SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ defensive linemen have to be on their toes – and watching their ankles – on Sunday night against the Houston Texans.
Pro Bowl defensive lineman Justin Smith on Wednesday compared the Texans’ blocking scheme to the one the 49ers saw in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. Nose tackle Ian Williams is lost for the season due to a broken ankle sustained when guard J.R. Sweezy executed a legal cut block from behind.
Smith said the 49ers have to be wary of the dangerous technique.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “You watch it on tape and feel it in a game, (they’re) biting your ankles, rolling up on ‘em. (It’ll) just be a good fundamental game, as far as that’s concerned.”
Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch gained 98 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries – for a 3.5-yard average -- in the 49ers' 29-3 loss to the Seahawks on Sept. 15. Lynch accounted for 49 yards on three of his rushing attempts.
The 49ers will face a stiff challenge against the Texans, who feature Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the backfield, as well as an offensive line that works well together.
“They’re pretty similar to what Seattle tries to do, you know, their stretch cuts, get you running one way, chop a guy down and bring it back out the other way,” Smith said.
“They’re good in the techniques it takes to do that. They work well together. They post guys up, so the backside guy can cut them. You watch tape, and there’s a lot of guys on the ground.”
Smith said it will be important for the 49ers’ defensive linemen to avoid the inevitable low blocks and remain upright to clog any potential cutback lanes.
The Denver Broncos, in particular, had success with the zone scheme. During a five-year stretch in the late-1990s and early 2000s, Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis each had 1,000-yard seasons. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison worked with former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan and line coach Alex Gibbs.
The blocking techniques the 49ers expect to see Sunday night has drawn scrutiny since Williams’ season-ending injury. But last week, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who serves on the NFL’s competition committee, said outlawing the backside cut block would “significantly impact the run game.”
Fisher said, “Defensive players know it’s coming and they anticipate it, and they have the obligation to protect themselves.”
The 49ers’ ability to stop the Texans’ run game figures to be one of the major factors in Sunday’s game. The 49ers ended a two-game losing streak last week with a 35-11 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
In Glenn Dorsey’s second full game at nose tackle in place of Williams, the 49ers held the Rams to 18 yards rushing on 19 carries. Meanwhile, the 49ers rushed 40 times for 219 yards. Frank Gore gained 153 yards, as the 49ers fashioned a familiar formula for success.
“We got our identity back: Stopping the run and running the ball,” Smith said.