Colin Kaepernick shields Colt McCoyOn Sunday we took a look at what defenses Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers would be facing to open the season. The first four weeks of San Francisco’s schedule will be rife with story lines, from the rematch with Green Bay and the rekindling of the Seahawks rivalry to the return of Andrew Luck and the Dahl Bowl with the Rams.

Now we’ll look at the 49ers’ road to the midpoint in search of answers for Kaepernick’s progress as a running (and passing) quarterback. He stirred up the league with his arrival last year, mixing his explosive rushing ability with a rocket arm. Will the 49ers’ opponents have the defensive firepower to slow down the newest 49ers superstar?

Week 5 vs. the Texans

Preview

Houston seems to always be in the conversation for toughest defense in the league, but at this point it may be a facade. They roll out some major stars on that side of the ball — J.J. Watt leads the way rushing the passer and stuffing the run while the newly added Ed Reed will be hawking in the defensive backfield. The question remains: can they stop both sides of Kaepernick’s game?

Last season

While the Texans ranked 7th in overall defense last season, their ability to stop the pass was middle-of-the-road. They allowed a 16th ranked 3,612 passing yards last season while surrendering 6.7 yards per pass attempt. Their strength is definitely on the front end of the defense. Houston accumulated 44 sacks (eight behind the league-best Broncos), while landing in the top-ten against the run. They only gave up 1,560 rushing yards (4.0 yards per carry) and five rushing touchdowns all season.

Draft and free agency additions

Here’s a scary fact: in the draft, the Texans added two more pass rushers — Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams — to the front end and strong safety D.J. Swearinger to the defensive backfield. The addition of Reed was meant more to fill the hole left by Glover Quin, and it’s hard to quantify how effective he’ll be against the pass.

Projection: Running the ball will be tough for the 49ers in general, especially for Kaepernick. He should be able to complete passes on the Texans’ defensive backfield (as long as Watt isn’t sacking him). It’s proven to be average, and the Texans haven’t made any immediate upgrades.

Week 6 vs. Cardinals

Preview

Normally I’d say this game is a lock for Kaepernick to put up 175 yards and two touchdowns to Michael Crabtree alone (LOL Patrick Peterson), but since the quarterback’s favorite wideout will still be recovering from his Achilles tear, the 49ers will need another way to beat the Cardinals. This will be a perfect opportunity for Kaepernick to showcase his running ability.

Last season

Kaepernick got a chance to face the Cardinals late last season, and he shined. The quarterback went 16-for-28 for 276 yards and two touchdowns (both to #15). He didn’t run, however, carrying the ball only three times for 5 yards.

Despite how much Crabtree loved playing the Cardinals last season, their defensive strength was stopping the pass. They finished right behind the 49ers at fifth in passing yards allowed (3,213) and were 2nd in interceptions with 22. While Arizona’s 6.9 yards per pass attempt was mediocre, it’s probably because teams didn’t pass on them often and made it count when they did. The Cardinals run defense was bad in 2012: 28th in rushing yards allowed (2,192) and 22nd in yards per carry (4.3) while giving up 12 rushing scores.

Draft and free agency additions

While the marquee moves of the Cardinals’ offseason were firing Ken Whisenhunt, hiring Bruce Arians and trading for Carson Palmer, they made a lot of personnel moves on the defensive side of the ball too. LB Kevin Minter and DE Alex Okafor are both nice additions, but the big splash was adding Tyrann Mathieu early in the third round. Their free agency additions are highlighted by signing former-Raiders DE Matt Shaughnessy, DE Frostee Rucker (my favorite name), LB Lorenzo Alexander and S Yeremiah Bell.

Projection: This isn’t the same Cardinals team. It’s hard to say whether all these additions will gel and be able to perform immediately under a new system with Arians. Still, I’m not sure the Cardinals will remain the NFC West’s doormat. The influx of talent is too great. This will be a bigger test than it was last year.

Week 7 @ the Titans

Preview

The 49ers will fly into Tennessee and face the Titans in Week 7, where Delanie Walker had better be ready to accept 52 hugs. Maybe I’m missing something, but the Titans are just one of those really boring teams. Chris Johnson looked like he was making a comeback last season, but beyond that there’s nothing about this matchup that catches your eye. Jake Locker – woo hoo.

Last season

The Titans ranked bottom-third of the league in every category last season. They allowed nearly 4,000 passing yards and 7.5 yards per pass attempt. They also gave up 2,035 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry and 16 rushing touchdowns. Ouch.

Draft and free agency additions

Tennessee waited until the third round of the 2013 draft to address their defense, adding UConn CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Missouri LB Zaviar Gooden. DE Lavar Edwards, CB Khalid Wooten and S Daimion Stafford rounded out the back end of their draft, but the bigger additions came through free agency. The position they obviously found most lacking was safety, so they signed former-Bill George Wilson and ex-Raven Bernard Pollard. While Wilson may have been helped by the stellar play of Jairus Byrd, 49ers fans know all-too-well what Pollard is capable of.

Projection: The Titans’ offense may have improved, but I’m not sold on their defense. Kaepernick should be able to shine against the Titans, who were bad in all facets last season and don’t look much more impressive this year.

Week 8 @ vs. the Jaguars

Preview

Ahhh, yes. The game the world waits for every year: the NFL’s annual trip to London. This year, it will be the 49ers vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. You know, the storied rivalry going back two decades. Poor fans in England — they get one game every year and end up with obscure matchups like this. The bright side: the preseason games the Joe Montana-era Niners played in London created a sizable number of 49ers fans in England.

It’ll be hard to gauge this game, given both teams will be playing eight hours ahead of their biological clocks. The 49ers will be playing primetime game that feels like a morning game. Jacksonville will be playing a primetime game that feels like an afternoon start. How weird.

Last season

The Jags ended up around 20th in every category against the pass, allowing 3,832 yards and 7.4 yards per attempt. Where they severely lacked was pass rush — they only collected 20 sacks all season, making them the NFL’s sack caboose. While they were 12th in rushing yards per attempt (4.1), Jacksonville allowed 2,256 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, good enough to be second-worst in both categories. Good news for those who like to watch Kaepernick run.

Draft and free agency additions

You get a safety, and you get a safety, and you get a safety … It seems like nearly every team on the 49ers’ schedule drafted a safety in April, and for the Jaguars it was Johnathan Cyprien out of Florida International. A lot of people liked this kid to come to the 49ers, but the guy for them ended up being Eric Reid. Jacksonville also took CB Dwayne Gratz, S John Evans as well as two more defensive backs in the later rounds, but what’s suspiciously absent from the list is pass rush help. They didn’t do much in terms of free agency either, so Kaepernick should be safe and sound in the pocket.

Projection: If this game were being played in the states, I would be willing to say Kaepernick runs all over these guys. But it’s not. It’s in London. So who knows.