49ers vs. Raiders: What I’ll Be Watching For

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Jason Grow/ The San Jose Mercury News

In week six of the 2013 season the 49ers flew to London to take on the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite all signs pointing to a sure win, I had some reservations. How would the trip impact the team? Would the distraction of being in another country or the jetlag slow the 49ers down on the practice field and in the game? The 49ers were 5-2, but were still recovering from those ugly back to back losses to the Seahawks and Colts. Their success against Jacksonville wasn’t a sure thing.

This year, the 49ers are 7-5, yet things feel a lot more shaky. Their matchup with Oakland is a ‘road’ game, but it is the easiest possible road game they could play. Oakland is a statistically inferior team that has only managed to win one game. They are ostensibly recovering from years of horrible drafts, management and coaching, but whether they can legitimately improve isn’t clear.

Their defense is currently ranked 22nd in efficiency, their offense is 30th. They have enjoyed some production from rookie quarterback Derek Carr and halfback Latavius Murray, but they haven’t had any consistency from any position group. The Raiders have two goals in this game: get the younger players reps, and ruin the 49ers’ playoff chances.

There is only one thing I will be looking for tomorrow: dominance. The 49ers are in the best possible position to control this game; they just need to execute. What happened against Seattle felt inevitable. Against the Giants and Washington, the 49ers defense forced six turnovers, but the offense only managed to outscore the other teams by ten points. That vapid production was not going to work against the Seahawks.

This Oakland game represents the 49ers’ best chance to get things right on offense. You can call me ridiculous, but a win by anything less than two scores will be a disappointment. Another weak, inconsistent, penalty-filled effort by the offense resulting in a win will simply delay the inevitable: yet another loss in Seattle.

At this point, it doesn’t matter how they do it. Whether it’s Frank Gore running roughshod over the Raiders, or Colin Kaepernick finally getting Stevie Johnson and Vernon Davis involved in the passing game, they need to get some confidence and make it more difficult for their remaining opponents to draw up a defensive game plan. The lack of rushing success has left their offense one (or none) dimensional.

To put it in simpler terms: they need to get their mojo back.

C’mon Niners. Just destroy this stupid team like you should.

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Wait, Why Am I Worried About The Jaguars?

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The 49ers are facing the worst team in football this weekend, and I am worried. How can this be? The Niners are on a hot streak, every aspect of the team is improving and the supposed injuries to Eric Reid and Donte Whitner turned out to be nothing. Yet I keep considering the possibility of a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and how that would feel. I have a bad habit of torturing myself with hypotheticals, but that doesn’t mean this concern is totally illegitimate. Ugh.

The Jaguars have almost nothing that should worry me. They have the worst run defense in the league, and will be going up against the NFL’s 3rd best rushing team. Their points scored/points allowed over the last few games are almost perfect opposites of the 49ers’ (SF: 33/12.75 JAX: 12/32.5). The Jaguars have had a really tough schedule, but haven’t really shown any signs of life. However, it isn’t really the Jaguars that concern me.

Sunday’s game will be played in London, which levels the playing field to some extent. The 49ers will be preparing for the game far from home, dealing with jet lag and all the distractions of being in another country. The Jaguars are in the same position, but that isn’t reassuring. The 49ers are also coming into this game knowing the Jaguars’ reputation and record. My stupid brain is convincing me that these factors will come into effect as the week goes on, and the 49ers will be way less prepared for this game than any other game this season.

Harbaugh and Co. will also be facing an old nemesis. Jacksonville’s coach, Gus Bradley, was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator from 2009-2012. His record against the 49ers while in Seattle was 3-5, but he had a major hand in crafting the defense that shut down the Niners last year in week 16 and this year in week 2. The Jags do not have the defensive talent Bradley commanded in Seattle, but he knows the Niners. The Jaguars are a team of professional football players, and with the right game plan and mindset they can cause problems for San Francisco.

My real problem with this game is how little fun it will be. When the 49ers played the Jets and Bills back to back last year, they outscored them 79-3. It was fun because both the Jets and the Bills had decently talented players, and no one was expecting Alex Smith to destroy those defenses like he did. This Sunday, dominance isn’t just expected, it’s necessary. Anything short of an overpowering effort from the 49ers will be a disappointment. This means the two possible outcomes of the game are the total destruction of the Jaguars or an unwatchable implosion by the 49ers. Neither sounds particularly entertaining.

Fortunately, the 49ers have been training with the same mindset. Hopefully, Frank Gore is way, way too much for the Jags, and the 49ers turn Kendall Hunter loose on them. Hopefully, Vance McDonald has a big day and bowls his way through Jacksonville’s secondary. Hopefully, all that Chad Henne remembers of his trip to England is Justin Smith and Corey Lemonier running directly at him. Until then, I worry like an idiot.