Colin Kaepernick can go through the gears against the Texans the re-establish San Francisco as Super Bowl contenders, says Romilly Evans...
"Aldon Smith’s shoes are big ones to fill, but NaVorro Bowman could just be the man to find the fairytale fit."
Houston Texans @ San Francisco 49ers
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on Channel 4
The Seattle Seahawks have done their best to dent the Super Bowl ambitions of both the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers - lowering the Red and Gold silks before stripping Houston's Deep Blue of its steel with a breathless comeback that rendered Matt Schaub a quivering wreck.
Schaub could seek some solidarity in his opposite number at QB tonight, Colin Kaepernick, who was also given a torrid time by the Hawks' defence. But rather than enroll in some sappy self-help classes, both quarterbacks get the chance to right their respective ships tonight on the field in a game could reset the tone for two early season favourites who only stand at 2-2 this term.
Kaepernick has already put the trauma behind him in a rout against the St Louis Rams where the flashy play-caller restored his status to "twin threat" from "no threat". However, besides securing the W against some sheep in Rams helmets, that win did little more than confirm CK was possessed of two opposable thumbs.
The real test of whether he's back to last season's play-off form will come in this late primetime match-up. Indeed, with the dubious merits of Colt McCoy waiting in the wings as replacement, it's reasonable that Jim Harbaugh has been slow to release the game-changing scrambling ability of his star athlete. However, now is the time for the Niners to run the numbers and realise that there is no reward without risking Kaepernick.
On the defensive side of the ball, despite the protracted absence of linebacker Aldon Smith (substance offences), the 49ers D remain one of the stingiest outfits in the NFL. Smith's shoes are big ones to fill, but NaVorro Bowman could just be the man to find the fairytale fit. Bowman was a ubiquitous thorn in the side of St Louis (two sacks) and while Schaub and his balanced rushing options present a sterner challenge, the Houston lynchpin can lose his composure under pressure.
Stopping the Texans breakout performers (in WR Andrew Johnson and particularly RB Arian Foster who heads the AFC with 292 yards running) will accordingly prove the key to success. The Niners certainly have the versatility and bruising resolve to at least limit them.
The Texan defence, on the other hand, has looked pretty powerless against ground-gainers this year. Frank Gore continues to defy his years and niggling injuries to move the chains and offer Kaepernick a meat-and-drink to his own champagne moments. Houston have given up a surprising 113.3 yards per game against the run - hardly pathetic but certainly permeable. This weak link gives the 49ers both a distinct edge and the potential to control the clock.
The home side has won each of previous two meetings between this duo - and that small sample should become a trend at a rowdy Candlestick Park. Momentum is building once again in San Francisco and handicap quotes around a touchdown seem insufficient to hold them.
Back San Francisco 49ers to win on the Moneyline @ 1.4740/85 or better
Back San Francisco 49ers (-5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back San Francisco 49ers (-2.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back F.Gore to score First Touchdown @ 8.07/1 or better