The 49ers linebackers will be tested on Sunday night against the Texans when they face tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. Vic Fangio emphasized how balanced their offense has become with good running backs, tight ends and receivers who can do it all.
"They have good tight ends who are good for receiving," Fangio said. "They throw the ball deep, short and intermediate with wide receivers and tight ends. It's a test on play action against all of our guys. They also have a good drop back passing game."
It will be important for the 49ers to defend the tight ends, which represents a quarter of the Texans' passing game. Both Graham (6-3, 241 pounds) and veteran Daniels (6-3, 250 pounds) have been interchangeable for both blocking and as receivers.
Michael Wilhoite was impressed with both players when he saw the film. He said each tight end has the speed of being a wide receiver despite having a bigger frame.
"Every week it seems like we're preparing for a really athletic tight end," Wilhoite said. "It presents us a challenge, but that's part of football. They're almost like receivers with blocking capabilities."
The Texans offense will depend on their tight ends for both the running game and passing game on Sunday. Fangio said it is common for them to play two running backs and use two tight end formations with power running, but can throw the ball using quarterback Matt Schaub if needed.
Graham is a better blocking tight end and could be seen dropping back in pass protection. Daniels has been with the team since 2006 being a consistent target for Schaub. It will be key for the linebackers to react one way or another depending on what the tight ends do.
Wilhoite is hoping the 49ers don't get caught in a mismatch with a slower linebacker in coverage on either tight end. He has been preparing for every opponent each week as if he is starting, even though it appears that Patrick Willis will be returning to the lineup this Sunday.
"Since the beginning of time, it has been a mismatch of having a linebacker on a wide receiver," Wilhoite said. "We have to prepare for [their tight ends] and work on it. We have to adjust and be ready. I try to prepare for that every week, if I wasn't prepared to play on defense, you never know what can happen."