49ers vs. Texans: What to Watch for in Preseason Week 2
Even though defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was aggravated by the San Francisco 49ers' first-team performance, things settled down after the second drive and the Vikings didn't score again all night.
San Francisco is looking to build on their preseason opener as they travel to take on the Texans Saturday Night. Houston is coming off a win of their own against the Panthers in which they rushed for over a 170 yards on 39 carries.
Will Scott Tolzien and Chris Owusu continue to impress, or will Colin Kaepernick and A.J. Jenkins step their game up?
Let us take a look at the five things you should be zeroing in on while you watch the game.
No. 2 Quarterback
After last week's impressive 10-of-13 showing, Scott Tolzien now has his sights set on the backup quarterback job. His performance against the Vikings was a bit surprising, but people forget he flashed at times when he was with the Chargers last year.
Colin Kaepernick had an impressive showing of his own, except unlike Tolzien he used his legs to show off why he's so valuable. But will his legs alone be able to hold off Tolzien? He looked underwhelming and erratic as a passer.
Completing just 5-of-9 passes for a 4.4-yard average won't impress many. There's no question last year's second-round pick needs to progress as a passer if he ever wants to unseat Alex Smith.
However, Jim Harbaugh doesn't seem to echo the same thoughts as some 49ers fans do in regard to the No. 2 quarterback job. Here's what Harbaugh had to say after Tuesday's practice (h/t SI.com). "I would say Colin has emerged there,'' Harbaugh said. "And it's been very good. Nothing is set in stone in that regard, but there has been some emergence.''
Is it illogical to think Tolzien has a chance to back up Smith?
Bakhtiari and Cox
When camp opened three weeks ago, Eric Bakhtiari and Perrish Cox were both buried on the depth chart. As camp has moved along, both players have put together strong performances when called upon. So where does that leave both men right now?
Bakhtiari currently sits behind Ahmad Brooks as the backup left outside linebacker and Cox is currently the fifth cornerback behind Tramaine Brock.
People forget Cox had a promising season in 2010 as a rookie. He was above average against the pass and strong against the run. His technique was sloppy at times, which caused him to draw a few yellow flags, but I'm sure Ed Donatell is already working him over.
Unlike Cox, Bakhtiari was never drafted, and frankly he's just looking for a place to call home. This is his second go around with the 49ers, and he's played on six different teams in all.
But it's looking like this time around things will be different. After an offseason of training with Clay Matthews, Bakhtiari looks faster and stronger than he ever has before. Just ask the Vikings, they found out first hand what he can do.
Four tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hits is a good way to play yourself onto any roster.
Some things never change, as the 49ers offense struggled once again in the red zone last week. At season's end in 2011, San Francisco was the third-worst ranked team in terms of red-zone percentage. They managed a touchdown 40 percent of the time. Only the Rams and Chiefs had a lower percentage.
After last week's 1-of-4 effort in the red zone, offensive coordinator Greg Roman had this to say when asked if the 49ers red-zone offense has a personality (h/t 49ers.pressdemocrat.com), "That's a good question."
Not a real elaborate answer by any means, or one that instills confidence, but you know it has to be incredibly frustrating given the fact they practice against one of the league's top defenses, which in turn should help them become a better offense.
Adding bigger targets and a bigger running back will help cure some of those red-zone blues, but Alex Smith is the one who needs to build a repertoire with the wide receivers so they can take one big unified step forward.
Jacobs will improve their short-yardage ground game, as they seemed to get stuffed all too often in goal-line situations. He looked good in short yardage against the Vikings, as all of his runs came when the down and distance was less than three yards.
Frank Gore's Debut
The 49ers' rushing attack didn't appear to miss a beat against the Vikings with Frank Gore on the bench. San Francisco managed to pile up an eye-opening 260 yards on the ground. Granted 78 of those yards came on one Colin Kaepernick run.
Nevertheless, Anthony Dixon, Rock Cartwright and Brandon Jacobs led the way. A 42-to-29 run-to-pass ratio just reinforces the fact that they were one of three teams who called more run plays than pass plays last season.
The Texans finished with the No. 4 rush defense in 2011, so you know they will be up for the challenge of stopping the 49ers' ground game. However, Houston will be missing two studs along the defensive line: second-year man J.J. Watt and nose tackle Shaun Cody.
Gore is coming off a very good season where he ran for over 1,200 yards and found the end zone eight times. Based on carries and receiving numbers, he's not being utilized like he once was. Even though his health was spot on last year, the 49ers realize his time is ticking.
Manningham and Moss
Even though Randy Moss suited up against Minnesota, he only played four snaps and did not have a pass thrown his way. Fellow offseason pickup Mario Manningham didn't even dress last week, yet it sounds as if he will be making his first appearance in a 49ers uniform.
Manningham is coming off a strong week of practice where observers said he had the best practice of the preseason mid-week. It's clear that he's emerging and taking control of the No. 3 wideout position.
Moss is currently slotted as the right wide receiver and he's been pretty impressive all throughout training camp.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King had this to say about Moss after he stopped in San Francisco on his training-camp tour. "Randy Moss absolutely has something left. If he stays healthy, five weeks from now I think you're going to see Randy Moss as a contributing player on a playoff offense."
I wouldn't expect a rebirth of the greatest show on turf, but the 49ers offense should see more reps in Saturday night's game which will only help them get on the same page that much quicker.
Drop a comment below and let me know who you think will have a more productive season: Moss or Manningham.
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