1. Matt Schaub needs his mojo back
If anything on this to-do list needs to be checked off, it's this. No one can get inside a quarterback's head, but Schaub must find a way to regain his confidence.
Antonio Smith said that Schaub was writing his legend this year. Being remembered as the guy who threw three-straight games with a pick-six is not what he had in mind.
"Well, he's got three glaring big, big plays, mistakes with the ball," head coach Gary Kubiak said this week. "It's like I tell you guys, when you play that position, and what he'd throw it for 49 times the other day? And he throws for 355 yards against the number one defense. So there are a lot of good things going on too, but when you play that position and you make a glaring mistake or two, it's the difference in the winning and losing."
With All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown returning from a toe injury after missing two games, that should be a big boost to Matt's confidence on Sunday. Also, winning on the road in a prime-time game with no more "glaring, big, big plays" will be a huge monkey off his back...for now.
2. Put the brakes on Colin Kaepernick
Last week, the buzz was about containing Russell Wilson. Through three quarters, the Texans defense did just that. The question remains: can they sustain it for four quarters?
San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick has a quarterback passer rating of 101.0 on third downs this season. On the bright side, playing two similarly mobile quarterbacks in consecutive weeks is a good thing for the defense.
"Oh he's different in terms of physical assets," Whitney Mercilus said. "He's different from Russell Wilson in that he has longer legs, so he runs like a gazelle."
Yeah, and there's that.
According to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, both Wilson and Kaepernick have their differences by the offensive concepts are similar.
"Last week, it wasn't as much the read-option," Phillips said. "They didn't hurt us with that. It was just quarterback scrambling on pass plays. It's hard to replicate those kinds of guys—their speed, their elusiveness—in practice. On that one drive, we found out the guy can really do some magical things. This guy is the same way. They can have big games running the ball when they're supposed to pass it. We learned something from that, but this guy is similar. He can give you the same kind of problem."
3. Don't let the game get "Gore-y"
The 49ers have been 9-0 since 2011 whenever Frank Gore rushes for over 100 yards in a regular season game. The differences in Seattle's Marshawn Lynch and Gore are more pronounced than those of the two quarterbacks.
"They've got more of a power running game instead of a zone running game," Antonio Smith said. "They like to shove it down your throat more than run side-to-side and trick you."
The Texans rank first in the NFL in total defense, even after their loss to Seattle. Before Cushing went out in the third quarter, the defense was able to hold Wilson to just three yards on three carries and Lynch to 59 yards and no score. With Cushing expected to start on Sunday after clearing the concussion protocol, the Texans hope to finish the type of game they started against the Seahawks.
4. "Candesticks always make a nice gift." -Bull Durham (1988)
So would turnovers, big plays on special teams, and early leads. The Texans definitely want to be on the receiving end, not the giving, of any gifts at Candlestick Park.
Against Seattle, the Texans defense forced a fumble and an interception for their first turnover since Brian Cushing's pick-six against San Diego. The turnover differential battle is one that Houston and San Francisco are losing, both near the bottom of the league at minus-four. The Texans and Niners each are desperately needing the big plays they are often giving up to opponents.