31 Dec Will the Niners Get Hogtied by the Texans?
The Houston Texans are 4-11. So it might make sense that the San Francisco 49ers are currently 12-point favorites as I write this. This Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, in a game with massive playoff implications, it’s as important as ever for the 49ers to take care of business. While they can lose this game & still possibly make the playoffs, they would no longer control their own destiny & would need help from other teams, to get in. If the 49ers win & the Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints, then the 49ers are in the playoffs & could potentially even rest their starters in their week 18 matchup in L.A. vs the Rams, making it a quasi-bye week.
It would seem that the Texans are only playing not to win, which would weaken their draft position, but somebody apparently forgot to get the memo to QB Davis Mills, the rookie signal-caller from Stanford. He & the Texans had a very impressive 41-29 win over Justin Herbert & the Los Angeles Chargers (who are also 8-7, just like the 49ers) last Sunday. Davis Mills might be playing better than any rookie QB right now. Before we all put the 49ers down for their 9th win of the season, let’s look at some context.
The 49ers will be without their best CB, Emmanuel Moseley, yet again. They will also be without LB Azeez Al-Shaair, after he sprained his MCL last week vs the Tennessee Titans and will likely be out the remainder of the season. LB Fred Warner was 1st team All Pro in 2020 & just got a record setting $19M per year contract, but Al-Shaair has arguably been the best LB for the 49ers in 2021. He has really turned into a stud, and it just further proves that the 49ers know how to scout & develop their middle linebackers! S Talanoa Hufanga didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, so he will likely be out as well. If I had to pick between Hufanga & Tartt, I would take Tartt, but Hufanga is a big key to the 3-safety looks they 49ers like.
As much as I want Trey Lance to start, it appears that Kyle Shanahan wants Jimmy Garoppolo to start, if at all possible. Shanahan has made some personnel mistakes at the QB position in the past (passing on Watson, Mahomes & Brady), but he sees Lance every day in practice, so if Jimmy is unable to play, Shanahan still sees that as a big negative. I personally believe that Lance will be better than Garoppolo, but that may not be by kickoff this Sunday, or even by the end of the game. Something that would’ve helped Lance be more prepared, would’ve been to get in at least 1 series in the blowout wins vs Rams, Jaguars & Falcons. Those were definitely some missed opportunities by this coaching staff.
Shanahan is trying to wait until the last minute possibly to say that Garoppolo is out, in hopes that it’ll make the Texans prepare for both him & Lance. However, the signing of QB Tyler Bray to the practice squad is a dead giveaway to me that Garoppolo won’t play this Sunday, at the very least.
Houston’s run defense is pretty bad — 27th in rushing yards allowed, and their pass defense isn’t much better — 19th in passing yards allowed. The 49ers should be able to successfully run the ball quite often against that front, and if they do that effectively, then they should win. If Garoppolo or Lance have to win the game with their arm, then things could get tricky.
The 49ers’ run defense has been improving steadily over the second half of the season, and the unit is now pretty stout, surrendering the 11th-least rushing yards. Their pass defense is currently 7th in total yards allowed, which sounds good, until you consider that they are #1 in DPI yards allowed, so this unit is probably closer to the middle of the pack than the top. Unlike the run defense, the pass defense has declined over the second half of the season.
Houston WR Brandon Cooks could be a big key for the Texans’ offense. He missed the Chargers game last Sunday, but should be back this Sunday vs the 49ers. He has 945 receiving yards & 5 TDs on the year. Neither of the 49ers’ starting CBs can cover Cooks, at least without safety help over the top.
The 49ers’ offense should be pretty close to full strength, with rookie RB Trey Sermon returning off of IR & fellow rookie RB Elijah Mitchell coming back from his undisclosed knee injury, to join JWJ & Hasty. Since Deebo Samuel had a show-out performance vs the Titans, my guess is that TE George Kittle will be the one to blow up as a receiver vs Texans. However, Brandon Aiyuk will definitely benefit the most from finally having a QB who can throw deep and outside the numbers.
Elijah Mitchell should lead the way in rushing yards, but Deebo Samuel will probably score the most rushing TDs for the 49ers. JWJ & Hasty should see less touches than they have been getting recently with Mitchell back.
Lance & Deebo in the backfield together alone should be enough to terrify any sane DC.
I don’t believe that the Texans ‘will hogtie the Niners,’ but I also don’t think that 49ers will blow them out, either. As usual, please be on the lookout for my official score prediction tweet, about an hour prior to kickoff, once we see exactly who will play & who won’t.