Raiders, 49ers square off on Thursday night in "The Battle of the Bay"
The Oakland Raiders will make the short 27-mile trek to face the San Francisco 49ers to kick off Week 9 of the 2018 NFL season on “Thursday Night Football.” It marks the 14th and most likely final installment of the “The Battle of the Bay” rivalry. Prior to the start of the season, this was a game that every Bay area football fan had circled. It had all the makings of a marquee matchup between two neighboring rivals destined for big turnarounds in 2018. Fast forward to present day, and “The Battle of the Bay” has lost much of its preseason luster.
Oakland’s 2018 season took an immediate turn for the worse following the trade of elite linebacker Khalil Mack. The Raiders have been on a downward spiral since, capped off by the recent trade of star wide receiver Amari Cooper and numerous reports of a turbulent locker room. As a result, the Raiders currently reside in last place in the AFC West with a record of 1-6. And Jon Gruden’s return to the Oakland sideline has been anything but triumphant. The Raiders’ latest debacle came in the form of an epic fourth quarter collapse in last Sunday’s 42-28 home loss to the Colts. They will now make the short trip to Levi’s Stadium in search of their first road victory of the season against the equally snake-bitten 49ers.
Even after the loss of running back Jerick McKinnon in the preseason, San Francisco could still rest its hopes for a successful 2018 season on the arm of Jimmy Garoppolo. However, Garoppolo also went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. And the injury bug hasn’t stopped biting the 49ers since. They fell to 1-7 on the season after blowing a 12-point lead in a heartbreaking 18-15 road loss to Arizona on Sunday. It marked the second loss of the season to a very bad Cardinals team, leaving the 49ers all alone in last place in the NFC West. Kyle Shanahan’s Niners will now limp into Week 9 looking to bounce back against their rivals from the other side of the Bay.
The Raiders lead the all-time series against the 49ers by a slim 7-6 margin.
Oakland at San Francisco
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: 49ers -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Derek Carr and the Oakland passing game
There was plenty of speculation that franchise quarterback Derek Carr might be the next high-profile Raider to go up on the trading block. But prior to last Sunday’s matchup against the Colts, Jon Gruden and the powers that be in the Raiders' organization made it clear that Carr would be their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. That reassurance may have been the catalyst for the three-time Pro Bowler’s best performance of the season.
Carr completed a season-high 75 percent of his pass attempts against the Colts for 244 yards and added four touchdowns (one rushing). Tight end and leading receiver Jared Cook also showed signs of life for the first time in weeks with 74 receiving yards and a touchdown. And the Oakland offensive line did not allow a sack for the first time all season. These were all promising developments for a struggling passing game in its first contest without Amari Cooper. That said, it was somewhat discouraging that Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant failed to step up and contribute in any way. That will need to change for this passing attack to maximize its potential moving forward.
Regardless, Carr and company will look to build off Sunday’s momentum and keep things rolling in a favorable matchup against San Francisco’s suspect pass defense on Thursday night. The Niners currently rank 21st in the NFL against the pass, allowing 262.5 yards per game. They also have allowed the second-most passing touchdowns (18) in the league and have just two interceptions to their credit. Struggling Cardinals rookie Josh Rosen threw for a season-high 252 yards and two touchdowns against the shorthanded 49ers this past Sunday.
2. Can C.J. Beathard rebound on a short week?
In his first three starts, Beathard completed 64 percent of his passes, while averaging 297 passing yards and two touchdowns per game. In his last two starts, his completion percentage has dropped to 53 percent, he’s averaging 117 fewer passing yards, and his touchdown production has been cut in half. Beathard did well on Sunday to finally avoid the costly turnovers that have plagued him all season, but his decline in every other aspect is a legitimate concern.
To make matters worse, Beathard popped up on San Francisco’s injury report on Monday with an apparent wrist injury. It’s still unclear if he is in jeopardy of missing Thursday night’s game, but an injury will not help his chances to turn things around, even in a favorable matchup against the Raiders.
Oakland ranks 22nd in the NFL against the pass (262.7 yards per game) and has allowed 16 passing touchdowns in seven games. Five of those touchdowns have been surrendered to opposing tight ends, including three this past Sunday to Colts tight ends. That bodes well for 49ers tight end and leading receiver George Kittle. But it may be all for naught if Beathard can’t bounce back on a short week of rest.
3. The run game
San Francisco’s passing game is not the only aspect of the offense showing a steady decline. The Niners were only able to muster 107 rushing yards against the Cardinals’ leaky run defense on Sunday. And in the span of two weeks, the 49ers have gone from having the second-ranked rushing attack in the NFL to falling to sixth. Leading rusher Matt Breida continues to try to play through a lingering ankle injury that is clearly having a negative impact on the San Francisco ground game. Backup Raheem Mostert had been picking up some of the slack, but he is now battling an ankle injury of his own. And Alfred Morris has yet to prove that he can carry the load with any degree of success.
The silver lining is that the 49ers will once again be paired against a porous run defense in Week 9. Oakland ranks dead last in the NFL against the run, allowing 144.7 rushing yards per game, and the Raiders have yielded 377 rushing yards and two touchdowns over their last two contests alone. The bad news is that the San Francisco backfield may once again be too banged up to exploit this favorable matchup coming off the short week.
The outlook for the Raiders’ run game is still somewhat cloudy since Doug Martin has taken over for the injured Marshawn Lynch (groin). Martin looked good at times on Sunday, rushing for a respectable 72 yards on just 13 carries. However, his fourth-quarter fumble completely erased any chance of a Raiders comeback against the Colts. He will attempt to make amends against the 49ers. But Martin could have his work cut out for him against a San Francisco run defense that ranks 13th in the NFL (102.9 ypg) and continues to hold up fairly well despite a myriad of injuries.
At this point in the season, both of these teams stand to gain more by losing than winning. That makes it hard to trust that either one of these teams will put its best foot forward on Thursday night. But it is a rivalry matchup, and bragging rights will be on the line, so they get the benefit of the doubt. And even if an anemic Raiders defense has given up on the season, Derek Carr has given no indication that he is ready to roll over and play dead. The 49ers, on the other hand, are still two weeks away from a much-needed bye and find themselves more beat up than ever heading into a short week. Even with their best effort, the Niners may not be capable of beating anyone at this point.
Prediction: Raiders 27, 49ers 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.