Oakland Raiders (2-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (0-5)
Bill Walsh Field at Candlestick Park
Kickoff: 1:05 PM (PST)
Jason Campbell will start at quarterback as Bruce Gradkowski has not practiced because of an injured right shoulder. There is really no advantage in which Raiders QB is under center against the 49ers. Campbell had his starting job taken away but he can still throw the ball deep which is something the 49ers defense is weak against. The 49ers defensive line will need to step up the pressure and not give Campbell the time to look for the deep pass.
Raiders guard Robert Gallery will start for the first time since the season opener. Gallery has been out with a hamstring injury. This may help or hurt the 49ers. Help, because it will be Gallery’s first time on the field since week one and he may not be 100%. Hurt, because Gallery’s replacement Daniel Loper has done a good job filling in at guard so Gallery knows he will need to have a good game to remain the starter. The Raiders running game has been an important part of their offense and did not let up after Gallery went down with an injury.
Speaking of the run game, running back Darren McFadden who missed last week’s win against the Chargers because of a hamstring injury will most likely play this Sunday. The Raiders employ a two-headed running attack with McFadden and Michael Bush. Bush can do it on his own as he rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers but having both getting carries in the back field will be challenge for the 49ers D.
Note: The Raiders have had 12 players go down with a hamstring injury.
Alex Smith’s consistency:
The matchup against the Raiders will be Alex Smith’s biggest game of his career. If he does not play well his days as the 49ers starting QB are over. Smith will need to play well all game and not just in the first and fourth quarters. Nothing will save Smith from being pulled if he goes three-and-out on multiple drives or throws interceptions in Raiders territory that stall scoring drives. Smith is trying to prove he is not the next number one draft pick bust at quarterback. Problem is his backup is David Carr who is also trying to show that he is not the next number one draft pick bust at quarterback.
Mike Johnson’s play calling:
We all know about Mike Singletary’s run mandate he has been enforcing. If you though that would change with the firing of Jimmy Raye you will need to look at last week’s game against the Eagles when offensive coordinator Mike Johnson called a run play on eight first downs. What was that thing about Raye’s offense being predictable… I hope Singletary relents with his run mandate. I am not calling for an all-out passing offensive but Johnson knows the only way the offense can change and not be predictable is to open up the offense on all downs and to involve all the play makers. Johnson did this somewhat last week as Smith threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. The problem was Smith’s INT’s.
The 49ers offense needs to stay out of third and long situations. Third and short makes Smith more comfortable and gives Johnson more options for calling plays.
Good offensive players usually get forgotten about when they are on the Raiders. Tight end Zach Miller is one of those players and is the most underrated player on the Raiders roster. Miller has great hands and his speed presents mismatches much the same way as Vernon Davis does with defenses. Safety Dashon Goldson will be the one covering Millers most of the game and will have his hands full all day. Miller seems to thrive more with Gradkowski under center than with Campbell in. Either way Miller is always a threat for a down field score.
Making plays on special teams:
The 49ers defense has shown they cannot be relied on to make big plays when it counts. See Nate Clements interception against the Falcons. The offense is not far behind the defense in not being able to be counted on to make big plays. So many times this year teams have won because their special teams have come up with big plays. The lone highlight for the 49ers special teams is Dominic Zeigler’s blocked punt against the Falcons which Taylor Mays recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
Making plays on special teams goes deeper than just blocked punts and returns for a touchdown. When the 49ers punt and kickoff the field position for the opponent is important. Getting players like NaVorro Bowman down field quickly to make the tackle shortly after the returner touches the football is sometimes as good as blocked punt or a special teams touchdown. Tackles like the one Bowman had on a punt return against the Eagles gets the team fired up. Another important player on special teams is cornerback Curtis Taylor who has been out with a quadriceps injury. Taylor was an important part of the 49ers kickoff and punt coverage. Other players will need to step against the Raiders special teams unit.
Having Ted Ginn Jr. return last week from injury to face off against the Eagles was huge for the 49ers. If I had to bet on anyone scoring a touchdown on special teams this week against the Raiders I would go with Ginn. His speed is explosive and he will run back a touchdown sometime soon, hopefully this weekend.
49ers win. There is no way we can lose to the Raiders and start 0-6, no way.