8:20 PM EST, NFL Network – Line: 49ers -3, Over/Under: 46
Hard times have fallen on the Bay Area of late, as their two resident football teams meet as the San Francisco 49ers host the Oakland Raiders at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California, in a matchup of teams without much to play for at this point, though for different reasons. Change and transition would be the best way to describe the campaign thus far for the Raiders (1-6, 4th in AFC West), who have morphed into a proverbial turn-style door over the past two months, with a number of prominent players being auctioned off as the results on the football field continue to get worse and worse. Needless to say, this is NOT what Raider Nation has in mind when they welcomed back Jon Gruden after the veteran Head Coach himself was essentially traded away back in late Winter of 2002. After signing a historic 10-Year, $100 Million contract to once again done the Silver & Black, Gruden has made waves in his second stint with the franchise, though very few of them have done much to improve to the team on hand, for in the opinion of most, he has essentially gutted the roster. It all started with a wealth of veterans who were acquired in Free Agency, which isn’t all that common when a new regime arrives, though the first major domino to fall was the seismic trade of former Defensive Player of the Year Kahlil Mack to the Chicago Bears, in a convoluted deal that saw the Raiders receive a pair of First Round Picks. With arguably their best player gone, the Raiders were far from finished wheeling and dealing, jettisoning Pro Bowl Receiver Amari Cooper (22 REC, 280 YDS, 12.1 Y/R, 1 TD), to the Dallas Cowboys for yet another First Round Pick. Now, with the Trade Deadline looming, the rumors persist that everyone from Edge Rusher Bruce Irvin (6 TKL, 3.0 SK, 1 FF) to Defensive Backs Karl Joseph (5 TKL) and Gareon Conley (13 TKL, 1 INT, 7 PD, 1 TD) are very much on the market as well. While we can debate all day as to what exactly Gruden is trying to accomplish, the train of thought is that with a 10-Year Contract in place, he’s playing a long game; at some point he and his Staff must have came to the realization that the roster that they inherited clearly isn’t a fruitful as many believed, and that the only real option was to burn it to ash, and rebuild, hence the mad search for draft capital. Of course, this team’s weekly performance on the gridiron has hastened this process, with Oakland underperforming on both sides of the football. The Defense, which struggled with Mack in the Lineup has been predictably worse without him, allowing 31.1 Points (31st Overall) on 407.4 Total Yards (26th Overall), including 262.7 Yards against the Pass (22nd Overall) on 8.3 Net Yards per Attempt (32nd Overall), and another 144.7 Yards versus the Run (32nd Overall) on 4.9 Yards per Carry (28th Overall). Furthermore, they simply haven’t been able to get off the field, yielding a 49.4% Conversion Rate on Third Down (30th Overall), mostly due to an anemic Pass-Rush (7 Sacks, 32nd Overall), and haven’t forced many Turnovers to boot (6, 28th Overall). When we last saw them, the Defense was getting absolutely trampled by the Indianapolis Colts in last weekend’s 28-42 defeat, permitting the visiting side to rush for a staggering 222 Yards. With that said, many predicted the Defense to struggle so, though few could have forecasted the troubling play of Derek Carr (72.0%, 289.6 Y/G, 6.94 NY/A, 10 TD, 8 INT, 52.8 QBR), who was tabbed by many to flourish under Gruden’s tutelage. It seems like ages since the young Quarterback posted his MVP-worthy campaign in 2016, but has since appeared to be nothing more than damaged goods since suffering a rash of injuries over the past two seasons (Broken Leg in 2016, Back Fracture in 2017). Carr has proven very unsettled in the Pocket this season, with a career-high Completion Percentage of 72.0% primarily due to a lack of throwing downfield. Granted, his protection has been far from ideal behind an Offensive Line ravaged by injuries, with a Rookie starting at Left Tackle, Right Tackle Donald Penn on Injured Reserve, and former All-Pro Guard Kelechie Osemele missing the last three games as well. To put this in perspective, Carr was sacked just sixteen times in 2016, which