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Know Your Foe | Texans vs. 49ers, Week 17

After one of the most incredible weeks that I can remember in Texans history, the Texans venture back out on the road to take on one of the most interesting teams in the NFL. I'm not sure how exactly to explain the San Francisco 49ers.


They play like future Super Bowl champions…at times. They can show up and trip all over themselves and lose games they have NO business losing…at times. Their comeback overtime win over Cincinnati was a 15-round fight that Kyle Shanahan's 49ers won with a technical knockout. Yet, a few days later, the 49ers loss to the Titans was about as inexcusable a loss as could be, even though the Titans lead the AFC South. The 49ers dominated the action for much of the first quarter until Jimmy Garoppolo threw a pick in the end zone. The game changed and the 49ers couldn't reel it back in.

So, the 49ers are 8-7 with playoff dreams but because of that up and down nature, they are now a desperate team at home against a Texans team that has won two in a row. The question now turns to the 49ers QB situation. Veteran Jimmy Garoppolo was seen at practice on Wednesday with his injured hand/thumb in a bag of ice, while rookie Trey Lance, the number three overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, took the first team offensive snaps. The transition to Lance from Garoppolo was going to happen at some point; perhaps, that time is now, given Garoppolo's injury situation. But, we won't know, more than likely, until Sunday at 1:25 PST whether it's going to be Lance for sure.

As such, let's get to know the San Francisco 49ers prior to the Texans travelling to the Bay Area to face them for the first time in eight years.

2021 Schedule (8-7)
Week 1 - W @ Detroit Lions 41-33
Week 2 - W @ Philadelphia Eagles 17-11
Week 3 - L Green Bay Packers 30-28
Week 4 - L Seattle Seahawks 28-21
Week 5 - L @ Arizona Cardinals 17-10
Week 6 - BYE
Week 7 - L Indianapolis Colts 30-18
Week 8 - W @ Chicago Bears 33-22
Week 9 - L Arizona Cardinals 31-17
Week 10 - W Los Angeles Rams 31-10
Week 11 - W @ Jacksonville Jaguars 30-10
Week 12 - W Minnesota Vikings 34-26
Week 13 - L @ Seattle Seahawks 30-23
Week 14 - W @ Cincinnati Bengals 26-23 (OT)
Week 15 - W Atlanta Falcons 31-13
Week 16 - L @ Tennessee Titans 20-17
Week 17 - Houston Texans
Week 18 - @ Los Angeles Rams

49ers OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 123.7 ypg (7th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 244.4 ypg (13th)
Total offense per game - 368.1 ypg (10th)
Turnovers lost - 21 (10 Fumbles lost, 11 INT)

Expected 49ers starting offense for Week 17
QB - Jimmy Garoppolo or TREY LANCE
RB - ELIJAH MITCHELL or Jeffery Wilson
FB - Kyle Juszczk
WR - Deebo Samuels
WR - Brandon Aiyuk
TE - George Kittle
LT - Trent Williams
LG - Laken Tomlinson
RG - Daniel Brunskill
RT - Tom Compton

