49ers Week 14 Preview: Keys to Victory in Houston

Excited, optimistic, impressed. It seems strange to associate these words with a 2-10 NFL team that only hurts its draft position with every win; yet, that is precisely where the 49ers find themselves. The 13-week-old season feels new again, thanks largely to Jimmy Garoppolo. Though it took five Robbie Gould field goals and nearly all 60 minutes, the 49ers pulled out the win against the Bears in a week 13 game where they dominated time of possession.

In week 14, the 49ers will take on an injury-ravaged Texans team with a good chance to earn their first multi-game win streak since 2014. The Texans have lost 4 of their last 5 games since losing rookie sensation Deshaun Watson to a torn ACL and their week 13 loss to the Titans effectively ended any outside hope of a playoff bid. These are two teams trending in opposite directions and the 49ers must take advantage of their relative health against an injury-ravaged squad. Here are a few keys to coming away with the win in Houston:

Offense: Turn Garoppolo Loose

Garoppolo and the offense did a nice job of moving the ball and extending drives against the Bears to the tune of 293 passing yards but failed to get in the end zone. That changes this week. Playing ball control offense and keeping the defense fresh made sense against an aggressive Bears defense that ranks 12th against the pass. The Texans on the other hand rank 22nd in passing yards allowed and are tied for 3rd most passing touchdowns allowed (23) on the season. By contrast, they’re tougher against the run allowing the 10th fewest yards and tied for 7th in rushing TDs allowed (7.) Garoppolo has already shown strong chemistry with Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor and should be in great position to build on last weeks success and show what he can do against Houston’s weak secondary.

Defense: Keep DeAndre Hopkins in check

The Texans offense is in shambles: the running game is sputtering without rookie power back D’Onta Foreman to spell Lamar Miller. Former 49ers receiver Bruce Ellington was turning into a nice second option for Savage before joining promising young tight end CJ Fiedorowicz and the aforementioned Foreman on IR.

Starting receiver Will Fuller is expected back, but his chemistry with Savage is iffy at best as he averages 2.8 catches and for 30.4 yards with Savage under center.

That just leaves Hopkins with the burden of carrying the offense. Rookie corner Akhello Witherspoon is looking forward to the challenge and it will be interesting to see how the third rounder out of Colorado handles his first big test against an elite receiver. Hopkins is averaging double-digit targets with Savage under center and he will no doubt win some routes. The key for Witherspoon and the rest of the 49ers secondary is limiting YAC and locking him down inside the red zone.

Win the Turnover Battle

Texans QB Tom Savage is on a mission to prove he’s not a “turnover machine,” but the stats are not exactly in his favor. He’s turned the ball over 13 times in 6 starts this year and has multiple turnovers in 3 of his last 5 games. The 49ers were able to win the last week despite losing the turnover battle, but that’s not a sustainable formula for success.

The 49ers defense needs to come up with a couple takeaways against a QB who’s had issues with ball security.

On offense, the 49ers need to hold on to the ball and not give up field position. While the Texans offense is only averaging 16.2 points per game with Savage under center, Garoppolo and the 49ers only managed 15 in his lone start so far. While I fully expect some of last week’s field goals to turn into touchdowns, the Niners still need to be prepared to gut out a close game where one key turnover could mean the difference between winning and losing.

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