No. 1: Stopping Texans Defensive Tackle Jadeveon Clowney
The 49ers offensive line isn’t particularly good, especially in pass protection. According to Football Outsiders, the Niners O-line ranks 23rd in protecting its quarterback this season. And while Jimmy Garoppolo’s pocket presence is notably better than the guy he replaced, C.J. Beathard, it could still be a long day for this beleaguered unit.
Not having to face J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus helps. But another front-seven Texans defender, Jadeveon Clowney, is just as potent as the others.
His nine sacks not only lead Houston’s defense, but they also come in tied for ninth among all NFL defenders.
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Clowney was limited in practice with a knee injury this week, although it wouldn’t be a shock to see him take the field.
What makes him dangerous is how able Houston is to line him up from a variety of positions within the defense’s 3-4 base front. He can rush from a linebacker spot, double as an end or even rush from the interior — the position where San Francisco’s pass protection is at its weakest.
Tie it all together, especially the 49ers’ challenges on offense, and you can see why offsetting Clowney’s impact will be critical to the Niners’ hopes for victory this Sunday.