49ers week 14 preview and pick: San Francisco at Houston Texans

WR Trent Taylor and the 49ers look to win their second straight road game when they take on the Houston Texans this Sunday.

Las Vegas and football pundits didn’t expect much from the San Francisco 49ers this year, and after much of the season played out, it is evident why. There was a piecemeal roster full of castaways and rookies, a journeyman quarterback in Brian Hoyer at the helm, an unproven front office and a first time coach who blew a 28-3 lead as an offensive coordinator on football’s biggest stage. But amidst all of this, something is noticeably different with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Niners acquired Jimmy Garoppolo with hopes of him becoming the face of the franchise, and against the Bears, it was apparent how Garoppolo’s swagger, confidence, and leadership is infectious, as he led San Francisco to their second win on the season.

The Niners hope to build momentum as they travel to Houston to face the Texans. Houston presents a tougher test for the Garoppolo and the Niners, but is reeling after the loss of the rookie phenom QB Deshaun Watson, dropping 5 of their past 6 games. The 49ers will look to pile on to the Texans woes.

San Francisco looks to win consecutive road games as they travel to NRG Stadium to battle with the Houston Texans. Kickoff is at 10:00 a.m. PT and can be seen on the FOX Network.

Essentials to win the game
The Niners defense will again to need to step up if they are to defeat the Texans. Houston Pro-Bowl WR DeAndre Hopkins presents a tall task for the San Francisco secondary. Hopkins is averaging 90 yards a game while averaging 14.1 yards per catch. Throughout his career, Hopkins has shown that he is capable of terrorizing secondaries regardless of who is throwing him passes. San Francisco doesn’t have a cornerback capable of shutting Hopkins out of the game. It is going to be critical that the Niners bracket Hopkins with double coverage to mitigate the damage he enacts.

The 49ers offensive line has had sporadic performances this year, but played well against the Bears. The Niners will again lean upon the big guys upfront to keep Garoppolo clean and upright. San Francisco RBs Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida will be heavily relied upon to keep the chains moving. In order for the Niners to win, it is imperative that they utilize as much of the game clock as possible and they must capitalize drives off with touchdowns — not field goals.

Possible downfalls to avoid
San Francisco cannot afford to get their prized quarterback injured. Therefore, they must protect Jimmy Garoppolo at all costs. Against the Bears, Jimmy Garoppolo had relatively clean pockets from which to throw. Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney will look to derail and quell any Niner attempts of winning. If left unchecked, Clowney can wreck and thwart the offensive gameplay of the 49ers. San Francisco must keep Clowney out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s lap. Look for the Niners to chip Clowney with a tight end or running back throughout the day.

Player spotlight
The San Francisco tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown will be tasked with protecting Jimmy Garoppolo. Joe Staley, even in his 11th season, has enough athleticism to contain Jadeveon Clowney. Staley has shown the skills that made him a staple for 10 quarterbacks during his tenure with the 49ers. Staley has had an up and down season, but that has been largely due to issues with technique and an orbital bone injury.

Rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon will be baptized by fire, lining across Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Witherspoon has shown adequate skills that warranted the 49ers to jettison Rashard Robinson to the NY Jets. Witherspoon is smooth in and out of his breaks, and shows adequate technique and fight at the top of routes. Witherspoon needs to play with more physicality and better identify route combinations.

Game Projection
This game is going to have some fireworks. San Francisco and the Houston offense are trending in opposite directions. The Texans, led by QB Tom Savage, will be kept in the game because of DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins will find the holes in the defense when the Niners are in zone, and when in man coverage, Hopkins will abuse whomever is covering him. Expect Hopkins to have a monster day. Hopkins will finish the day with 110 yards and 1 touchdown.

As dangerous Hopkins is, the rest of the Texans offense will fail to get on track. The Texans line has been shaky throughout the year, and it has been exacerbated by paltry quarterbacking from Tom Savage. Savage isn’t mobile, accurate, nor does he process information quickly. Expect the Niners to blitz Savage throughout the day and force him to throw a couple of interceptions. Savage will finish the day with 225 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs.

The 49ers offense will begin to show more of its potential this week. The Niners will be able to run the ball with consistency, and when they throw the ball, Jimmy Garoppolo will light up the Houston secondary. San Francisco will have extended clock-eating drives. 49er RB Carlos Hyde will punish the Texan front seven, while Matt Breida utilizes cutback lanes on outside zone runs to tire them out. Hyde and Breida will combine for 160 rushing yards and two scores.

Jimmy Garoppolo is going to light the Texans defense up. The football world is always skeptical when New England’s Bill Belichick trades away quarterbacks. Matt Cassell, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Mallett all looked All-World while with the Patriots, but when traded away, they all were abysmal. In contrast, Belichick was beyond reluctant to part with Garoppolo, but with future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady looking as spry and effective as ever, there was no way the Patriots were going to be able to retain Garoppolo’s services.

Okay, it was only one game, and yes, it was the Bears, but Garoppolo has the entire team believing in his capabilities. The team will be motivated to come through for the future franchise QB. Behind an energized offensive line, Garoppolo will throw for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Niners currently sit as a 3 point underdogs and are 6-6 against the spread for the year. San Francisco will cover and win outright, moving their record to 3-10 on the year with a 30-21 win over the Texans.

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