The 49ers received a little good news along with some bad news on Sunday. The good news: the Seahawks, despite an impressive comeback from 17 points down in their 23-20 overtime win in Houston, still aren’t nearly as formidable on the road as they are in Seattle. The bad news: the Seattle Seahawks are still undefeated and remain two games ahead of the 49ers in the NFC West.
Also — and this could be good or bad news depending on how the 49ers use this information — the Texans are talented team that can’t stay out of their own way.
The 49ers can’t afford to pay attention to what’s going on in Seattle until early December, when the Seahawks visit Candlestick Park. Plus, despite Houston’s faults they were able to jump out to a 20-3 lead against the team many consider the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Texans finished yesterday’s game with sizable advantages in almost every category besides rushing yards, yards per carry and turnovers (including a 29-15 edge in first downs), but still came up short.
What does this mean for the 49ers? Despite complaints from those who didn’t particularly care for the conservative offensive game plan the 49ers utilized in St. Louis — especially late in the game with San Francisco went into lead-protect mode — expect to see more of the same against Houston on Sunday for the following reasons.
— Houston is third in the NFL in passing yards allowed per attempt (6.0). Only Kansas City and Cleveland are better. Forcing the ball downfield doesn’t make sense unless the Texans consistently single-cover Anquan Boldin and/or Vernon Davis.
— The Texans’ rush defense is middle-of-the-road (4.0 ypc allowed), which means they’re better at stopping the run than St. Louis. However, the 49ers realize that controlling the ball via Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter is vital to their success. They should be able to follow Seattle’s lead and run successfully against the Texans if they stay committed, especially at home.
— The 49ers and Texans both have a turnover differential of -4. The 49ers got away with lost fumbles by Colin Kaepernick and Gore against the Rams because they got two takeaways (also, the Rams suddenly went back to being horrible). If the Texans avoid that pick-6 by Richard Sherman, they head to San Francisco with a 3-1 record after a win against the squad that embarrassed the 49ers on Sunday Night Football.
— In the 49ers’ two losses, Kaepernick threw four picks. Overall, the 49ers are 6-1 in games where Kaepernick throws no interceptions and 3-4 when he throws at least one INT.
(“INTs are bad” isn’t exactly hard-hitting analysis, but Kaepernick needed to take a step back after his 412-yard performance against the Packers before he could move forward. His Alex Smith-like performance against the Rams was his first baby-step of what will be many before he starts sprinting past the competition again.)
— Seattle proved that if you stay with the Texans, they’ll eventually find ways to beat themselves.
The 49ers and Texans also play on Sunday night, where most of the attention will focus on J.J. Watt pursuing Kaepernick. But as much as people are going to hate this idea, look for the 49ers to continue throwing short passes (15 of Kaepernick’s 23 attempts against the Rams traveled less than 10 yards in the air), playing the possession game and forcing the Texans into making mistakes (or simply waiting for them to screw up).
The 49ers should’ve had at least two more takeaways than they ended up with in St. Louis; if they can catch an errant Matt Schaub pass or two (he’s thrown at least one interception in every game so far this season), the 49ers will have a good shot at moving above .500 for the first time since Week 1 … provided they limit their own miscues.
One last thing — Seattle got away with committing nine penalties yesterday, in part because they only led to 62 lost yards (compared to six penalties for 86 yards for Houston). The 49ers absolutely must stop committing 10 penalties per game if they want to beat good teams — and despite their erratic play during the first quarter of the season, the Texans are a good team.