As stated, the final preseason matchup between the 49ers and Texans will look nothing like a regular-season NFL game.
Many teams, erring on the side of caution, do not even bother playing their starters in this final tune-up. Rather, it is an opportunity for the remaining cast of bubble players to try and showcase reasons why they should be added to the team's roster.
But Jim Harbaugh hinted the team may do something different here. During his regular appearance on the Murph and Mac show, the 49ers flagship radio station KNBR 680, the head coach stated quarterback Colin Kaepernick and some of the starters will indeed play on Thursday.
Exactly how many snaps San Francisco's first teamers will get remains undetermined, but it is likely they will see very little action considering the 49ers do not want to risk any further injury.
Thus, the primary focus will remain upon bubble-watch players as they try to earn valuable roster spots.
Kenneth Acker vs. Texans Receiving Corps
Rookie cornerback Kenneth Acker had an impressive game versus Denver back on August 17. He posted a defended pass, drew an offensive pass-interference call and almost had an interception had it not been for an offsides call.
Acker had four tackles against San Diego the subsequent week and remains a player to watch as he struggles to make the roster.
In spite of his impressive play, Acker has a tough hill to climb in terms of securing one of the spots on San Francisco's 53-man roster. Veterans Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are locks to make the team, as is rookie Jimmie Ward.
Rookie Dontae Johnson and corners Perrish Cox and Darryl Morris have also displayed plenty of promise in the competition.
Acker's best chances to crack the roster will likely come from his ability to contribute on special teams—an aspect so vital in determining the final spots. One last showing against Houston may be the last and best chance Acker has before the final wave of 49ers cuts.
Brandon Lloyd vs. Texans Secondary
This matchup is entirely based on whether or not Lloyd suits up, given that he was out of uniform last week per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
But the 33-year-old veteran may still not be a lock to make the roster when San Francisco formulates its final wave of cuts following the game versus Houston.
According to Trevor Woods of Niners Nation, Lloyd has a pretty good chance of making the roster in spite of the fact he offers nothing on special teams. Lloyd's addition would likely mean the team parts ways with veteran special teams ace Kassim Osgood per Woods.
With the 49ers likely looking to give veterans Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree light, if any, duties on Thursday, Lloyd could be next in line to go up against a Texans defense that ranked No. 3 in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed (3,123).
First-Team O-Line vs. Texans Front Seven
Again, this is almost entirely contingent upon how many snaps San Francisco's starters receive against Houston.
We saw the 49ers offensive line struggle at the start of the game versus the Chargers last Sunday, and that will obviously be a cause for concern until redressed.
Barring any changes in the Alex Boone holdout saga, Joe Looney will get the start at right guard with Jonathan Martin playing right tackle. Should Joe Staley and Mike Iupati get starts on the left, the pressure will be on for this unit to try and protect quarterback Colin Kaepernick for as long as they remain together on the field.
The lack of depth behind center Daniel Kilgore could also be an issue here in the wake of Marcus Martin's injury.
If we only see the starters for a few snaps, however, this point may very well be moot until the start of the regular season.
Chris Borland vs. Texans O-Line
As stated during last week's recap, rookie linebacker Chris Borland was all over the field. He played with the same sort of aggression and physicality that made him such an intriguing prospect out of Wisconsin.
Borland logged a team-high seven tackles against San Diego on Sunday, including one sack. The rookie is currently battling it out with veteran linebacker Michael Wilhoite as the primary step-in for All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman at the start of the season.
The competition has been "very even" according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio via Barrows, but the edge likely goes to Wilhoite given his experience along with having filled in such a role previously—starting in place for Patrick Willis for a period of time a season ago.
Still, Borland has a chance to get plenty of reps against the Texans. He logged a total of 32 snaps against San Diego per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday, and we might expect that number to rise as the 49ers look to rest their starters this final week.
49ers X-Factor of the Week: LB Aaron Lynch
Fellow-rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch also put forth a commendable effort against the Chargers at Levi's Stadium last Sunday.
He may not have recorded the number of tackles put forth by his counterpart Borland, but Lynch was equally as effective at shutting down San Diego's second-team offense. During the game, Lynch recorded one sack and tipped two passes, one of which went for an interception.
Swatting balls at the line reminds us of another linebacker the 49ers may face Thursday—All-Pro J.J. Watt.
We know the story behind Lynch—he comes with a reputation. He has been known to take plays off and not always give 100 percent. When he does give maximum effort, however, the results can be downright scary.
"I enjoy being around him," Harbaugh said of Lynch via Eric Branch of SFGate.com. "I like the way he practices. He's continuing to learn how to be a professional football player."
So far, that reputation hasn't followed Lynch into the pros. The 49ers hope he keeps it that way. He has built a solid foundation for success in his brief tenure, so let's keep an eye on him as he looks for similar success against the Texans.