Houston Texans (4-11, 7-8 ATS) at San Francisco 49ers (8-7, 7-8), 4:05 p.m.
Brolley’s Texans Stats and Trends
The Texans are 5-1 toward unders in their last six road games.
Houston has covered in consecutive games after dropping straight games in Weeks 12-14.
Davis Mills is quickly earning the Texans’ starting job in 2022 with a strong finishing kick to the season. The Texans stunned the Chargers in Week 16 thanks to another excellent performance by the rookie quarterback. He completed 21/27 passes for 254 yards and two TDs even without his lone standout skill player, Brandin Cooks. He’s averaging 264.7 passing yards per game and 7.5 YPA since he took back over as the team’s starter in Week 14. The 49ers have given up fewer than 18 FP in seven of their last eight games
Brandin Cooks will return to the lineup this week after landing on the COVID list last week. He posted 7+ catches, 100+ yards, and 10+ targets with two TDs totale in his first two games since Mills regained the starting job in Week 14. It also coincided with the Texans moving Cooks into the slot more. He ran 51% of his routes from the slot in Weeks 14-15 after sitting at 30% through Houston’s first 12 games of the season. The 49ers had no answer for Tennessee’s clear top WR A.J. Brown last week, who went for 11/145/1 receiving.
Rex Burkhead erupted for 28.9 FP in Week 16 against the Chargers, posting 22/149/2 rushing on 62% of the snaps in Houston’s shocking victory over the Chargers. He certainly benefited from David Johnson being out of the lineup, and he’s now seen more than 60% of the snaps in three of his last five games. The 49ers are giving up just 3.8 YPC to RBs this season after Tennessee’s backfield to just 21/68/1 rushing in Week 16.
Brolley’s 49ers Stats and Trends
The 49ers are 5-2 ATS and 5-2 toward unders in their last seven games.
The 49ers got the full Jimmy Garoppolo experience in Week 16 with the quarterback throwing for 300+ yards and averaging 8.7 YPA against the Titans. But it was his two ugly, back-breaking interceptions — one at the goal line and one deep in his own territory — that led to their loss and reminded the 49ers why they drafted Trey Lance with the third overall pick. Jimmy G is looking doubtful for this weekend because of a throwing thumb sprain. Lance had 192 scoreless passing yards in his lone start against the Cardinals in Week 5 but he added 16/89 rushing. The Texans are giving up the 15th-fewest FPG (18.0) to QBs this season.
San Francisco’s big three receivers will lose some juice if Lance is the starter this week. Deebo Samuel managed just 3/58 receiving on nine targets with a 13-yard rushing TD in Lance’s first start against the Cardinals. He’s recently started to get involved as a receiver again after exploding for 9/159 receiving last week. Deebo has still seen 5+ carries and 29+ rushing yards in six straight games, and the rushing floor could be needed this week if Lance plays. The Texans are giving up a generous 13.4 YPR to WRs this season.
George Kittle wasn’t part of the passing attack last week, seeing just three targets for 2/21 receiving against the Titans. Kittle has 13+ FP in six of his last eight games and fewer than five FP in each of his other two contests in that span. Kittle missed Lance’s only start in Week 5 as he was on the injured reserve at the time. The Texans are giving up the eighth-most FPG (14.6) to TEs this season, but they’ve allowed just one TD to TEs since Week 7.
Brandon Aiyuk had just 2/32 receiving on four targets in Lance’s first start this season. He’s coming off a 4/40/1 receiving performance against the Titans, which gives him 12+ FP in four of his last six games. Josh Palmer managed 5/43/1 receiving in this matchup last week.
Elijah Mitchell will look to return this week after sitting out the last three games with a knee injury and a concussion, and he’ll get a prime spot against the Texans to erupt one last time in the fantasy finals. Mitchel never practiced before their TNF contest but GM John Lynch hinted last week that Mitchell was close to playing again. Jeff Wilson hasn’t been bad as the team’s lead back over the last three weeks, but he hasn’t provided the same pop with 48/211/2 rushing while averaging 4.4 YPC. Mitchell posted 45.2 FP in his last two full games in Weeks 12-13 and he has five different performances with 16+ FP in nine appearances this season. The Texans have revived the likes of Rashaad Penny (16/137/2 rushing), James Robinson (18/75/1), and Justin Jackson (19/166/2 scrimmage) in recent weeks.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 25.7 (11th)
Plays per game: 61.6 (22nd)
Pass: 59.1% (21st) | Run: 40.9% (12th)
Pace: 29.7 (31st)
Plays per game: 61.5 (23rd)
Pass: 54.0% (28th) | Run: 46.0% (5th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
With Trey Lance under center, we’re going to see the 49ers go with a very run-heavy plan here. My guess is we’ll see a near carbon copy of their Week 5 gameplan where HC Kyle Shanahan went 56% run-heavy on early-downs. Lance figures to be a huge part of the ground attack, too – 11 of his 16 carries were designed plays in his lone start.
Meanwhile, the Texans are fresh off putting 30 points on the Jaguars and 41 on the Chargers. The markets aren’t buying a resurgence, though. The Texans implied team total is 15.75 points, fourth-lowest on the slate. Overall, this is the fourth-worst game on the slate from a pace / plays perspective and could skew even lower with the 49ers leaning more heavily than normal on the run game.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
It’s unwise to evaluate matchups fo Cooks from a mindset that he’s a slot receiver. If we did view him from that lens, he would have a very difficult matchup on deck from K'Waun Williams. Easily the top cover corner for the 49ers that has maintained his health, Williams is limiting his coverage to 0.88 YPCS (eighth-fewest), 0.20 FP/CS (sixth-fewest), 0.05 AY/CS (seventh-fewest), and an 85.1 TPR (13th-lowest). However, Cooks has devoted just as much of his time to running routes from left and from the right sidelines. That’s a full 66% of his workload where, based on overwhelming statistical evidence, Williams will not travel from his interior roots. And every one of the 66 percentage points will draw the coverage of either Ambry Thomas or Josh Norman. That is very good news for Cooks.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
I don’t know how much I trust Rex Burkhead even after last week’s blowup against the Chargers, given the Niners have a much better run defense and David Johnson might be back from the COVID list. Burkhead is more of a FLEX play for me.
I’m much more optimistic on WR Brandin Cooks, who is off the COVID list.
Here’s Scott Barrett from Start/Sit on Cooks:
“I can’t ever seem to get Cooks right. He flopped in four straight pillow-soft matchups (Weeks 9-13), and then smashed against Seattle (Week 14).
Seattle looked like a brutal on-paper matchup as they ranked top-4 in FPG allowed to outside WRs, but bottom-4 against slot WRs. Cooks had run just 30% of his routes from the slot at that point, but that jumped to 62% against the Seahawks. And that, in turn, flipped this from a bottom-4 to a top-4 matchup. He took advantage, scoring 21.1 DK fantasy points (most since Week 3), with 83% of his receiving yards coming from the slot.
Week 15 was also tricky. If we knew he would be moved to the slot, it’d be a top matchup, as the Jaguars rank 11th-worst against slot WRs. If not, it would be fairly tough (well below average), as he’d be drawing shadow coverage from CB Shaquill Griffin on the outside. But Houston again (smartly) moved Cooks around the formation to take advantage of more favorable matchups. And it worked again; he scored 32.2 DK fantasy points. Only 59% of his routes came from the outside, and 72% of his total receiving yards came from the slot.
This decision to move Cooks around the formation has definitely helped to bolster his numbers and helped to make him more matchup-immune. But Cooks is also benefiting from Davis Mills’ return. Cooks has been targeted on 25.7% of his routes with Mills under center, as opposed to just 19.5% with Tyrod Taylor under center. And Cooks averages 16.0 FPG (~WR12) and 15.8 XFP/G in Mills’ full games started and finished, as opposed to just 11.7 FPG (~WR40) and 12.8 XFP/G with Taylor.
After sitting out Week 16 (COVID), Cooks returns to get a favorable matchup no matter where Houston decides to line him up. San Francisco ranks 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (+3.0) and 2nd-worst over their last five games (+6.7). The 49ers rank 10th-worst by FPG allowed to slot WRs (14.4), and 6th-worst by fantasy points allowed per target (1.98). And, over the last 8 weeks, the 49ers rank 2nd-worst in FPG allowed to outside WRs (23.5), starting backups on the perimeter after losing starters Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley.
We like Cooks this week as a high-end WR2.”
Many — including us — called QB Trey Lance a potential league-winning draft pick this summer given the offense he’s in and his outrageous natural talent. Well… on a macro level, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way, with Jimmy Garoppolo holding down the starting job with inconsistent but overall solid play all season.
On a micro level, well…
Sources: #49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a chipped bone and torn ligament in his right thumb. His status is in doubt for this weekend, but he’s going to try to gut it out, somehow. He’ll be reevaluated on Wednesday.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 27, 2021
Yes, the 49ers are saying Jimmy has a chance to play this week, but keep in mind Kyle Shanahan lies about this crap all the time.
For those putting stock into anything out of SF: a short story— Edwin Porras, DPT (@FBInjuryDoc) December 29, 2021
If Jimmy G legitimately has a grade III sprain of the UCL in his throwing thumb as @Eric_Branch reported, there’s a slim chance he plays. An even slimmer chance he plays well. I could be wrong but it’s hard seeing it pic.twitter.com/v7U5n8exEq
Indeed, Lance could be a league-winner for you… if you need a QB this week and are in a championship matchup. Here’s Jake Tribbey from Streamers with more:
“Lance has played more than 50% of the snaps in just two games this season, but in those games, he’s averaged 18.0 FPG. Should Jimmy G be unavailable for Week 17, then Lance would need to be considered a mid- to high-end QB2 ahead of the 49ers matchup with Houston.
Similar to some of the QBs already discussed, Lance offers an outstanding rushing floor, averaging 6.5 rushing FPG on the back of 11.5 carries per game. Even among RBs, 11.5 rushing attempts per game would be more than Miles Sanders, Jamaal Williams, Chase Edmonds, and Devonta Freeman have averaged this season. So Lance will get no shortage of chances to do damage with his legs if he gets the start, especially given the 49ers are 12.0-point favorites, setting up an obviously run-heavy gamescript for SF.
The matchup is somewhat favorable overall, as Houston has allowed the 11th-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing QBs this season (+0.9).”
Here’s more, from Scott Barrett in Start/Sit:
“And what have we seen from Lance thus far? Through six quarters of play, Lance is averaging 232.7 passing yards, 15.3 rushing attempts, 86.7 rushing yards, and 22.6 fantasy points per four quarters. That’s 4.2 more carries and 22.8 more rushing YPG than Lamar Jackson. And 22.6 FPG would rank behind only Josh Allen and Justin Herbert.
Lance gets a perfectly neutral on-paper matchup against the Texans. But the 49ers also have a 28.5-point implied total (4th-most) and a 12.5-point spread in their favor, implying terrific field position and plenty of opportunities for vultured rushing touchdowns.”
If Lance plays, that raises the potential for this run game and the returning Elijah Mitchell, but like Scott said, Lance could be the preferred goal-line option. It also lowers the floor for the pass-catching options — Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. You can’t sit Deebo and Kittle no matter what, but Aiyuk will certainly be in lineup decisions as a WR3.