With a team full of emerging talent, the Houston Texans have their best chance of putting together a winning season and earning a playoff berth – two achievements they've yet to accomplish since joining the NFL as an expansion franchise in 2002.
The Texans have not finished better than third place in the AFC South, due to the dominance of the Indianapolis Colts over the time of their existence and the growing pains that come with being an expansion team.
But this year, fourth-year head coach Gary Kubiak has one of his most talented teams. Last Sunday's impressive 28-17 road victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was proof that the Texans will be a team to consider in the AFC playoff race.
At 3-3, the Texans have the NFL's eighth overall offense which features the game's third best passing attack.
Quarterback Matt Schaub has eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark in four of his six games, while throwing a league-best 14 touchdown passes.
Since coming to Houston in 2007, Schaub has been hampered by injuries, missing 10 games in the last two seasons. This year however, the Texans signal caller hasn't missed a game and has completed 143-of-219 passes for 1,810 yards. Schaub currently has the league's sixth-best quarterback rating at 102.7.
One of the major reasons for Schaub's success is the 6-3, 225-pound Pro Bowl wideout he has at his disposal.
Andre Johnson, the Texans top offensive weapon, has caught 36 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns, adding to his reputation as one of the game's best wide receivers.
To further put Johnson's importance to Houston's offense into perspective, the Texans other starting wideout Kevin Walter only has 15 catches for 203 yards and one touchdown catch.
Schaub's other main target is tight end Owen Daniels, who caught two touchdown passes last week against the Bengals. Through six games, Daniels has 32 receptions for 374 yards and four touchdowns.
By being so successful through the air, the Texans haven't had to rely on their running game led by second-year runner Steve Slaton.
Slaton has 91 carries for 274 yards, good for an average of 3.0 yards per carry. Typically most NFL teams use the run to set up the pass, but so far in '09, the Texans have used the pass to set up the pass.
Houston ranks as the NFL's 30th run offense. One reason for the lack of success is the loss of two starting guards on the offensive line in left guard Chester Pitts and right guard Mike Briesel to season-ending injuries. While the unit has struggled in the running game, they've only allowed 10 sacks.
In recent drafts, the Texans have loaded up on defense and it is starting to pay off.
As of now, Houston has the NFL's 20th overall defense (24th against the run, 19th against the pass), but the unit put together a solid performance last week against Cincinnati. Against a tested offense, the Texans forced two fumbles and picked off Carson Palmer late in the game to seal the win.
The interception came at the hands of rookie strong side linebacker Brian Cushing. Houston's first round pick, leads the team with 48 tackles and also has four tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and the aforementioned interception.
Cushing is a perfect complement to the Texans inside linebacker, DeMeco Ryans, who is second on the team with 45 tackles.
Chances are if there's a tackle to be made, Cushing and Ryans will be in the pile on Sunday. And there's a very good chance they will see a heavy dose of the run with the return of Frank Gore to the 49ers lineup. Throw in the Texans giving up 125.0 yards on the ground per game, and Houston's linebackers should be in for a busy Sunday.
Another top draft pick that will take up a lot of attention, is defensive end Mario Williams. The former No. 1 overall pick leads the team with 2.0 sacks. But as a whole, the unit has only gotten to the opposing signal caller seven times.
In their secondary, the Texans have a solid cornerback in Dunta Robinson, who has yet to intercept a pass this season. Only starting free safety Eugene Wilson and backup strong safety John Busing have intercepted passes on the back end.
Without a dominant run game, and a defense that has had trouble creating turnovers and applying pressure to the quarterback, the Texans would like to not solely depend on their passing game. If the Texans want to have the type of the year they've never had in franchise history, a total team performance on Sunday will serve them well in trying to reach those goals.