was good for the lowest Sack Percentage in the league at 2.8%, yet has been dropped for a loss on seventeen occasions already this season. However, if there was one positive that could be taken from last Sunday’s drubbing against the Colts, it was the performance of the Fifth-Year Signal-Caller, who looked revitalized following the Bye, completing 21-of-28 Passes for 244 Yards and Three Touchdowns, while averaging a healthy 8.71 Yards per Attempt and sustaining no Sacks for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, no Machiavellian display of power from their Head Coach can be credited for the struggles of the 49ers (1-7, 4th in NFC West), for this team has found themselves once again in the bowels of the standings the good old-fashioned way: by a rash of injuries. In some circles, San Francisco was counted as a dark-horse playoff contender, what with a young, forward-thinking regime in charge of an improving roster spearheaded by former Patriots Backup Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who in a limited sample size ignited the fanbase by going 5-0 as the starter after being acquired Midseason. With a full Offseason under his belt and an emerging Supporting Cast around him, things certainly were looking up for a team that had been searching for signs of life after going 13-35 (.271) over the previous three seasons combined. Unfortunately for the Bay area Faithful, they’re going to have to wait yet another year to see the fruits of Joh Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s labor. Things started to go off the rails early, as versatile Tailback Jerick McKinnon, who was acquired in Free Agency and expected to play a major role in the Offense, suffered a Torn ACL in Preseason, robbing Shanahan of a potential playmaker. Then after a disappointing 1-2 start to the campaign, the hammer fell in the form of yet another ACL Tear, this time to Garoppolo, who suffered the season-ending injury attempting to work his way out of bounds in a 27-38 defeat at Kansas City back on September 23rd. Granted, Garoppolo (59.6%, 239.3 Y/G, 6.09 NY/A, 5 TD, 3 INT, 26.9 QBR) hadn’t necessarily gotten off the scintillating start that he did in his first five starts with the team in 2017, but one couldn’t help but feel the collective excitement of the fanbase drop once he was carted off the field. And predictably, the Offense, and by extension the team as a whole, has been in a tailspin ever since; since that fateful Sunday, the Niners have lost five consecutive games, averaging 20.0 Points on 341.4 Total Yards, with Turnovers proving to be the greatest issue, committing a staggering fourteen in that span, leading to a miserable Minus-11 Differential. When we last saw them, Shanahan’s charges managed to finally play a clean game with nary a Turnover against the Arizona Cardinals, though nonetheless fell to their struggling Division Rivals for the second time in the past month. Both teams were rather anemic offensively, with the visiting 49ers holding a slim 5-3 lead at Halftime, before C.J. Beathard (60.4%, 208.7 Y/G, 5.86 NY/A, 8 TD, 7 INT, 39.7 QBR) finally hit speedster Maquis Goodwin (12 REC, 259 YDS, 21.6 Y/R, 4 TD) for a 55-Yard Touchdown to establish what should have been a comfortable 12-3 lead. However, the Defense would fall apart in the Fourth Quarter, with Arizona striking twice for a pair of Touchdowns, including a successful 2-Point Conversion to effectively end the contest at 18-15 with Thirty-Four seconds left to play. It was yet another disappointing performance for San Francisco, who despite committing Zero Turnovers and owning Time of Possession (32:19), could muster just 267 Total Yards of Offense, with the beleaguered Beathard completing 14-of-28 Passes for just 190 Yards and a Touchdown, while taking Four Sacks. With that said, injuries oftentimes can lead to opportunities for others, and one of the lone bright spots on Offense has been the emergence of Matt Breida (84 CAR, 487 YDS, 5.8 Y/C, 2 TD), who has emerged as the legitimate No. One Tailback for Shanahan, already surpassing his Rookie Totals across the board. A sprained ankle limited him over the past two weeks, but he should be able to take his shots as Oakland’s pitiful Run Defense, which ranks dead-last in the NFL at 144.7 Yards Allowed per Game.