Texans-49ers matchup No. 2: Tramaine brock vs. Andre Johnson
Tramaine Brock is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Programming note: Not near a TV Sunday night? Watch the 49ers take on the Texans LIVE online on CSNBayArea.com with NBC Sports' Live Extra
Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Texans matchups to watch Sunday, 5:30 p.m., at Candlestick Park
[MATCHUP NO. 1: Anquan Boldin vs. Johnathan Joseph]
49ers CB Tramaine Brock vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson
Tale of the tape
Brock (26): 5 foot 10, 197 pounds, fourth season, Belhaven
Johnson (80): 6 foot 3, 230 pounds, 11th season, Miami (Fla.)
Tramaine Brock was back in the role he earned at the start of the 2011 season.
Brock earned the job as the No. 3 cornerback to open the Jim Harbaugh era. But after recording interceptions in the first two games, he was forced out of action due to a hand injury. Chris Culliver took over as the 49ers' No. 3 corner and never allowed Brock an opportunity to regain his old job.
Coincidentally, a couple of injuries enabled Brock to get back on the playing field last week against the St. Louis Rams. Culliver was lost during training camp with a season-ending knee injury. And veteran Nnamdi Asomugha was out with a knee injury.
With Asomugha still not 100 percent, the 49ers will turn to Brock to play all the snaps at left cornerback when the 49ers go with their nickel defense. And that means he will find himself in coverage against Houston Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson for a good portion of the important downs in Sunday's game.
“I like the matchup,” 49ers rookie safety Eric Reid said. “Tramaine is a physical corner, and he’s not going to back down, by any means. We’re going to depend on him to do his job.”
Brock was exceptional last week against the St. Louis Rams. He tackled well and provided the 49ers with good coverage. He batted away a deep Sam Bradford pass intended for receiver Brian Quick, enabling Donte Whitner to make the interception in the end zone.
“He probably had the biggest play of the game in breaking up that pass that Donte intercepted in the end zone,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “That was a 3rd-and-1, deep into the second quarter. They were in field-goal range and the score was only 7-3 at the time. So that was a very critical play at that time and he made that. And he made some other good plays.”
Brock, who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, has a chance to significantly impact his future. If he performs well, the 49ers might decide to stick with him in the all-important No. 3 cornerback role over Asomugha for the remainder of the season.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub can be expected to favor the Johnson vs. Brock matchup. After all, Johnson is well on his way to a seventh season with more than 1,000 yards receiving. In four games, Johnson has 34 receptions for 368 yards. Fangio describes Johnson as the Texans' future first Hall-of-Fame selection.
The 49ers will not be able to focus all of their attention on Johnson, either. The Texans added a threat on the other side, too, with rookie DeAndre Hopkins, who has 20 catches for 270 yards. Hopkins was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. Houston also likes to play two tight ends, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, who are active as receivers. And they remain balanced with running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
“These guys are really good and they’re a tough assignment because they’re balanced,” Fangio said. “And they’ll stay balanced throughout the game as long as they can.”