Knowing Your Opponent: Houston Texans

J.J. Watt & Brian Cushing (Getty Images)

Coming off an impressive 12-win season in 2012, the Houston Texans have struggled out of the gate, having lost two-straight games to Ravens and Seahawks. They look to redeem themselves in front of a national television audience when they come to San Francisco for Sunday Night's prime time game. Inside is a complete breakdown.

Texans Statistics Through Week 4

Offense

Points per game: 22.5 (#19 in the NFL)

Yards per game: 410.2 (#5)

Passing Yards (per game): 276 (#9)

Rushing Yards (per game): 134.2 (#7)

3rd-Down Conversion Rate: 35.59 percent (#19)

Red Zone Scoring Rate (TDs): 66.67 percent (#5)

Defense

Points per game: 26.2 (#23)

Yards per game: 254.2 (#1)

Passing yards (per game): 141 (#1)

Rushing Yards (per game): 113.2 (#23)

3rd-Down Conversion Rate: 36.67 percent (#17)

Red Zone Scoring Rate (TDs): 88.89 percent (#32)

AFC South Standings

Colts (3-1)

Titans (3-1)

Texans (2-2)

Jaguars (0-4)

The Texans started out the season strong, winning their first two games in before getting trounced 30-9 in Baltimore and seeing the Seahawks come back to win in overtime Sunday, 23-20.

Since then, fans in Houston have been burning Matt Schaub jerseys after he's thrown three pick-6s in as many weeks. The most crucial of which came against Seattle when floated a pass back to the right side that was picked off and taken the distance to tie the game by the Bay Area's public enemy No. 1, Richard Sherman.

After those disappointing performances, the Texans are a desperate team, much like the 49ers were before heading to St. Louis in Week 4. As one of the most talented and balanced teams in the AFC, the Texans will be a formidable challenge on both sides of the ball for San Francisco Sunday night.

Through four weeks, the Texans have the best defense in the NFL in terms of yardage, but are allowing opponents an average 26.2 points per game, which ranks No. 23 in the league, which falls on the offense and its turnovers. Opposing offenses have scored touchdowns on nearly 90 percent of their red zone opportunities, ranking dead last in football.

But Houston is the only team in the NFL ranked in the top five in both overall offense and defense. Both 49ers coordinators gushed about the team's balance Thursday.

"These guys are committed to running the ball and they have a play-action passing game that works directly in conjunction with the run game," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.

"They make their runs and play-action passes look exactly the same. So they're a tough offense to defend in that regard. And then they have a really good passing quarterback and really good passing receivers to throw to, highlighted by Andre Johnson, who will probably be the Texans first Hall of Fame guy when he retires five years later."

When it comes to balance, the numbers say the Texans have leaned more towards the pass than the run through the first four games. Schaub is second in the league with 177 attempts and 116 completions. Their 44.2 passes per game clip is third in the league.

"They marry everything together with the running game and the passing game off of play action. And they're one of the few teams that still has a good drop-back passing game in the early downs too, so it's not all play action," Fangio said.

The difficulty in playing the Texans lies in play recognition, especially from the linebackers. Given the effectiveness of the ground game featuring Arian Foster and Ben Tate, they often use play action to set up explosive plays downfield to either Johnson or rookie DeAndre Hopkins. But their offensive front does well is making play action passes look like running plays.

Tight ends play a big part in Gary Kubiak's offense as well. Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham each have three touchdown receptions – tied for the team lead - and average over 10 yards per catch. With Patrick Willis' status up in the air, Michael Wilhoite's ability to cover the tight ends while still being stout against the run will be vital Sunday night. It will also be a tough task for rookie free safety Eric Reid.

Coming in with the No. 7 running game in the NFL, defenses cannot afford to relax and play the pass, because Foster and Tate are more than capable of dominating a game on the ground. They have combined for 520 yards through the first four weeks.

"These guys are really good and they are a tough assignment because they're balanced. And they'll stay balanced throughout the game as long as they can," Fangio said.

Defensively, the obvious standout is J.J. Watt, the reigning defensive player of the year who has terrorized offenses from both sides of the line, both in the running and passing games.

"He's smart, he's talented, he's quick," guard Alex Boone said. "He's one of those guys, he's got everything. It's going to be a full day. He just doesn't ever stop. He's just got energy all day. That's one thing we're going to have to match with them, their defense as a whole, is a lot of energy. So we're going to match that."

Adding to the difficulty in defending Watt is his versatility to line up on either side of the formation. Pair that with the way they mix their looks up front with their 3-4 scheme, attacking the Texans' defense might be the toughest task the 49ers will face outside of Seahawks this year.

"They're really talented at every level of their defense. You look at their two defensive ends, Watt and (Antonio) Smith, they're very good football players. Watt is unique, very unique player, plays with a frenetic style," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.

On the outside, Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph have had solid seasons at cornerback, allowing 22 completions on a combined 44 targets. Danieal Manning and Ed Reed form a tough combo at safety. But Manning is coming off a rough game against Seattle while Reed's appeared in just two games since returning from his surgically repaired hip.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*

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