Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in 49ers' Week 5 Action
Sure the victory looked pretty impressive considering the 49ers were without Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith, but when you take the time to think about how awful a quarterback Sam Bradford is you get the same sobering effect you had when Ben Affleck was cast as the new Batman.
On Sunday the Niners will be up against a much more formidable opponent in the Houston Texans, and it's worth remembering that the last time San Francisco faced an AFC playoff contender they were kicked around and eventually tossed in a green compost bin with Hershey-colored stains.
Clearly Frank Gore's comments to Jim Harbaugh after that game had a resounding effect, and the Niners will look to continue involving No. 21 in their offense this Sunday.
But it won't be as easy this time around.
The Texans will be looking to rebound from a horrific loss against the Seahawks, a game that had 49er fans throwing their chimichangas at their TV screens. After thoroughly dominating the birds for three quarters, the Texans decided to stop playing and everything else transpired accordingly.
Seattle's player of the game was not Marshawn Lynch or Russell Wilson, but Matt Schaub, who threw a game-tying interception to Richard (@#^$%) Sherman with barely three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Almost predictably, the Seahawks went on to win the game in overtime.
In order to beat a good team determined to avoid a three-game losing streak, the 49ers will need to focus on the following three matchups.
Anthony Davis vs. J.J. Watt
With his face caked with blood, J.J. Watt continued terrorizing Seattle's offense and had Russell Wilson fleeing for his life on every snap. The key to beating Houston's great defense, much like it is with the 49ers' defense, is shutting down their main playmaker up front.
It all starts with the man who the 49ers passed on in the 2011 NFL Draft to select Aldon Smith. Watt might as well be Thor without the long hair and funny accent. He slices through offensive lines and does a good job of getting to the quarterback (almost 21 times last season), clogs up running lanes and swats away a cornucopia (is that an actual word?) of pass attempts. He should have easily won the MVP over Adrian Peterson last year, and it'll be up to one of the 49ers' rising young stars to match his frantic level of play.
Anthony Davis started out slow in his first two seasons, often failing to beat the pass rush off the snap and jumping early to get that extra step. But he's progressed in every year since being drafted and is now a cornerstone on one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
If Davis can slow down Watt without relying on too much help from the interior lineman, the 49ers will have a much easier time protecting Colin Kaepernick and opening up holes for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
Constant double teams on J.J. would allow Whitney Mercilus to fly in and wreak havoc in the 49ers' backfield.
That would suck. A lot.
Carlos Rogers vs. Andre Johnson
San Francisco has the third best passing defense in the league, and the popular belief is that teams have finally figured out how to run the ball against them.
The 49ers' defense is sixth in the league in yards per rush and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. The offense's porous performance from Week 2 to Week 3 has been the real culprit, putting the defense on the field for too many snaps and allowing teams to wear them down with the run.
The secondary, however, has hung in there despite a lack of pass rush from the front seven. When the 49ers were able to generate pressure on Sam Bradford (much of it thanks to NaVorro Bowman single-handedly destroying St. Louis' offensive line), the Rams were unable to do anything with the ball except give it away to the 49ers' defense.
Carlos Rogers remains the 49ers' top cornerback, and he'll have his hands full covering Andre Johnson this Sunday.
The greatest weakness for the defense this season has been on 3rd-and-long, and if Rogers can't defend Johnson without safety help Houston will have an easy time prolonging drives and dominating the time of possession.
Anquan Boldin vs. Jonathan Joseph
If what happened against the Colts is any indication, the 49ers could be in for a long day if Johnathan Joseph is able to lock down Anquan Boldin in one-one-one coverage. The difference is that the 49ers will have Vernon Davis on the field this time, so it's not like the Texans can only focus on one guy the same way the Colts did.
But if Indianapolis was able to lock the 49ers' offense in a used luggage bag without LaRon Landry, a superior Houston defense could cause a few aneurysms on Sunday. And while the Colts had Bradshaw and Richardson, the Texans have Foster and Tate. Hopefully Harbaugh and Roman have learned their lesson from Week 3, and Matt Schaub continues not to learn a damn thing.
The success of the passing game rests on whether Boldin can outplay a physical defensive back like Johnson. Kaepernick's biggest weakness this season continues to be relying too heavily on one receiver, and Houston will try to exploit that with their Pro Bowl cornerback.
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