5 Areas the San Francisco 49ers Must Improve in Week 6 Contest
The 49ers' defense played very well, forcing four turnovers and keeping the Texans out of the end zone. Those turnovers were turned into 24 points by the 49ers.
Frank Gore and company had the 49ers' ground game on track. The 49ers rushed for 177 yards on 36 carries, a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Gore led the way with 81 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.
It's very tough to be critical when you win a game 34-3. However, there were some areas that need to be improved. It will be up to the 49ers and their coaching staff to make those improvements, as the team prepares for their next opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals and 49ers have identical 3-2 records. Although the 49ers are the much better team on paper, football is not played on paper. The 49ers still must play the game with focus and intensity.
Not to nitpick too much, but let's look at five areas the 49ers need to improve on, as the season moves forward.
All game stats are courtesy of espn.com. All individual season stats are courtesy of pro-football-reference.com
No. 5: Improved Play Calling by Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh
The San Francisco 49ers won their game against the Houston Texans largely on the strength of their defense. The defense scored the first touchdown of the game on a Tramaine Brock interception.
Three additional turnovers generated by the defense gave the 49ers' offense short fields and set up another 17 points. The overall play of the offense left a lot to be desired.
The beginning of the third quarter was a classic example. With a lead of 21-0, the 49ers received the kickoff. They proceeded to have three straight incomplete passes and punted the ball away after using only 23 seconds.
There's no problem going for the jugular in that situation, but at least one running play or short completion to keep the clock running would have been appropriate.
The 49ers allowed a Houston field goal, giving the Texans their first points of the game.
On the 49ers' next possession, they again went three-and-out.
The 49ers were in danger of doing that a third time, but were fortunate when a Houston penalty gave them a first down.
The 49ers have put the clamps on the read-option plays, for the most part. Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are extremely fearful of exposing Colin Kaepernick to injury.
In reality, Kaepernick is usually very good at avoiding big hits because of his size and speed. Kaepernick is actually more susceptible to injury getting hit low, while planted and throwing a pass.
By abandoning one of the things Kaepernick does best, they have limited his effectiveness. His confidence seems to have suffered somewhat.
Swing passes to Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James, would have a high completion rate. Hunter and James are both quick, elusive backs with the ability to make a defender miss. These short, little flare passes could turn into big gains for the offense.
Roman needs to do a better job calling plays to get the chains moving, especially when the 49ers have a lead. He also must put Kaepernick in a better position to achieve success, thereby building his confidence.
No. 4: Get More Production from a Tight End Not Named Vernon Davis
Vernon Davis has played well this season. He missed one game due to injury, but has 14 catches for 224 yards and four touchdowns in the four games he's played.
However, the 49ers have received almost no contribution in the passing game from their other tight ends.
Jim Harbaugh likes to use double tight end formations and utilize his tight ends in the passing game. In the past two seasons, Delanie Walker filled the role of number-two tight end. He combined with Davis to give the 49ers a great one-two punch at the tight end position.
Unfortunately, neither Vance McDonald nor Garrett Celek have made an impact in the passing attack. McDonald, a 2013 round-two draft pick, has only four catches for 59 yards. Celek, who rarely plays, has just one catch for 30 yards.
McDonald is the key to the 49ers' double tight end sets. They traded up in the draft to select him and he needs to produce.
No. 3: A More Consistent Pass Rush
The San Francisco 49ers typically rush only four men on opposing pass plays. The absence of Aldon Smith has hindered the 49ers' pass rush.
The pressure has been inconsistent and if that continues, the 49ers will have trouble against the better quarterbacks in the league.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio rarely calls blitzes, preferring to drop seven men into coverage. Although the 49ers have generally done well with this approach, the best defense against the pass is a strong pass rush.
Periodic, well-timed blitzes would benefit the 49ers. Because Fangio rarely calls for a blitz package, the element of surprise is also something that opposing offenses would have trouble with.
Keeping a quarterback out of his comfort zone is vitally important for the success of the defense. Without Smith, utilizing more blitzes would be a wise strategy and help the 49ers do just that.
No. 2: Get More Production from the Second and Third Wide Receiver Spots
Anquan Boldin has done a tremendous job for the 49ers. He was acquired from the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round draft choice and is the 49ers' only reliable wide receiver.
The 49ers planned to have Boldin team with Michael Crabtree, giving them two very good wide receivers. However, the injury to Crabtree has dramatically impacted the 49ers' wide receiver corps.
Boldin has 26 receptions for 393 yards and two touchdowns. These numbers easily lead the combined total of the entire wide receiver corps of the 49ers.
Kyle Williams has nine receptions for 87 yards. Marlon Moore has one catch for six yards. Quinton Patton has one catch for zero yards. Kassim Osgood and Chris Harper have yet to catch a pass this season.
The total production from all receivers other than Boldin adds up to only 11 catches for 93 yards and no touchdowns.
Defenses are double teaming Boldin with great frequency, daring Colin Kaepernick to find his other receivers. The rest of the 49ers' receivers are not getting open and when they are, Kaepernick has missed them.
The 49ers currently have just two legitimate threats in the passing game, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Opposing defenses will continue to focus on stopping them until another receiver steps up and proves they can make plays on a consistent basis.
No. 1: The Play of Colin Kaepernick Must Improve
It's tough to be too hard on the team or any players when you win a game 34-3. However, in order to be the best player one can be, each individual must strive for perfection. The same goes for the team as a whole.
With that being said, the biggest area the 49ers have for growth and improvement is with their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.
After a tremendous game to open the season, Kaepernick has not been anywhere near as effective. Against the Packers, Kaepernick completed 27 of 39 pass attempts for a career-high of 412 yards and three touchdowns. Kaepernick also ran seven times for 22 yards.
Although the 49ers have gotten back on track with wins against the Rams and Texans, it has been the defense and the running game that have led the way. Kaepernick's performances have been somewhere between mediocre and poor in the past four contests.
In the 49ers' two losses, Kaepernick went a combined 26-55 for 277 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions.
Against the Rams, Kaepernick fared a little better, completing 15 of 23 attempts for 167 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers were powered by Frank Gore and his 153 yards on the ground.
The Houston Texans' defense posed a big challenge for the 49ers. They have an outstanding defense led by J.J. Watt, who led the league with 20.5 sacks last year.
The 49ers won the game 34-3, but it was the defense who scored a touchdown and set up another 17 points by generating turnovers.
Kaepernick completed only six of his 15 pass attempts for 113 yards and one touchdown. If you take away a 64-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, when the Texans completely blew the coverage, Kaepernick's numbers would have been even worse.
Kaepernick has been very inconsistent and seems to have lost some of his confidence and swagger. He seems to be throwing off his back foot on several pass attempts and that also causes him to be erratic.
Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman must get Kaepernick back on track if the 49ers are going to make any noise in the postseason. This coming week against Arizona will be a good starting point.