'm A Texan Club" at imatexan.com/profiles/Nick_Scurf/*.

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