This week's contest against the San Francisco 49ers will have huge implications for the 3-3 Houston Texans. If they win and establish the first streak (winning or losing) of the season, the Texans will be in the driver's seat heading into Buffalo and then a string of four pivotal division games. If they lose, then the chances will be high that the club will be .500 heading into the aforementioned AFC South gauntlet and all the momentum from the Bengals game will be lost. Here are the five matchups that I think are most pivotal to keeping the momentum going.
1. Antonio Smith vs. Adam Snyder/Tony Pashos/Chilo Rachal - Contrary to what seems like popular opinion on this blog, Antonio Smith has played well this year. This will be his game to prove it. Rachal recently lost his starting job at RG because of terrible play. Snyder, who is taking Rachal's place, lost his job to Pashos because of his bad play. Pashos was let go by Jacksonville in favor of two rookie tackles. The 49ers offensive line has given up 3 sacks to defensive tackles and 4 to left defensive ends, both of which Smith will play during this game.
2. Owen Daniels vs. Manny Lawson/Parys Haralson - You can never tell what a coaching staff is focusing on until the game, but the San Francisco media is certainly zeroed in on Andre Johnson. After the way that Roddy White torched this secondary, I would not be surprised at all to see double coverage on ;Dre all day long. This takes a safety away from helping with OD, who is having a career season. I know that Niners fans love Lawson because of his speed, but Daniels is in the class of tight ends with Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark that simply cannot be covered by a linebacker. If San Francisco chooses to do so, I think Daniels and Matt Schaub will make them pay.
3. Brian Cushing vs. Frank Gore - Don't be fooled by the Crabtree hoopla. Gore is the focal point of this offense by a long shot. Even if Crabtree is the second coming of Jerry Rice, Shaun Hill has a 56% completion rate, which isn't quite on par with Montana or Young. Gore's 6.2 yards per carry looks great because of his 207 yards on 16 carries against Seattle, but his 23 rushes for 34 yards outside of that game shows the other side. If Cushing continues his high level of play that he has shown in the last few games, it is possible to contain Gore (notice I didn't say stop).
4. Glover Quin vs. Michael Crabtree - I haven't heard whether Quin will continue starting this week or if Jacques Reeves will step back into the lineup, but believe it or not, I'd rather have Quin on Crabtree than Reeves. I think Reeves is a better cover corner, but I believe that Quin is better sniffing out and stuffing bubble screens and swing passes, which is exactly what I expect the 49ers to do with Crabtree. Isaac Bruce isn't much of a deep threat any longer, as shown by his 12.8 yards per reception (the lowest of his long career), so Eugene Wilson could be readily dispatched to help Quin if he needed help over the top.
5. Texans fans vs. tailgating - I've never been to a game at Reliant because I've been away from Houston since 2002, but I've heard from multiple sources that the parking lots around the stadium are a great place to be on Sundays whether the Texans win or lose after the games. This team needs every bit of a homefield advantage this week that we as fans can give them. I really hope that this week we can keep the house packed and LOUD.