Have you heard about the Thursday night showdown at Levi’s Stadium? It’s the Battle of the Bay (exclamation point optional), though in this case it’s less Trafalgar, and more “two elderly kayakers vainly trying to smack one another with their paddles.”
Sorry, folks, but the Raiders and the 49ers just aren’t very good. In fact, we can reasonably say they’re very, very bad. The Raiders are 1-6. The 49ers are 1-7. According to numbers cruncher Josh Dubow of the Associated Press, that combined record of 2-13 will be the worst ever among NFL teams in a primetime game on Nov. 1 or later. “Thursday Night Football” ratings are expected to fall between “Alaskan Bush People” and “Crikey! It’s the Irwins” during that time slot.
“I wish the game had two 8-1 or 7-1 teams playing in it,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Monday at team headquarters. “Hopefully someday soon you’ll see a game like that.”
Thursday will not be that day. Gruden II vs. Jimmy G was supposed to be a slugfest. Instead, it’s a festival of slugs.
But these are the only two NFL teams we have around here, so we might as well handicap their first meeting since 2014. Let’s look at the data and figure out who will wake up Friday as a two-win team.
Let’s start with the obvious, if you’re C.J. Beathard’s spleen. The 49ers’ offensive line, expected to be a good deal better than it was in 2017, looks spookily similar. Beathard, San Francisco’s harried young quarterback, has been sacked 18 times over five games, and 11 times in the past two weeks. He is a quarterback in the same way that side of beef in “Rocky” was a meal. All told, 49ers QBs have been dumped 31 times this year, tied for second most in the NFL.
So Beathard’s protection must be a big advantage for the Raiders, right? Well, hold on. Because if there is any team incapable of taking advantage of the leaky SF offensive line, it’s Gruden’s.
The Raiders have just seven sacks, worst in the league, in seven games. My cousin, an advanced mathematician, tells me that averages out to one per game. This might be the appropriate place to interject that the Raiders traded one of the best pass rushers in the league, Khalil Mack, leaving a defensive line that is a mix of creaky oldies and gullible rookies. Oakland’s is the only NFL defensive line that skips a generation.
OK, then, no advantage there. How about when the Raiders drop back to pass?
This should be a positive for the 49ers, because the Oakland receiving corps is, shall we say, tame. It looked pretty good on paper before the season started. But there’s a hole in the paper now, with wide receiver Amari Cooper traded to Dallas last week. Tight end Jared Cook is a legitimate threat, but the other receivers — Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Brandon LaFell and Seth Roberts — haven’t been open much since the season began.
The 49ers defensive backs should be able to shut these guys down. Except, have you seen the 49ers defensive backs? Cornerback Richard Sherman has turned back the clock and, for the most part, has played really well in 2018. But the rest of the SF secondary resembles a boulevard lined with those skinny inflatable figures that frantically bend in every direction and wave their arms. This unit wasn’t very good when it was healthy, and it’s worse lately after a wave of injuries.