Coming into the season the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans were thought of as two of the 5 or 6 true Super Bowl contenders. Both teams have failed to live up to expectations so far this season. Both teams enter Sunday’s game at Candlestick Park at 2-2 and look to be moving in 2 different directions. The Niners are coming in extremely confident after dispatching a pretty bad St Louis Rams team. Houston is entering the game after 2 straight losses to the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks.
This game is bigger for the Niners than it is for the Texans based upon the simple fact that they can’t lose anymore ground in the NFC West and also in the race for home field advantage, which right now is controlled by New Orleans and Seattle. Both these teams have a two game lead over the Niners. The Niners are a good road team, but it’s a proven fact that the Niners can’t win in Seattle. New Orleans is almost as good at home as the Seahawks are, so the Niners will have a difficult time winning there as well.Seattle has a difficult game against an upstart Indianapolis Colts team that sits at 3-1 after coming off an impressive win against the Niners two weeks ago. If Seattle were to lose that game and the Niners win, then the Niners sit one game back and would be feeling much better about themselves.
Second, this game will tell us if the Niners have gotten back to their identity of running the football to set up everything else. The Niners did that against the Rams to perfection. But, Houston sports a top three defense in a lot of statistical categories and it will be much more difficult for the Niners to run the football against the J.J Watt led Texan front. If the Niners can run the ball effectively and look impressive like they did against the Rams, it might go even further to erase some of the doubt that was creeping in about this team not being as good as they’ve been the last two years.
Third, this game will show us if Colin Kaepernick can actually play well against a good defense. That’s something that he’s struggled with in his young career. Most of his rough games have come against elite defenses and Houston is an elite defense as they held Russell Wilson in check for all but one drive last week. Kaepernick looked like a different quarterback against the Rams than the previous two weeks against the Seahawks and Colts. If he can have a repeat performance of last week, then the Niners will be in good shape. But if he’s struggles and the Niners lose, they will be in a problematic position heading into week 6 of the NFL season.
Finally, the last thing that this game will illustrate is whether or not the Niners defense can force Matt Schaub into the same boneheaded decisions he made last week against Seattle that ultimately led to Seattle winning in overtime. Also, the Texans have one of the league’s best running attacks with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, so it will be a test for the Niners defense. But, if the Niners can stop the run enough and get pressure on Schaub, he may make the bad decisions that he’s made this whole year and the Niners need to take advantage of it when he does.
This is one of those games that could go either way. Both teams are capable of great things as they’ve shown in the past few seasons. The Texans haven’t played an impressive game yet this season. The Niners have played 2, so this will be a game consisting of what team makes the fewest mistakes offensively and what defense can impose their will first. This could be a low scoring game or it could be a semi-high scoring affair if both offenses play up to their potential.
This game is key for the Niners because they have 4 winable games coming up with Arizona, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Carolina. So the Niners with a win this Sunday could be 6-2 after this stretch of games and keep home field advantage in sight. But, if the Niners continue their identity crisis offensively, don’t win this game and fall to 2-3, it’s easy to see them being 5-3 or 4-4 going into their bye week; which wouldn’t be the ideal position to be in.