In preperation for the Texans bout against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Fooch of Niners Nation gratiously answered five questions that I had regarding his team. Niners Nation is one of the best run SB Nation NFL sites and you can see why when see the effort that Fooch put into answering each question. He has also agreed to check this post throughout the week and respond to any questions that any of you might have. If you're interested, you can also see m answers to his questions here (Update: The link has been fixed to reflect Fooch's article).
1. Before the bye week, the 49ers looked like they would run away with the NFC West. They had a 4-1 record with their only loss coming on a last minute miracle play in Minnesota. How has the 45-10 loss to the Falcons at home affected your opinion of the team?
Fooch: I think the blowout was a much needed slap back to reality. I certainly would preferred to keep winning, but I also think this team might have been getting a bit too big for its britches. Maybe thinking they were better than they really were. Mike Singletary has tried to keep the team focused, but when you blow out any team, even the Rams, it's easy to start thinking you're a great team. The 49ers are not a great team and have significant holes. However, I also think they can still win the NFC West. This kind of loss focuses in on the team's weaknesses and hopefully helps them plan better. Of course that makes this weekend's game all the more important. They need to bounce back in a big way.
2. Patrick Willis is obviously one of the best players in the NFL. If it were up to you, how would you use him against the Texans this week?
Fooch: Willis has always been a great tackler and great in pursuit of the ball carrier. Against the Rams he showed a bit more flair than normal in getting to the quarterback, as he finished with 2.5 sacks. I like the idea of mixing him into the pass rush every so often. It's not something he should be doing every play because his inside linebacker role simply doesn't call for it.
Part of his role really will end up depending on the game-time situations. For instance, if the pass rush is getting some decent pressure, the team can afford to keep Willis back spying the running back and helping out a bit in coverage on Owen Daniels and coverage over the middle as a whole. It helps that Schaub is not the most mobile of QBs and thus does not require much in the way of a spy.
3. The 49ers have given up the 6th most sacks in the NFL (16) despite only playing 5 games. What has been the offensive line's weakness in terms of protecting Shaun Hill?
Fooch: The offensive line has struggled mightily this year. They've got talented players like Eric Heitmann and Joe Staley, but they've simply not played a cohesive unit. Right guard Chilo Rachal was effectively benched this week as the team will be rotating between two right guards (Rachal and Adam Snyder). In past weeks, the right tackle would leave a player for Rachal to cover and Rachal would be off 3 yards away looking for somebody to guard. Rachal's only a second year player and has shown talent, but he's really struggling this year.
Of course, Adam Snyder is being moved to right guard because he lost his starting right tackle position to Tony Pashos. Pashos was signed to a multi year deal with the Jaguars. He wanted a better deal so eventually they cut him loose and he signed a 1-year deal with the 49ers. I'm hoping that mixing up the lineup will help because Snyder has done ok at times as a guard. And of course LG David Baas has struggled as well, although I think his struggles are more to do with being banged up. Given time to rest over the bye, I'm hoping he'll look better.
4. I'm sure you're sick of the focus that Michael Crabtree is receiving, but how much of an impact do you think that he can make this Sunday considering he is a rookie that has had only two weeks of practice?
Fooch: Now that he's actually signed, the media can focus on Crabtree all they want. As far as impact, well, initially he was expected to get about 12-15 plays this weekend. Now it's being reported he might be in the starting lineup opposite Isaac Bruce. I don't think that necessarily means a full slate of game action as they could easily rotate Crabtree and previous starter Josh Morgan. Nonetheless it at the very least has 49ers fans excited. Rumor has it he's had a great two weeks of practice and the other players are raving about him.
If he does start I don't see it as just being because of his contract or draft status. Mike Singletary is not the type to play favorites like that or feel forced into a decision just because he's Michael Crabtree. While I think I'd rather have Bruce on the bench, I'm willing to trust Singletary on this one. At the same time I have no idea what to expect. If he's looked as good as people say, then hopefully that means he's in game shape and ready to make some plays. I'm trying to keep my expectations low, but given the media coverage this week, it's kind of hard to do that.
5. Given what you've seen, what record do you think the 49ers will end up with and will they win the division?
Fooch: I'll be an optimist and say 10-6 and they win the division thanks to a sweep of the Cardinals (they won their opener at Arizona). They're in an especially tough stretch of games with the Atlanta game two weeks ago, Houston this week and Indianapolis next week. I was expecting tougher but Tennessee the following suddenly doesn't loom so ugly (hopefully they don't look past the Titans). If they can split at Houston and Indy I think they'll still be in good shape.