Running the ball and defense has been the staple of the Jim Harbaugh era 49ers. That philosophy has helped the team go to back to back NFC championship games as well as the Super Bowl. On offense, the 49ers had seemed to stray a bit from that run first philosophy early in the season but their Week 4 win over the Rams saw San Francisco go back to what made the team successful in the first place. Will the running game be featured again as they host the Houston Texans Sunday night? Here are some things to look for in Week 5.
Back to basics
The 49ers ran the ball 40 times in Week 4 and only dropped back to pass 25. They gained 219 yards on the ground as Frank Gore led they way with 153 of those and scored a momentum changing touchdown towards the end of the first half. Looking deeper, Gore gained 115 of his yards on runs between the tackles. That number signifies a return to power running games that the team’s offense has been based upon. Gore had only gained 88 yards between the tackles over the first three weeks of the season. It will be interesting see if the 49ers continue to pound the rock against the Texans or if they go back to putting the ball in Colin Kaepernick‘s hands to try and get big plays.
Third down woes
Even though the offense rebounded last week, they are still struggling on third downs. The 49ers have only converted 37 percent of their third downs this season (21-of-57) and have gone three and out 43.1 percent of the time (fourth highest in the league). The team is clearly feeling the loss of Michael Crabtree in this department. Crabtree was targeted 49 times on third and fourth down in 2012. He caught 32 passes in those situations and 24 of those were converted to first downs. The Niners must find another player who can step in these situations if they are going to have success moving forward.
With Quinton Patton sidelined with an injury, Jonathan Baldwin will get the next crack as the 49ers’ number two receiver. Baldwin, who was active for the first time in Week 4, caught two passes for 19 yards. While those aren’t prolific numbers by any means, it’s the same amount of receptions Patton and Marlon Moore have combined all season. Baldwin should see extended playing time against the Texans and, because of his size and speed, could provide a spark on plays down the field.
Texan’s quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown three interceptions for touchdowns this season, one in each of the last three games. His mistakes have hurt the Texans dearly and are a major reason the team is riding a two game losing streak. The 49ers haven’t been an overly opportunistic defense this season and could use some big plays from their secondary. Something has to give in this one but if Texan’s have any chance of winning in San Francisco, Schaub must play a clean game.
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