The Houston Texans are reeling after a come-from-ahead loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers recaptured some of their mojo in a blowout victory over the St. Louis Rams. Both of these teams enter Sunday night at 2-2 on the season and are very eager to get a victory in front of a national audience, lest they fall behind even more in their respective divisions.
If you're a fan of either (or neither team), you probably already know about players like Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt, Justin Smith, and Colin Kaepernick. Read on for a few players you might now know too much about who could have a significant impact on Sunday night's game. If by some cruel twist of fate, you're somehow a fan of both of these teams, you need not read on.
David Fucillo of Niners Nation gives us his take on the 49ers:
The 49ers' passing game has struggled this season with the absence of Michael Crabtree, and the 49ers continue searching for someone to emerge opposite Anquan Boldin. This week, the Texans are likely to see a fair amount of wide receiver Jon Baldwin. The 49ers acquired Baldwin from the Kansas City Chiefs in a trade of disappointing former first round picks. Baldwin was inactive the first three weeks, but was finally activated in Week 4, and caught two passes for 19 yards. It wasn't much, but it was a step forward, and might get him more looks from Colin Kaepernick moving forward. Additionally, Baldwin is a big, strong receiver, who can help with blocking in the running game. If he can do that effectively, that too will earn him more snaps.
The guy to watch will be outside linebacker Corey Lemonier. The 49ers' third round pick this past April, Lemonier looked strong in the preseason, showing serious natural ability as a pass rusher. He did not get much playing time the first three weeks, but when Aldon Smith checked into rehab, Lemonier joined Dan Skuta in a rotation at Smith's OLB spot. Skuta got the start, but Lemonier finished with more snaps. Lemonier had a very solid performance, and while he did not grab a sack, he provided consistent pressure. When the Texans are passing, the 49ers will be relying on Lemonier and Ahmad Brooks to bring pressure and force Matt Schaub out of his comfort zone.
As for the Texans...
Garrett Graham, TE - Graham is the backup tight end to fellow Wisconsin Badger Owen Daniels. At this point they are practically clones of each other in terms of size, playing style and ability. Behind DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson, there are tons of question marks at the wide receiver position, so that leads to plenty of 12 personnel groupings for the Texans' offense. Take a look at his stat line from last week:
Despite being the second tight end, he's very much someone to look out for.
Whitney Mercilus, OLB - I can't imagine that Antonio Smith is still under the radar despite playing next to the Human Highlight Reel that is J.J. Watt, so I'll go with the emerging young outside linebacker who's coming off a big game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Mercilus was primarily used as a situational pass rusher in 2012, but has shown a good deal of growth now that he's the full-time starter. He's athletic enough that he was trusted to play the "spy" role against Russell Wilson in certain situations, and I imagine Wade Phillips will do the same against Colin Kaepernick.
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In addition to his pass-rushing prowess, Mercilus has improved his anchoring and edge-setting against the run. With a front seven filled with stars, Mercilus is a player you don't want to forget about.
These are my under-the-radar players for Week 5; let me know what you think in the Comments and give us your opinion on Fucillo's contribution. Happy Wednesday, fellas.