Our staff writers break down the San Francisco 49ers Week 14 matchup, a road game against the Houston Texans.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of Sunday's matchup, presented by SunPower.1st Down: Most important Texans player to contain?@JoeFann: DeAndre Hopkins
No offense to Dez Bryant, Doug Baldwin or Larry Fitzgerald, but Hopkins will be the best receiver the 49ers face in 2017. Hopkins is an absolute monster who has continued to put up big numbers despite losing Deshaun Watson for the season. He leads the NFL in games with at least 70 yards receiving (nine) and games with at least seven receptions (eight). Hopkins has double digit targets in nine of the Texans 12 games this season, so there's no doubt the 49ers defense will have its hands full.
@KeianaMartinTV: Jadeveon Clowney
Simply put, Clowney is a difference maker. Prior to the Texans Week 13 loss to the Titans, Clowney recorded at least one sack in five-straight games. He also leads the team with a career-high nine on the season. Without J.J. Watt in the lineup, the Texans have relied heavily on the defensive end’s versatility. He is known to wreak havoc on the d-line, and the 49ers will have their hands full containing the former No. 1 overall pick.2nd Down: Who will score the 49ers first touchdown?
@JoeFann: Trent Taylor
I loved what I saw last week between Jimmy Garoppolo and Taylor. Garoppolo went to the rookie slot receiver in huge moments, most notably on 3rd-and-9 in the final two minutes of the game which resulted in a 33-yard gain. Five out of Taylor's six catches came on third down and kept drives alive. Taylor has one touchdown this season and his short-area quickness could prove to be useful in the red zone again on Sunday.
I’m going to double down on my response from last week and stick with Goodwin. On top of having a career-season, Goodwin is coming off of a perfect game, catching all eight targets for 99 yards last week against the Chicago Bears. He is quickly earning the trust of Jimmy Garoppolo. The only thing missing from Goodwin in Week 13 was a touchdown. I'm predicting he gets one on Sunday.3rd Down: Who will be the 49ers unsung hero?
@JoeFann: Matt Breida
Breida was busy against the Bears with 13 total touches for 49 yards. As long as the game remains close and the 49ers can stay on script, Breida should continue to see plenty of action in rotation with Pierre Garçon. The rookie has two scores on the season, and is always a candidate to be the team's "unsung hero". Fun, and mostly irrelevant, fact: The Texans allowed a 75-yard run last week to Tennessee Titans backup running back Derrick Henry.
Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the only former member of the New England Patriots to make an impact in San Francisco. Marsh has been a bright spot in his brief time with the 49ers. Marsh was scooped up after being released from the Patriots three weeks ago. The fourth-year linebacker played just 30 percent of defensive snaps last week against the Bears but recorded a strip sack on Mitchell Trubisky that forced a Chicago punt. Marsh has some familiarity in Robert Saleh's system from his time in Seattle, and he feels right at home in the scheme he began his career in.4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@JoeFann: 49ers get a defensive or special teams touchdown
I'm going back to this again this week as the 49ers are long overdue for a defensive or special teams score. San Francisco is one of just six NFL teams without one this season. They should have a prime opportunity to get one on Sunday. The Texans 23 turnovers are tied for third-most in the NFL. Tom Savage has six interceptions over his last four games and has been sacked 10 times during that time span. According to Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus, Houston has allowed pressure on 47 percent of dropbacks this season. The 49ers defense should be licking its chops ahead of this one.
@KeianaMartinTV:* Four plus sacks *
While the Texans have caught the injury bug as of late, the 49ers have gotten healthier over the last three weeks, in particular along the defensive line. Last week, both Elvis Dumervil and defensive newcomer Marsh managed to get a hold of Mitchell Trubisky. Against the Titans in Week 13, the Texans allowed five sacks and nine quarterback hits. The number of healthy bodies on San Francisco's defensive line could provide consistent pressure on Savage in Week 14.