It’s the dueling chokers.
The 49ers and the Raiders. They will face off Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium to determine which team will choke the least.
Both teams typically play bravely for three quarters, then lose heart. Each has blown three fourth-quarter leads already this season. The Raiders blew a seven-point fourth-quarter lead to the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, while the 49ers blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead to the Arizona Cardinals.
Even if the 49ers have a 10-point lead late Thursday night, they should feel nervous, because they’re chokers. If they trail by 10 points late in the game, they should feel optimistic, because the Raiders are chokers, too.
The team less mentally fragile will win.
Here’s how the 49ers can increase their odds of victory.
1. Take away Derek Carr’s short passes.
Carr has completed a gargantuan 73.9 percent of his passes the past three games. And he has two weapons the 49ers can’t match up with — wide receiver Martavis Bryant and tight end Jared Cook. Carr could throw for 400 yards and three touchdowns if the 49ers aren’t smart.
But, they can shut him down if they take away his dinks and dunks. Carr mostly throws short passes near the line of scrimmage. Head coach Jon Gruden has an allergic reaction to the long pass.
The 49ers should play zone coverage. It will allow defenders to keep their eyes on Carr and react quickly to his short throws. If they play man coverage, they’ll have to turn their backs to Carr and chase receivers downfield. Then, he can throw a two-yard pass to a running back and, if one defender misses a tackle, no one else will be within 20 yards of the running back, and a two-yard throw will become a 20-yard gain.
Zone coverage will force Carr to hold the ball in the pocket. Then, the 49ers can sack him
2. Move DeForest Buckner to defensive end.
The Raiders have two weak links on their offense: Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller, and rookie right tackle Brandon Parker.
The 49ers can’t let those rookies off the hook. Can’t let them block Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair the whole game. Those are usual defensive ends in the 49ers nickel defense, and they’re not good enough. The 49ers need to change their scheme.
They need to move DeForest Buckner from defensive tackle to defensive end in the nickel defense against the Raiders.
If the 49ers don’t move him, Buckner should walk right over to Kyle Shanahan on the sideline during the game and say: “I want to face Miller, and I want to face Parker. Make it freaking happen, Coach.”
Buckner is the 49ers best pass rusher. Let him take the rookies to school.
3. Feature tight end George Kittle in the pass game.
The Raiders last Sunday gave up 133 receiving yards and three touchdown catches combined to the Colts three tight ends — Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox.
The Raiders struggle covering tight ends in general. Their strong safety, Karl Joseph, is little. Only 5-foot-9. Against the 49ers, he will cover tight end George Kittle, who’s 6-4. Seven inches taller than Joseph.