Friday, October 4, 2013

5 Burning Questions For Week 5

To borrow an often used phrase, this Sunday night's game between the 49ers and Texans is huge for both teams.  Coming in with identical 2-2 records one of the teams will see their playoff aspirations take a large hit.  Since 1990 teams that start the season 3-2 have made the playoffs 51.1% of the time, compared to only 21.5% for teams that start 2-3.

The 49ers come into this game already trailing the Seahawks by 2 1/2 games for the division lead.  The 49ers need to keep pace with Seattle, and be within 1 game in the loss column by the time the teams meet on December 8 if they are going to overtake them.

The Texans are in a similar situation, although they are only 1 game behind Indianapolis.  Coincidentally, the teams that both Houston and San Francisco are chasing meet on Sunday morning in Indianapolis, and you can bet there will be a lot of eyes looking for the outcome.

Here are 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.

1)  Can the 49ers defense make Houston one dimensional? - The Texan offense does all of the things that causes fits for the 49ers defense.  They are committed to the run, averaging over 28 rushes per game, they feature an accurate quarterback in Matt Schaub (65.5% completions), and they feature a solid corps of receivers and tight ends.

If the 49ers are to win they must force Houston to get away from the run.  The numbers show this to be true.  In their 2 victories this season the 49ers have forced the opponent to run the ball only 19 times, while in their 2 losses the 49ers faced an average of 43 rushing attempts.  The magic number for the 49ers defense is 25.  Can they do a good enough job of slowing down Arian Foster and Ben Tate to force the Texans to turn the game over to Matt Schaub?

2)  Will Greg Roman get Vernon Davis involved? - Vernon Davis is always a key for the 49ers offense, and that takes on increased significance this week.  Davis will often find himself matched up with the Texans' safeties.  It will be Danieal Manning when they are in their base defense, and rookie DJ Swearinger when they go to their sub package.  This is a matchup that should greatly favor Davis and the 49ers.  If Davis can finish the night with 5+ receptions the 49ers should be in position to win.

3)  Can the 49ers offense reduce the amount of 3 and outs? - Through the first 4 weeks the 49ers offense has been forced 3 and out the 3rd most times of any team in the league at 43.1%.  Even last week against St Louis the 49ers offense went 3 and out on 11 of their 16 possessions.  The 49ers offense had the ball for 16 possession and ran a total of 63 plays, an average of 3.9 plays per possession.

Against an offense that like to run the ball as much as Houston, it is imperative that the 49ers do a better job of controlling the ball.  The Houston defense comes into the game having forced the highest percentage of 3 and outs in the league at 50%.

4)  How will the 49ers handle the Houston tight ends? - The Texans passing game is mostly set up off play action so it should come as no surprise that 6 of Matt Schaub's 8 touchdown passes have gone to tight ends.  Owen Daniels and Garret Graham each have 3 touchdown receptions for the Texans.  This will put a lot of pressure on the linebackers and safeties for the 49ers, and is yet another reason why the 49ers defense needs to somehow make the Texan offense one dimensional.

5)  Can the 49ers keep the ground game going? - Over the last 2 weeks Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have combined to average 5.96 yards per carry on plays that originated with Colin Kaepernick under center.  This week they get a Texans defense that is currently ranked 23rd in the league in rushing defense and gives up an average of 4 yards per carry.  The table is set for them to have another big day on the ground.

Prediction Time:

As Tim Kawakami pointed out earlier this week, Jim Harbaugh's teams don't lose very often when they have extra prep time as is the case on Sunday night.  In those circumstances the 49ers are 8-1-1.  That record goes to 5-0 when the 49ers have extra prep time and their opponent is coming off a regular week.  I like to go with the numbers, so I will predict a 20-17 49ers victory on Sunday night.

I think this game will have a very similar look to it like the Colts game 2 weeks ago.  I don't expect to see a lot of big plays, but the offense that can grind it out the best will come out on top.  Fortunately for the 49ers they come in more fresh, and I think that will carry them to a tight victory.

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