Key Offensive Non-Starters
RB - JaMycal Hasty
WR - Jauan Jennings

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021

Keys to winning v. the 49ers Offense

  1. Trey's offense? - Early in the work week, ESPN star reporter Adam Schefter reported that QB Jimmy Garoppolo tore the UCL in his right (passing hand) thumb. He apparently injured it early in the loss to Tennessee and it helps explain why the 49ers passing game struggled after a strong start. So, as the Texans come to Santa Clara, will it be Jimmy Garoppolo under center or will 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan turn the offense over to rookie Trey Lance for good? When Lance stepped into the starting lineup against the Arizona Cardinals back in week five, he looked like a rookie that started one football game in 637 days. Now, 12 weeks after that start against the Cardinals, is Lance ready to snatch the starting job from Garoppolo for good? If so, expect a ton of run schemes from Lance to get him rolling and some deep balls WAY down the field to let him unwind that big arm.
  2. Deebo - What initially made preparing for Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill so difficult is similar to what makes preparing for 49ers star Deebo Samuel just as hard. There's no telling where Samuel is going to line up, just like Hill early in his career. If the 49ers continue to have RB injury issues, Samuel will line up as a running back and run the rock as if he was born to play that position. Then, he lines up in his natural position at wide receiver and runs circles around opposing defensive backs. Slowing him down starts with recognizing where he is on every play. The next key is disrupting the timing of slants, hitches, etc…to keep the ball out of his hand as much as possible. Finally, the Texans must tackle like there's never another football game ever. Now, he'll still catch six for 80 yards but the Texans just can't allow him to turn that into six for 160 yards, in addition to four carries for 40 yards and a touchdown.
  3. Here Kittle, Kittle, Kittle - Actually, that wasn't the best description because the last thing I want to see the Texans do is call out the talented 49ers tight end George Kittle. A healthy Kittle changes the 49ers offense drastically, even if Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't all that keen targeting the Pro Bowl tight end last Thursday night. Samuel got 11 targets, while Kittle had all of three. I'd imagine that, regardless of who starts at QB, that man will have the marching orders to find #85 in the passing game. Like Samuel, I worry most about Kittle after the catch, in the secondary, running through, and away from, white shirted Texans defenders. It's time for the Texans to strap on the big boy pads for Kittle, Samuel and the 49ers ball handlers.

49ers DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 107.3 ypg (11th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 211.5 ypg (7th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 318.9 ypg (4th)
Turnovers generated - 17 (6 INT, 11 Fumble recoveries - 49ers are -4 in TO margin)

Expected 49ers starting defense for Week 17
DE - Nick Bosa
DT - D.J. Jones
DT - Arik Armstead
LB - Azeez Al-Shaair
LB - Fred Warner
Nickel/LB - Marcell Harris or Dre Greenlaw (missed last week at TEN)
S - Jimmie Ward
S - Jaquiski Tartt

Key Defensive Non-Starters
DT - Kentavius Street
DE - Jordan Willis
DT - Kevin Givens
Nickel - K'Waun Williams

Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021

Keys to winning v. the 49ers Defense

  1. Bosa's Back, well, kind of - When the 2021 schedule was released in May, I saw two California teams at the back end of the schedule. Then, I remember joking, kind of, "oh man, facing Bosas in back-to-back weeks is going to be ROUGH." Well, the Texans got a bit of a gift last week in not facing the older Bosa brother, Joey who plays for the LA Chargers. The Texans won't get that lucky again as younger brother Nick is healthy and having one of the best seasons in recent memory (15 sacks, 19 TFL and 30 QB hits!!). He's strong and violent against the run and he's a house of fire coming off the edge rushing the quarterback. We missed one Bosa, but the younger one is awaiting his turn this week to get after rookie Davis Mills.
  2. Run game on Repeat - The Texans run game did something last week that I didn't think was possible - run for over 100 yards and produce a 100-yard rusher. RB Rex Burkhead went to work on the Chargers mash unit defense, finding a ton of room to run, even creating chunk plays in the run game as well. Now, the Chargers had an ILB at edge replacing Joey Bosa. They didn't violently get off blocks up front. They got caught watching motion and shifts and got run over as well. The 49ers will not do any of those things. DE Nick Bosa, as mentioned above, will play the run on the edge as well as any player the Texans have faced this season. The interior guys are immovable objects and ILB Fred Warner is as good as it gets in all facets of stopping the run. However, the Texans have to find some early down success to set up QB Davis Mills in manageable third down situations as has been done the past two weeks.
  3. Attack - In last Thursday night's game, the Titans weren't having much success in any facet of offensive football against the 49ers defense. But, in the second half, in particular, QB Ryan Tannehill fed WR A.J. Brown constantly. In the first half, Brown had five catches for 24 yards, but in the second half, Brown caught six additional passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. Brown hurt the 49ers short, medium and deep and the 49ers defense had no real answer for Tannehill/Brown in the passing game. If Davis Mills can get time to go through his reads/progressions, the 49ers did show some cracks in the passing game armor in the secondary, especially covering Brown. Although different stylistically, Brandin Cooks can be THAT threat against this talented 49ers defense. He returned from the COVID list on Wednesday and should be ready to rock, which might be the best news of the week

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