First Impressions – Texans @ 49ers

| August 29, 2011

It started well for the San Francisco 49ers with an Ahmad Brooks interception return for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Unfortunately that was the only highlight in a whole half of action. Even though his defense couldn’t stop the high powered Houston Texans offense, Jim Harbaugh pulled his starters after only a couple of series. Unsurprisingly the second and third units had no more success.

The Texans, on the other hand, were rolling on both sides of the ball. Their offense returns all of the starters from what was a dominant unit last year while the defense seems to have got better due to all the additions and even the change in scheme. Wade Philips really seems to have tapped into the potential of their talented players.

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Houston – Three things of note
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●   First round pick defensive end JJ Watt had an impressive showing against the 49ers. He really stood out against the run, making a couple of highlight reel plays. Watt’s greatest attribute might be his first step as he showed the ability to explode past offensive linemen to get into the backfield. His most impressive play was probably a tackle for a loss on third and less than one when he got around offensive tackle Anthony Davis with ease to bring the runner down behind the line of scrimmage. Watt was quieter rushing the passer. He failed to get to the QB on 11 rushes but did bat a ball at the line of scrimmage.
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●   The Texans may have drafted Brooks Reed in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft but it looks like he’ll have a tough job breaking into the starting lineup. As a pass rusher, Connor Barwin was dominant. He used inside moves to great effect against the 49ers finishing with a sack, two hits and a pressure on just 11 rushes. Left tackle Joe Staley simply had no answer to Barwin’s power. He didn’t stand out in the run game, being neither good nor bad.
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●   The ineptitude of San Francisco’s quartberacks and the offensive line meant it was difficult to gauge how Houston’s secondary will hold up in the regular season; still, there are signs of improvement. Kareem Jackson, after a disaster of a rookie season, allowed one completion on three targets for eight yards. There’s certainly still hope for Jackson considering the progression shown by players like Brandon Carr of Kansas City (-23.4 in 08 to +8.6 in 2010).

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San Francisco – Three things of note
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●   We questioned the 49ers’ decision not to attempt to resign Aubrayo Franklin. We’re questioning it even more so now we’ve seen the man set to replace him, Isaac Sopoaga, in action. Chris Myers, the Texans’ center, is not an easy matchup for anyone but Sopoaga struggled more than he should have. He struggled last year at defensive end (-7.8) and if anything looks worse at nose tackle. He failed to generate any pressure on 13 consecutive plays and was moved at will in the run game. His struggles are definitely cause for concern.
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●   With Takeo Spikes now in San Diego, the job falls to second year Penn State product Navarro Bowman. He had a mixed game against the Texans, showing up against the run, getting off blocks on a number of occasions to bring the runner down and showing nice range to get to the ball. He was worse in pass coverage however. He only gave up one completion on one target for five yards but that came on third and three. Bowman also bit too hard on play action a number of times and was lucky Matt Schaub looked elsewhere.
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●   Anthony Davis, like Jackson, had a difficult rookie campaign and it doesn’t seem like he’s improved significantly from what we saw. Watt twice beat him off the snap in the run game to make tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage and he struggled with Mario Williams in pass protection. On one play he was beaten with ease by Williams (but Barwin already had the sack) and he gave up too much ground later in the quarter allowing Williams to get a hand on his quarterback.

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This game pretty much went as expected. The 49ers aren’t expected to be a good team this year and they didn’t play like one against the Texans. Houston, meanwhile, may well have made the necessary defensive additions to take the AFC South crown.

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Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_John … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • MK1

    It’s time to begin looking at the 49ers’ front office with a bit more critical eye.

    When you’ve invested in developing an offensive live that includes three R1 picks (Staley, Iupati, Anthony Davis) and two high, high R2 picks (Rachel and, last year, Baas) — and you supplement that with another R1 pick at TE (Vernon Davis) — yet cannot consistently run the ball, or give your QB even three steps to plant and throw before he gets annihilated…someone has to explain that.

    I’m the last guy in the world to defend Alex Smith. But anyone who saw the first preseason game against the Saints, Saturday’s game against Houston — or any number of games last year — will have to say that while QB is far from a strength for SF, it’s also far from its biggest problem… As you rightfully pointed out, Sopoaga also got beaten up all day. And as we all know, when you cannot win the battle at the line of scrimmage in the NFL, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing at your skill positions.

    My view: SF’s problems trace all the way back to Scot McCloughan and now Trent Baalke. SImply put, since 2005, they have squandered too many R1 and R2 picks on players who just aren’t good enough for the 49ers to climb back into the playoff hunt.

  • John Breitenbach

    I absolutely get what you’re saying but I think A. Davis needs a little leeway. He’s only in his 2nd year and had a tough matchup against Super Mario. Maybe he’ll improve to average this year.

    The Staley situation is a shame. He’s flashed but injuries have slowed him down.

    Iupati looks a very good player and should get better.

    The interior lineman haven’t been as good as they should have been m you’re right.

    While Smith might not be the biggest weakness, we’ve seen good QBs overcome pressure. At this stage in hir career he doesn’t look like the answer. Still, I have high hopes for Colin K.