Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Raiders vs. 49ers: 5 storylines to watch for San Francisco in Week 9

Nov 1, 2018 at 9:32 AM0


The San Francisco 49ers host the Oakland Raiders in Week 9 on Thursday Night Football, and this "epic" battle between two one-win teams still features some notable storylines at the halfway point of the 2018 season.


When the NFL schedule makers were drawing up the 2018 NFL calendar, they likely thought both the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders would be trending upwards and vying for playoff berths by the time of their Week 9 prime-time bout on Thursday Night Football kicked off.

Well, that's not going to happen.

Both teams have managed just one win this season. But as Niners Nation's Akash Anavarathan pointed out, that's the only similarity between these two teams. The Niners, whose 2018 campaign was completely derailed by injuries to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon, now find themselves reevaluating the pieces necessary to focus on getting back on track in 2019.

Oakland, meanwhile, is going through the initial tear-down phases under head coach Jon Gruden in preparation for its eventual move to Las Vegas.

While the loser of this contest is certainly going to improve positioning in the 2019 NFL Draft, there are more than a few reasons each team would want to win this contest. The obvious, no team wants to be considered the league's "worst," and that's essentially what's at stake in the game. But there are other things too, especially from the 49ers' perspective. So let's look there and see what storylines from San Francisco's vantage point prompt attention.

Quarterback Play


Things could get very interesting for the Niners under center in Week 9, as quarterback C.J. Beathard might not wind up playing on the short week. He suffered a wrist injury during the team's 18-15 Week 8 loss to the Arizona Cardinals and is officially listed as questionable.

And according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, it's truly a 50-50 chance whether or not he plays:


Should Beathard not be able to go, the 49ers would be forced to turn to second-year pro Nick Mullens, who has never taken a regular-season snap nor started an NFL game. Even in the preseason.

Beathard's struggles this season have prompted numerous 49ers fans to wish for Mullens under center. Fine. The most popular player on a bad team is usually the backup quarterback. But it's important to point out the vast majority of opposing players Mullens has faced in his brief career were third- and fourth-string contributors -- many of which are no longer on NFL rosters at this point.

Matt Breida Is Healthy... and That's a Good Thing


Even if Beathard winds up playing, the Niners would be wise to feature a heavy dose of the ground game Thursday night. No. 1 running back Matt Breida has been banged up most of the year, and an ankle injury has been the latest hindrance. The good news, though, is Breida didn't reaggravate the injury in Arizona. All signs look to him being able to play.

Breida might no longer be leading the league in rushing or average yards per carry. But San Francisco still boasts the league's sixth best ground game, which figures to be a key asset against a Raiders defense allowing 4.9 yards per carry -- 28th best in the NFL.

Stopping the Raiders Pass Attack


One of the reasons the running game is so crucial for the 49ers is the fact that the Raiders still have a potent pass offense. Even with the recent trading of wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland quarterback Derek Carr and Co. still boast the 11th best passing attack. Finding end-zone pay dirt has been difficult, yes. But against a Niners suspect defense, one can see how this is still a legitimate threat.

Tight end Jared Cook and running back Jalen Richard have been two of Carr's favorite targets on the season. That means San Francisco's linebackers and safeties will have to be on their game in coverage.

Why is this worrisome? Well, the 49ers lost starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt to a shoulder injury last week. His backup, Antone Exum, also has been ruled out for this game with a concussion. Third-string safety Tyvis Powell, who allowed both the Cardinals' fourth-quarter touchdowns in Week 8, will likely get the start Thursday night.

That doesn't bode well for San Francisco's pass defense.

No Raiders Pass Rush?


If you thought the 49ers pass rush was bad, just consider Oakland's for a moment. While the Niners rank 25th with just 16 sacks, the Raiders are dead last with just seven. True, Oakland has played one fewer game. But if you add up the splits (not hard to do -- seven sacks over seven games), San Francisco has doubled the output in this specific category.

Oh, how things would be different if Oakland still had EDGE Khalil Mack.

But it doesn't, meaning the 49ers won't have to worry so much about trying to keep whichever quarterback starts clean and upright.

The Niners allowed four sacks of Beathard in Arizona. Three of those were the direct result of him holding onto the ball for too long. But even if that's a factor in Week 9, not having to deal with an even halfway-decent pass-rusher bodes well for San Francisco's offense.

Bay Area Bragging Rights and NFL Draft Positioning


The loser of this contest will have one thing to be modestly happy about -- better positioning in the 2019 draft. Head-to-head matchups don't matter, so that's not a determining factor here. What is, however, is a team's strength of schedule as a tiebreaker. The 49ers' two losses to the two-win Cardinals help San Francisco here. And assuming the Niners lose, doing so against what would be a two-win Raiders squad after Week 9 certainly increases the 49ers' chances to land that No. 1 overall pick this April.

Same way for Oakland if San Francisco wins.

All that's chatter for early spring, however. What's arguably more important for the Niners and Raiders in this Bay Area finale is momentum and a would-be win's impact in the locker room.

The Niners' 2018 campaign has been demoralizing, yes. And while head coach Kyle Shanahan says the team's locker room is fine despite the losing streak, he also admitted it's difficult to keep his players moving forward.

A win would solve that issue in a big way. Especially considering San Francisco is supposed to be trending upward, while Oakland is in tear-down mode.

The 49ers and Raiders kick off on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8:20 p.m. ET from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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