The 49ers are deep in preparations for their prime time match up with the Houston Texans, a team seemingly in disarray after squandering a 17-point halftime lead and eventually losing to the Seahawks last Sunday. But none of that matters to San Francisco, who’s focused on rediscovering their identity and getting back to the basics.
“It seemed like we got our identity back a little bit,” Justin Smith said when discussing the 49ers’ 35-11 win over the Rams.
“The last couple years that’s what this team has been built on, is stopping the run and running the football. Keeping the time of possession down for the other team, controlling the clock, both sides working together and it just seems like, that St. Louis game, that’s our calling card, that’s our identity.”
In the Texans, they’ll face a team with a similar strategy — a team Smith compared to one of their NFC West foes.
“They’re pretty similar to what Seattle tries to do,” Smith said. He pointed out Houston’s heavy use of the cut block in their running scheme.
“You watch tape, there’s a lot of guys on the ground.” He deflected opportunities to criticize the technique, instead pointing out how successful teams have been using it.
And in many ways, the comparison between the Texans and Seahawks can also hold true with the 49ers. Their offenses are predicated on running the ball with a tandem of very good running backs, passing with efficiency rather than explosiveness and dominating defensively. Jim Harbaugh isn’t taking Houston lightly despite their crushing loss last Sunday.
‘They’re a good football team. That’s what I know,” Harbaugh said. He said J.J. Watt in particular could give the 49ers fits.
“He can ruin a game for his opponent … [He’s] Strong, great ability to rush the passer, get past blocks and then on the quarterback almost immediately when he’s able to that.”
Colin Kaepernick — who was unusually chatty today while still managing to give the media almost nothing — said he’s not going to change his game plan because of Watt’s ability to get his hands in passing lanes.
“That’s not something you can worry about as a quarterback,” Kaepernick said. “You have to let the offensive line handle that, make sure they get their hands on him. For me, I just have to worry about what our receiver’s doing and what the rest of their defense is doing.”
— The only surprise on the practice report was Anthony Davis, who sat out with a shoulder injury. Nnamdi Asomugha, Vernon Davis, Ray McDonald, Bruce Miller, Carlos Rogers, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis were all limited.
— Justin Smith was asked if Willis would be back on Sunday and his response was surprising.
“He’s playing, so, yeah, definitely,” Smith said.
Neither Harbaugh nor Willis were nearly as committal in their responses to follow-up questions. Harbaugh said he thought Willis was recovering well and that they’ll wait and see, while Willis just smiled and gave a more diplomatic answer.
“One thing about being around here, we’re always optimistic about our situations, whether it’s going into a game or whether it’s our teammates being out there playing with us,” Willis said. “For him it’s just positive thinking. So hopefully I will be able to be out there but it’s still uncertain right now.”
Given the 49ers’ secrecy around even the most minor injuries, the inconclusive responses from coach and subject seem to indicate lip service. I’d put my money on Smith’s comments being a slip, and I’m expecting Willis to play on Sunday.
— Harbaugh talked at length about the addition of John Skelton, stressing the importance of having two quarterbacks with veteran experience behind Kaepernick. He praised Skelton as a player who has started, played in and won games. He also said Skelton had an exceptional workout when he visited the 49ers in September.
— For Skelton, it was a long road to the 49ers. He had his introductory meeting with the press and told of a wild week of travelling from Arizona to Texas and Nashville before finally ending up in San Francisco.
“I started in Arizona — I was spending the down time out there — on Thursday, got to El Paso, flew out Monday to Nashville,” Skelton said. “Actually, I had a flight cancelled so I spent the night in Dallas trying to get to Nashville, and then flew out of Nashville late Tuesday.”
He said he got into San Francisco at around 10 on Tuesday night.
— Harbaugh said he wasn’t made aware of Donte Whitner’s decision to change his last name to Hitner. Kaepernick knew about it, and said “it’s very fitting for Donte.”
— It recently occurred to me how dangerously close to Hitler his last name will be.
— There was a lot of discussion about Jonathan Baldwin, whose stock seems to be skyrocketing by default with the lack of production from Kyle Williams and the injury to Quinton Patton. Both Harbaugh and Kaepernick praised Baldwin’s work ethic.
Kaepernick said, “he took advantage of his opportunity last week. The more we throw, the more he’s on the field, the more comfortable I get. I think he’s going to be a good asset for us.”
Harbaugh (who used an odd bird-watching term to describe Baldwin last Friday) described Baldwin as a first-to-show-up-last-to-leave kind of guy.
“Jon stands out as one of the guys who gets out early. He stays after practice,” Harbaugh said. “He’s seeking Kap out or Kap’s seeking him out. And there’s a number of guys that do it and Jon is in that group of guys that does that extra.”