Chargers vs. Texans
The opener versus the Houston Texans will be a tough early test for the Chargers. The Texans looked like the premier Super Bowl contenders in the AFC prior to a fade at the end of the season. Although last season ended on a disappointing note the Texans still have an elite quarterback in Matt Schaub, one of the best running backs in the league in Arian Foster and an outstanding offensive line. In veteran receiver Andre Johnson and Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels Matt Schaub has some excellent targets to throw to. The Texans selected DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson in the first round. Hopkins is a potential elite receiver who should replace Kevin Walter well and take some of the pressure off of Andre Johnson.
The Texans defense lagged in the second half of the season but should be improved with the return of Brian Cushing. Cushing will team with last season's NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt to again form one of the best defenses in the league Watt re-defined the modern 3-4 defensive end position with his ability to stop the run, rush the passer, and bat down passes. In Lawrence Taylor-like fashion, but Watt has become the type of dominant defensive player that you have to account for on every play. The Texans will also return outstanding edge rusher Brooks Reid, who missed the latter part of last season.
Texans Coach Gary Kubiak has a very similar offensive philosophy to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Kubiak likes to run the football to set up the pass. The Texans offensive line coach is Alex Gibbs, famous for his zone blocking scheme. Under Gibbs the Texans are an extremely efficient running offense. The key to victory for the 49ers will be to stop the run and force the Texans to pass the football. The 49ers ferocious pass rush should have success against the Texans if they can get Houston in third and long situations. The Texans defense, especially their secondary, can have difficulty stopping elite passing offenses. The Packers crushed the Texans last year in Houston, with Aaron Rodgers tossing 6 TD passes. The Packers success versus Houston was based on their ability to keep pressure off of Rodgers and exploiting their base defense. If the 49ers can keep the Houston defense off-balance they should be able to put points on the board.