49ers vs. Texans: Why Preseason Week 2 Game Is Super Bowl Preview
This week's preseason matchup features two teams ready to make the leap and square off on the NFL's grandest of stages. It's a teaser game, because both San Francisco and Houston are the obvious favorites in their respective divisions, and so we basically have to wait until January to figure this thing out.
Although we're only going to catch a brief glimpse of the potential Super Bowl matchup—as it is still just a preseason bout—each team has the motivation to make that a reality. For one, they tasted the quick high-low feeling from winning to losing during pro football's toughest month.
As both we're edged out in postseason losses, the 2013 season presents much more than a glimmer of hope. So, let's breakdown the 49ers-Texans exhibition game and see where the Super Bowl potential is lingering.
Improved/Upgraded Balanced Offenses
Looking at San Francisco's offense from 2011, it pales in comparison to 2012.
Alex Smith developed emphatically well last season, and we can only anticipate him getting better. Not to mention his receiving corps wasn't the most reliable, and yet he still had an impressive season. Now, Smith has an abundance of weapons courtesy of additions Mario Manningham and Randy Moss.
On the ground, Frank Gore may be 29 years old, but Brandon Jacobs (despite his age) will help carry the load between the tackles and rookie LaMichael James is the future. James was a perfect selection in Round 2, and his overall skill set bodes well in short yard situations, third down and spread formations.
Houston, on the other hand, doesn't possess as much explosion but is impressively balanced.
What are the odds of a 49ers-Texans Super Bowl this season?
Arian Foster remains one of the NFL's best running backs, and Ben Tate is a reliable No. 2. An inconsistently healthy Andre Johnson was damaging in 2011, however, he is expected to suit up this week, per Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.
With other rookies who flew well under the radar, like center Ben Jones and receiver Keshawn Martin, the Texans have nice depth across the board.
The Best Defenses in Football
This is where each team thrives and dominates.
The 49ers fielded the NFL's best defense in 2011 and allowed just 77.3 rushing yards per game. No, the pass defense wasn't nearly as impressive, but 42 sacks, 23 picks and 20 forced fumbles are.
San Francisco still has the league's best front seven and in a conference driven by offense, the 'Niners have a major advantage. Everyone in the NFC North and South has to prove they can play defense consistently, and the East comes nowhere near San Francisco's level.
As for the Texans, they'll pick up right where 2011 left off.
Mario Williams may be gone, but he's basically been gone since Week 6 of last season. Houston played outstanding in his absence thanks to the bash brothers duo of J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed.
Recording 44 sacks and 17 interceptions while forcing 16 fumbles, Houston ranked No. 3 against the pass and No. 4 against the run. This kind of eclecticism is rare in the NFL, especially when you consider how young the Texans are (oldest defender is Bradie James, 31).
Strong Special Teams Never Hurts
Solely because of Ted Ginn Jr. do the 49ers have the advantage over most opponents on special teams. We saw how Ginn being out cost the 'Niners in the postseason, and with another Super Bowl opportunity year in place, the man has to be back deep in every clutch situation.
He remains a great dual-threat return specialist, and it is Ginn's best fit when you look at San Francisco's receiver depth.
Houston, however, could certainly improve. Danieal Manning and Quintin Demps produced well in 2011 on kickoffs, and the Texans ranked No. 7 by averaging 25.2 yards per return. On punts, Jacoby Jones' contributions were overshadowed in the postseason.
In 2012, though, Demps has great talent to develop on punts. As a rookie in 2008, he totaled 1,314 kickoff return yards for the Eagles, so allowing him to pull double-duty will pay extreme dividends.
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