The San Francisco 49ers (9-7) shook off a slow start to defeat the Houston Texans (4-12) 23-7 at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.
After struggling to get on track in the first half behind rookie quarterback Trey Lance, the 49ers offense found a rhythm after halftime with several big plays on their way to 20 points.
San Francisco came into the day with a chance to wrap up a playoff spot, however New Orleans was able to defeat Carolina. As a result, San Francisco now finds itself needing to win next week against the Los Angeles Rams to guarantee themselves a spot in the NFC playoffs.
Here are five questions to watch for on Sunday.
- Will Kyle Shanahan adjust the gameplan he used with Trey Lance against Arizona? YES
Apart from a couple series early in the game, it looked like Kyle Shanahan was asking Trey Lance to run the regular 49ers offense.
The 49ers offense was a bit disjointed throughout much of the first half, however things began to change late in the first half.
Taking possession at their own 25 with only 38 seconds left to play, San Francisco road the right arm of Lance to move the ball 56 yards on six plays.
Lance connected with Deebo Samuel for 17 yards on the first play of the possession. Two plays later, Lance found Brandon Aiyuk down the right sideline for a gain of 27.
A holding penalty by Tom Compton pushed the 49ers to the edge of Robbie Gould’s range, but Lance would again find Brandon Aiyuk on the right sideline for 12 yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Gould as time expired.
On the opening play of San Francisco’s second possession in the second half Trey Lance showed the difference he can make for the 49ers offense when he tried to connect on a deep throw down the middle to Brandon Aiyuk.
The play featured Aiyuk running a corner post route deep after play action. While Aiyuk was unable to make the grab, Houston was forced to interfere with the receiver resulting in a 37-yard pass interference penalty.
Three plays later, Lance would find JaMycal Hasty to convert on third down, and on the next play Lance would hit Elijah Mitchell while rolling to his right for a touchdown to give the 49ers their first lead of the game.
Lance wasn’t done yet, opening the fourth quarter with a bang by finding Deebo Samuel deep down the middle of the field for a 45-yard touchdown. This came off the same play that earlier resulted in the long pass interference, only this time they were able to connect.
For the game Lance would complete 16 of 23 attempts for 241 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. It may not have been smooth, but it was a good performance considering it was only his second career start.
- Will the 49ers commit to running the football? YES
Houston came into the game allowing 4.7 yards per rushing attempt, a number San Francisco was able to match on Sunday.
The 49ers running game gained 175 yards on 37 carries, led by rookie Elijah Mitchell.
Making his first start since suffering an injury at Seattle on December 5, Mitchell was asked to carry the ball 21 times against Houston. Mitchell responded with 119 yards, including a 37-yard burst late in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.
- Can San Francisco keep the Texans running game under wraps? YES
Houston has struggled to run the ball all season. The 49ers defense made sure that would be the case again on Sunday, holding the Texans to only 86 yards on 27 attempts.
Leading the way for the 49ers run defense were linebackers Fred Warner and Marcell Harris. The duo combined to lead the 49ers with 25 tackles, including one for loss by Warner.
In addition to the linebackers, Arik Armstead showed up in a big way with eight tackles to lead the way for San Francisco’s defensive line.
- Will the 49ers pass defense get to Davis Mills? YES
Davis Mills came into the game against San Francisco averaging 264 yards passing over his previous three starts.
On Sunday the 49ers defense held the rookie third round pick from Stanford to only 163 yards with 21 completions on 32 attempts.
The 49ers pass rush was able to hit Mills eight times and sack the quarterback on three occasions. Arden Key led the San Francisco pass rush with four hits on Mills along with one sack.
Jordan Willis also recorded a sack of Mills while Samson Ebukam and Arik Armstead teamed up to sack Mills late in the second quarter. This sack was big in that it helped get the 49ers offense back onto the field and in position to put the first points on the board for San Francisco in the game.
With the pass rush putting pressure on Mills, the 49ers secondary did its job as well. Rookie Ambry Thomas almost recorded his first interception when he stepped in front of former Michigan teammate Nico Collins on a third down in the second quarter.
While Thomas came close, it was Marcell Harris who would get the key takeaway for San Francisco early in the second half after the 49ers offense turned the ball over on downs.
With Houston facing 3rd and 3 on San Francisco’s side of the field Harris, converted from safety to linebacker during training camp, would step in front of Texans receiver Chris Conley to intercept the pass from Mills.
The San Francisco offense would find its way into the endzone to score on the ensuing possession and take a lead the 49ers would not relinquish.
- Can the 49ers hold onto the ball? Not quite
The bad news for San Francisco was Trey Lance threw a bad interception. The good news is Davis Mills did the same to even it out.
It was a bit of a rough start for Lance as he missed a few open receivers. The biggest miss came on 1st and 10 early in the second quarter. Lance had Deebo Samuel wide open down the right side, however he tried to get the ball to George Kittle on a leak route on the opposite side of the field. Kittle was open but Lance short armed the throw and Texans cornerback Desmond King II was able to come down with the interception.
From that point on, Lance played very well and did his part to lead the 49ers to victory.
49ers 26 Texans 16