Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers week seven opponent – the Houston Texans**
The thing that is most interesting about the Houston Texans offense is that their skill positions are dynamic, especially in that passing game. Obviously they have a supremely talented receiver in Andre Johnson.
Everyone has been saying for years now that Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald is the best. Well, Johnson might be better because they are both the same size and Johnson is much, much faster. He's a guy who's big and strong. He's quick too and he's got great hands. And last but not least, he's got great leaping ability.
Outside of Johnson, they've been getting the ball a lot to the tight end Owen Daniels. That's helped them a lot. They use David Anderson, their No. 3 receiver, a bunch in the slot. Kevin Walter's their second receiver and both he and Anderson are playing pretty well.
Outside of their passing attack, their offensive line and their running back have been the weak link. Their running back, Steve Slaton, has fumbled the ball too much. He's lost three fumbles already. That's affecting that part of their offense significantly. Their offensive line has had to deal with injuries and now there's a rookie starting in there. To me, that's amazing that they've only given up as few sacks as they have.
You have to credit quarterback Matt Schaub. He's got good arm strength. He's got good touch. And he's got great talent around him. He understands all he has to do is get the ball out of his hands to one of those playmakers. And their finding a way to use Slaton, who is not having the type of success running the ball that he did last year, by getting him the ball through the air. They a west coast style of offense all the way. Head coach Gary Kubiak knows that offense. He was with the 49ers during their '94 Super Bowl year. That's a staple of the offense.
It didn't matter if it was Ricky Waters or William Floyd, they were going to get the ball from a check down or a swing route. Kubiak is a former quarterback and can really understand all of that. It's something that the 49ers are going to have to be very aware of. They have to get good depth in their drops to cover those receivers and when you do that you're just giving those running backs more room to operate on the short passes.
But for all of their offensive options, Johnson is the biggest threat. To limit his production, you are going to have to change things up. You don't want to let a guy like that beat you all by himself. Both of the 49ers corners are very physical and I would jam him every chance I got at the line of scrimmage and play a safety over top. I think that would be a predominant coverage, obviously though, you can't do it every time. You have to blitz periodically, which puts you in one-on-one situations. Beat him up all day long.
He's a big physical guy. And so when you consider that the best game's that Nate Clements has had is against big physical receivers. The 49ers will probably match Nate up against Johnson for the most part. Jamming him at the line of scrimmage is very important.
Daniels is also a threat. He's got excellent hands and he's a good route runner. He's strong. Again, I think the 49ers match up well there with Manny Lawson being able to play with him. I think the challenge is obviously getting pressure on the quarterback. This is an offensive line that is just OK. That's exactly what we talked about in the previous game with the Falcons. But, they were just a bunch of scrappers.
What the 49ers defense has to be prepared for is the exact same attitude. Their assistant head coach, Alex Gibbs, is the guy that made the Denver Broncos go. He moved to the Atlanta Falcons and made them one of the best running teams in football. Now he is a consultant for this Houston team.
His strength is the run game and the offensive line. He's nasty. And he teaches players how to be nasty. He doesn't care how talented you are. He wants 100 percent effort on every play. He wants you to hit somebody in the mouth on every play. We saw 20-25 times one of Atlanta's offensive linemen hitting a 49ers defender late. It got called once. A lot of teams let that stuff go. A lot of officials let that stuff go.
The only way you can combat that is if you're flying around to the ball on defense. You're putting a helmet on the ball carrier. If you're doing that, there isn't going to be an offensive lineman knocking you off your feet if you're standing around a pile. The 49ers defenders better understand that you can't stand around piles this week. Then what starts to happen is that instead of worrying about your assignment you're worried about beating up the guy across from you. It snowballs from there and that's part of what happened against the Falcons. I think it's a huge key in this game.
Switching gears to the 49ers offense, with Frank Gore coming back to the offense, I think that really changes everything.
We remember all of the interviews and press conferences from the off season and training camp when people would ask Jimmy Raye and Mike Singletary about the quarterback and they would respond with "It doesn't really matter. This offense is built around Frank Gore."
But this is big to have him back. He elevates the confidence level of the offensive line. He takes pressure off the quarterback. He takes pressure off the wide receivers. Guys are thinking that if they can just hold their block for a split second longer, then it might be enough to spring Gore for 80 yards.
Lastly, I can't wait for Michael Crabtree's debut.
He's going to be facing man-to-man coverage and his strength is running after the catch. My suggestion would be let him play. We drafted him No. 1, so let's see what he can do.