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Coming off their second win of the season, the San Francisco 49ers look to keep the positive momentum as they take on the Houston Texans in week 14. Both teams have experienced several ups and downs this season. Injuries have taken their toll at key positions but these two proud teams are looking to end the season on a positive note. While several factors can play a part in deciding the game, here are three things that the 49ers can do to close their third win of the season.

Pressure Tom Savage

This is a bit of a two-fold key to victory, getting consistent pressure and sacks on Tom Savage will not only help the 49ers defense get off the field but also limit DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans have been forced to shuffle their starting left tackle throughout the season; the lack of consistency should offer opportunity for the 49ers defensive line to get after Savage.

The additional ripple effect of pressuring the quarterback will reduce Hopkins’ opportunities to make highlight reel catches all over the field. It feels like every week he flashes his elite ability with sideline catches. Giving him less chances to extend drives on third downs takes more than just double or press coverage. Receivers like Hopkins don’t need to be “open” in the conventional sense in order to get the ball. With his outstanding body control and leaping ability, he is a game breaker regardless of who is throwing him the ball.

The offense has taken a noticeable and understandable dip in points per game since the unfortunate injury to Deshaun Watson. Limiting time of possession for an offense that is struggling to score is crucial. Pressure, sacks, and ideally turnovers will keep the Texans offense off the field and give the San Francisco defense a chance to stay fresh over the course of the game.

Redzone Renovation

While the San Francisco offense was able to cash in on points during their longer drives last week, their redzone execution still left plenty to be desired. Despite the lengthy drives, the offense wasn’t able to punch in for a touchdown on any of their drives last week. Relying entirely on the kicking game is a recipe for disaster, even if Houston’s points per game have dipped recently it will be paramount to convert some of those redzone trips into touchdowns.

Dropped passed and penalties proved to be drive killers against Chicago last week. If those self inflicted wounds can be reduced, it’ll allow Kyle Shanahan to continue opening up the playbook for Jimmy Garoppolo. Coming off his impressive debut, the lack of touchdowns was the outstanding negative on Garoppolo’s day against the Chicago Bears.

Third downs were a huge part of that win last week, remaining efficient on those downs will once again be crucial to San Francisco’s success. The Texans defense should provide a greater challenge on that though, they rank in the top six in terms of third down conversions allowed. Give the reduced amount of opportunities, it’ll be even more important to cash in on those redzone trips for San Francisco.

Limit Lamar Miller

Similar to the first key to this game, this one has a clear ripple effect on the passing game. Keeping the rushing attack of Houston under control will effectively reduce the amount of play action that they can attempt. The name of the game is not letting Hopkins get deep down the field and bottling up Lamar Miller goes hand in hand with that.

After an atrocious year against the run in 2016, the San Francisco defense has improved this season. At this point last year the team had allowed nine different running backs to surpass 100 yards, this year that number has dropped to three. Such improvements are great to see after the heavy investment in the defense over the past three drafts. Still, the team ranks near the bottom in rushing first downs allowed so there is room for improvement.

The remainder of this season will continue to be an audition for the roster. As the team closes out 2017, they will continue to evaluate their rookies as well as impending free agents. Adding another win on the season will prove to the team that they are heading in the right direction and provide additional momentum heading into the final month of the season.

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