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NFL Preview - Houston (2-2) at San Francisco (2-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Houston Texans need a bounce-back victory in the worst way.
Something similar to what the San Francisco 49ers pulled off last time out would do just fine.
The Texans try to snap a two-game slide on Sunday night when they visit the Niners at Candlestick Park.
Houston jumped out to victories over San Diego and Tennessee to begin the season, but dropped a 21-point decision in Baltimore prior to last weekend's 23-20 overtime home loss to unbeaten Seattle.
The Texans led 20-3 and had outgained the Seahawks 324-88 in the first half, but did little with the ball after halftime.
Still, Houston was in position to win after an interception by cornerback Johnathan Joseph, but Matt Schaub was picked off by Seattle's Richard Sherman on a 3rd-and-4 play and the defensive back raced 58 yards for the game-tying score with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter.
Seattle eventually won when Steven Hauschka kicked a 45-yard field goal with 3:19 to play in overtime.
Schaub threw for 355 yards with a pair of touchdowns, but also had an interception returned for a score for a third straight week. Still, the Texans are not giving up on their quarterback.
"Everybody has bad games. Everybody has bad runs. This is the NFL. It's not easy out there, especially at that position. He's our quarterback. He's our leader. I'm riding with him," said running back Arian Foster, who rushed for 102 yards in the setback.
Still, Houston is now a game off the pace in the AFC South behind Indianapolis and Tennessee and will try to avoid losing three in a row for the first time since closing out the 2011 campaign with three consecutive setbacks.
"I don't get too consumed with where we are right now," said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. "I get consumed with how we're playing and what we're doing. I think, obviously, it could be worse right now. It could be better if we won our game (Sunday). But we've just got to stay focused on our play. It was very, very good for a good period of time, but not good enough when it was all said and done."
Things had not been going well for the defending NFC Champion 49ers following a Week 1 win over Green Bay. They were outscored 56-10 in consecutive defeats to the Seahawks and Colts before rebounding last Thursday with a 35-11 rout of the St. Louis Rams.
Colin Kaepernick, held to 277 yards passing with four interceptions and no touchdown passes in the two setbacks, connected on a pair of scoring throws versus the Rams. He only passed for 167 yards, but completed 65.2 percent of his throws (15-for-23).
Kaepernick got a lot of help from his ground game. Frank Gore rushed for 153 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown, while fellow running backs Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon also found the end zone.
"I thought everybody did a good job," said San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh. "The energy and toughness was there. It was good team defense, the coverage was tight and we got turnovers."
Gore and Kaepernick both lost fumbles, the third game in a row with a lost fumble for the quarterback, but San Francisco forced two turnovers and had five sacks despite playing without linebackers Aldon Smith (personal) and Patrick Willis (groin).
Linebacker NaVarro Bowman logged his first career multi-sack game with two while adding six tackles and a forced fumble.
Sunday marks just the third meeting between the 49ers and Texans, with each team having won at home. Houston will visit San Francisco for the first time since a 20-17 overtime setback on Jan. 1, 2006.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
All eyes with be on Schaub as he is starting to see the tide go against him. He has thrown for 1,193 yards with eight touchdowns this season, but has been picked off six times and sacked 11.
Schaub knows the only thing he can do is go right back to work on the field.
"It was one play the other day and it was a very important play, but we'll be better when we get back into that situation again. You just go right back to work and get right back in the film room, get right back out onto the practice field and go to the next one," said the quarterback.
Houston is ranked fifth in total offense, but just 19th in scoring as Schaub continues to make back-breaking mistakes. Kubiak, though, doesn't see it as a lack of confidence.
"I don't see a lack of confidence. I see some poor decision-making situations, some that he has to handle and some that we can help him handle. But there are a lot of good things that are happening too, but the problem when you to play that position, if there's three or four glaring mistakes, they can be the difference in winning and losing," said Kubiak.
Not helping Schaub last week as the fact that All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown was inactive due to a sprained toe, but he did participate in practice on Wednesday.
Houston now goes up against a San Francisco defense that ranks fourth in the league in yardage allowed and held St. Louis to just 18 yards rushing on 19 carries.
The 49ers held the Rams to just 188 yards in the victory despite playing without two of their top linebackers, though Willis has a chance to return this weekend.
"They've got a great pass rush, very good defense up front, good secondary," said Schaub. "Much like we faced last week and the week before for that matter. They're a good group and have been for a couple of years. We're going to have to be at our best come Sunday night in their building."
Waiting for Houston will be safety Donte Whitner, who picked up his first interception of the season last weekend as well as a fine for an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Whitner confirmed on Wednesday that he has in fact filed paperwork to change the spelling of his last name.
"From here on out until I retire, my name will be Donte Hitner, without the 'W.'"
Kaepernick is also looking to put some struggles behind him and was able to avoid the big mistake and move the ball down the field at times versus St. Louis. He hooked up with wide receiver Anquan Boldin on a 42-yard catch while completing TD throws to the wideout and tight end Vernon Davis.
He awaits another challenge in the form of a Texans defense that has yet to give up more than 300 yards of offense in a game this season. Houston also had five sacks and two takeaways versus Seattle.
Linebacker Whitney Mercilus had 2 1/2 sacks and end J.J. Watt was credited with eight tackles and a half-sack. The two lead the club with 3 1/2 sacks on the season, while defensive end Antonio Smith has notched at least a half-sack in four straight games dating back to last season.
In all, Houston's defense is giving up just 254.3 yards per game.
"J.J. Watt is one of the top players in this league," noted Harbaugh. "Strong, great ability to rush the passer, get passed blocks and then on the quarterback almost immediately when he's able to that. He's able to run and use his length. A lot of really good things to his game."
Watt is second on the club with 25 tackles behind only linebacker Brian Cushing, who has 33 but also left the previous game with a concussion. Kubiak said that Cushing is doing good and participated in things on Wednesday, but had yet to fully go through the league's concussion protocol.
Schaub is facing the possibility of going from the frying pan into the fire.
The embattled signal-caller goes up against another defense that can put a quarterback on his back, though the 49ers don't have a secondary as deep as the Seahawks. Still, Schaub's decision making will be put to the test by the bay.
It hasn't been as rough for Kaepernick, who has a demeanor that is tough to crack. He to will have to be on his toes with Watt looking to knock both him and the ball down.
This should come down to confidence, something the Niners certainly have an edge in.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 20, Texans 16
10/03 15:11:26 ET