Houston Texans: Colin Kaepernick

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 5

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
3:15
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe performance of RB Arian Foster was one of the few bright spots for Houston on Sunday night.
Special teams struggled: The Texans didn't get much from their special-teams units once again. It started with a missed 45-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that could have cut the 49ers' lead to 7-3. Instead, San Francisco maintained a shutout until the third quarter. Returner Keshawn Martin made some questionable decisions on when to bring the ball out of the end zone, seemingly pressing to make a big play. The Texans allowed a kickoff return of 29 yards and two punt returns for a combined 28 yards. Martin also suffered a shoulder injury for which he was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

More on the injury front: Left tackle Duane Brown seemed to have come out of the game in good shape injury-wise after working through a case of turf toe that he suffered against the Tennessee Titans. But safety Ed Reed came up hobbling after stopping a sliding Colin Kaepernick. Reed said after the game that he tweaked his knee on the end of the play, not the hip on which he had arthroscopic surgery in April. Reed also said he wasn't concerned about the injury and it did not need further tests Monday.

Run defense: I'll repeat my thought from Sunday night that you cannot blame the loss on the Texans defense. It is worth noting, though, that the rushing defense was gashed by San Francisco. The Texans gave up 177 rushing yards, 81 of them to Frank Gore, an underrated talent who has worked through injuries for a lot of his career. (Side note: Gore was one of the former University of Miami teammates that Reed talked about wanting to reunite with in free agency. Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Gore.) The 49ers averaged 4.9 yards per carry and Kaepernick only ran the ball once. That's 0.7 yards per carry more than the Texans went into the game giving up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers gained 118 of their 177 rushing yards before contact.

On the other hand: It was for naught, but given the situation Arian Foster might have played his best game of the season. Before the game, a group of 49ers fans heckled him by saying he wouldn't have a 100-yard performance. Foster almost got there, rushing for 98 yards. But he did it on only 21 attempts for a 4.7 average, a mark well above his 3.8 yards per carry entering Sunday night.
Arian Foster and Frank GoreGetty ImagesTwo of the NFL's top rushers, Arian Foster and Frank Gore, will try to carry their teams Sunday night.

The Houston Texans are not pleased with themselves, and neither is their Week 5 opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.

After starting off Week 4 the right way with a big win at St. Louis, the 49ers bitterly watched the Texans blow a huge fourth-quarter lead at home in an eventual overtime loss to Seattle, allowing the Seahawks to maintain their two-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West.

San Francisco will try not to fall further behind when it welcomes the shell-shocked Texans to Candlestick Park on Sunday night. Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and I discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: What changed for the 49ers between Weeks 3 and 4? Is it as simple as playing a weaker opponent, or did they rediscover their identity?

Williamson: Easier competition may have had something to do with it. Against Seattle and Indianapolis, the 49ers were outscored by a combined 56-10. Against the Rams, the 49ers had their way in a 35-11 victory. I truly think the 49ers’ struggles this season have been more because of themselves than their opponent. The trouble in Weeks 2 and 3 started on offense. The 49ers badly miss injured receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham; they don’t have much beyond Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, who has been injured. Fortunately, the rushing game got going in Week 4. If the 49ers can keep the run game hot and if quarterback Colin Kaepernick can get the ball to Boldin and Davis, the 49ers will be fine. That will take pressure off a good defense that wasn’t the main problem against the Seahawks or the Colts.

Tania, do you believe the Texans are up to the task of staying with the 49ers, especially after the heartbreak of the Seattle loss?

Ganguli: They were angry about that loss, especially J.J. Watt, who held a menacing news conference (menacing in general, not menacing toward reporters) after the game. They have taken steps to regroup mentally, holding a players-only meeting that allowed for venting, but I think their ability to bounce back will depend on being able to fix some of the problems they had in their first game. Those problems go well beyond quarterback Matt Schaub, who made the most costly and talked-about error this past Sunday in throwing a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. The Texans gave up a crucial fumble, dropped a couple of passes and committed a 15-yard penalty that helped set up the game-winning field goal. You’re right that the Texans’ defense hasn’t been the team's biggest problem this season, but Houston has given up drives of 99 and 98 yards this season, and it would like to change that.

How has losing Aldon Smith affected San Francisco’s defense?

Williamson: It would be inaccurate and na´ve to think the 49ers don’t miss Smith. He will be away from the team for about a month as he seeks treatment for alcohol abuse. Smith had 4.5 sacks in the first three games this season, and he has an NFL-high 38 sacks since 2011. Last week, the 49ers dominated the Rams’ offense without Smith and star inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who was out with a groin injury, and recorded five sacks. Rookie Corey Lemonier and special-teamer Dan Skuta both played well in place of Smith, and linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks led the way with big games. Still, Smith is such a presence. The 49ers will be hard-pressed to have sustained dominance without him.

Tania, do you think the Texans can take advantage of Smith's absence?

Ganguli: The Texans have had their own issues in the trenches lately. Left tackle Duane Brown has missed the past two games with turf toe and is still considered day-to-day. Left guard Wade Smith rotated with second-year guard Ben Jones last weekend. Coach Gary Kubiak said that was to preserve Smith for the long term; Smith had knee surgery during the preseason and returned from it after three weeks. Meanwhile, right tackle Derek Newton, another young player, has really struggled. In fact, Brown’s replacement, Ryan Harris, has played far better than Newton, Houston's regular starter on the other side. Now right guard Brandon Brooks is hurt with a toe injury that’s got his foot booted. The most consistent player, in terms of health and production, on the offensive line has been center Chris Myers, but Schaub has faced a lot of pressure this season.

Speaking of Schaub, he had a rough weekend against the best secondary in the NFL. What challenges will he face against the 49ers?

Williamson: I think Schaub’s struggles start with him, and I think the 49ers will try to pressure him quickly to see if he crumbles again. You know better than I do, but from seeing replays, Schaub looked broken after the Richard Sherman pick-six. The 49ers are well aware that Schaub has thrown interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns in the past three games, and they will be looking to add to the list. A player to watch is rookie safety Eric Reid. He has proven to be a ballhawk already. I could see him benefiting from Schaub’s issues.

This is a huge key to the game, Tania. Do you think Schaub can bounce back and be effective?

Ganguli: That will be the most important factor in this game. While I don’t blame the entire collapse on Schaub, you’re absolutely right that he looked broken after Sherman’s interception. By contrast, in Week 2, Schaub threw a late pick-six against Tennessee that put the Texans in an eight-point hole, but he recovered quickly enough to lead a game-tying drive that forced overtime. He didn’t bounce back as well against the Seahawks. He made a few nice throws, including a 17-yard pass to Andre Johnson, but overall, looked rattled. If he can’t recover, the Texans have no chance. But if he can rediscover the guy who led that comeback effort you and I watched live against San Diego in Week 1, I think the Texans are in good shape.

 

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider