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NFL Preseason Preview - San Francisco (1-0) at Houston (1-0)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans produced two of the best turnarounds in 2011, and both teams head into their showdown at Reliant Stadium off very encouraging starts to this year's preseason as well.
The 49ers orchestrated one of the best one-year improvements in recent memory last season, going from a lackluster six-win total in 2010 to a splendid 13-3 record before ultimately reaching the NFC Championship Game under the leadership of then-rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh. The stout defense that helped propel San Francisco within an eyelash of reaching the Super Bowl was on display once again in the club's 2012 opener, with the unit limiting Minnesota to 208 total yards and 12 first downs in a 17-6 victory at Candlestick Park.
San Francisco had its powerful running game in midseason form as well against the Vikings, despite leading rusher Frank Gore inactive for the contest. The Niners piled up 260 yards on the ground, highlighted by a 78-yard dash to paydirt by backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second quarter.
Kaepernick, San Francisco's second-round selection in the 2011 draft, finished with 92 rushing yards on just three attempts while also securing his hold on the No. 2 signal-caller's job. The athletic 24-year-old, who's competing with Scott Tolzien and free-agent addition Josh Johnson to be the next in line behind Alex Smith, added 40 yards on 5-of-9 passing for the evening.
Tolzien served as the third quarterback in last week's win and completed 10- of-13 throws for 84 yards and an interception, with Harbaugh stating that Johnson will assume that role for Saturday's tilt.
The 49ers did come out of the game with a couple of notable injuries, however. Pass-rushing terror Aldon Smith suffered a bruised hip in the first quarter and won't play this week as a result, while tight end Delanie Walker aggravated an existing knee problem that could keep him out the remainder of the preseason.
Gore was one of four San Francisco regulars rested in the opener, along with All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith, wide receiver Mario Manningham and kicker David Akers. All are expected to be back for this game.
Randy Moss was in uniform for the 49ers in the veteran wide receiver's first outing since returning from a one-year absence from football, but played only four snaps and did not have a pass thrown his way.
A Houston defense that had a hand in the Texans' 2011 breakthrough that culminated in the franchise's first-ever AFC South title and playoff appearance also was on top of its game out of the gates. Houston racked up eight sacks and yielded a mere 137 total yards in last weekend's 26-13 triumph at Carolina, with rookie first-round pick Whitney Mercilus and inside linebacker Tim Dobbins leading the charge with 1 1/2 sacks apiece.
The Texans dominated on that side of the ball even with two key members, inside linebacker Brian Cushing (illness) and end J.J. Watt (elbow), unable to participate. Cushing is probable for this week's test, but Watt won't play at all during the preseason and the line will also be without nose tackle Shaun Cody, who injured his back against the Panthers.
Houston's offense gets one of its playmakers back as well, with No. 1 receiver Andre Johnson cleared for duty after being held out of the Carolina game with a mild groin strain. The five-time Pro Bowler appeared in just seven regular- season games last season due to hamstring problems.
Quarterback Matt Schaub, coming off an injury-shortened season of his own, saw his first action since last November but wasn't overly sharp, hitting on just 3-of-6 attempts for 52 yards and throwing an interception. The Texans did get a boost from their special teams, however, with speedster Trindon Holliday taking back a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Houston registered a 30-7 rout in its only previous preseason encounter with the 49ers, which took place in San Francisco last summer.
08/16 15:14:33 ET