San Francisco 49ers Week 6 : The Battle Of The Bay (Or The Alex Smith Bowl)
The 49ers are desperately seeking their first win of the 2010 season in week six, and these words are getting really hard to write by now.
If they are going to forge out win No. 1 this weekend, it will come against a revitalized regional rival in the Oakland Raiders.
At 2-3, the Raider Nation has been tormenting the 49er Faithful since the beginning of the season. If there's one thing San Francisco fans could really use right now, it's a victory over the Raiders.
There's no disputing that both teams will need to bring their A-games. The Raiders have about as much momentum as they've had since Jerry Rice showed up there, and the 49ers seem about as bad as they've been since Bill Walsh's first year.
In a regional rivalry like this, however, that all goes out the window.
Forget records. Forget playoffs. Forget divisions. This is the Battle of the Bay.
This is for more than a W. This one is for bragging rights; this one is for the fans.
Coaching: Tom Cable Vs Mike Singletary
Say what you want about Tom Cable. No, really, he doesn't care. He cares about playing the game tough and angry. He cares about Raiders football.
His lifetime 10-20 record isn't amazing, but neither is Mike Singletary's 13-17 mark. These guy often seem interested in more than winning, which can be a setback since, as Herm Edwards once declared, "You play to win the game!"
Expect smash-mouth everything from both sides. Expect nothing but a brutal desire to win. Expect two very motivated teams.
In Mike Singletary's case though, expect at least one out-of-place timeout call.
Passing: Alex Smith (and Maybe David Carr) Vs...
A quarterback matchup is rarely more worth mentioning, as Bay Area football passing games have issues all around.
Where to start?
Well, 49ers fans can nickname this the Alex Smith Bowl, as it is literally a moment that could define and break his career as a starter in San Francisco.
Singletary has given Smith another shot, but there's much more to it than that.
Smith, the scorn of many a 49er fan, nearly got the hook against Philadelphia when the crown began chanting for Carr. This was directly after Smith fumbled six (seven with PAT) points directly to the Eagles.
Carr began to warm up, but did not see action.
Lets just say Singletary gave Smith a pep talk.
Really though, Smith lobbied his way back onto the field and led San Francisco to two touchdown drives to pull the 49ers within a field goal, before throwing a coffin-nail interception.
His courage in the face of adversity appears to have earned Smith one more start, although a complete game is far from guaranteed.
The Alex Smith Bowl is a slight misnomer, however, since this is not a tr make-or-break situation for him. It's more of a sink-or-swim game for the guy, and the Raider Nation would love nothing more than to be the executioners of Smith's San Francisco career.
David Carr is waiting quietly on the bench, and Troy Smith is sitting right there next to him.
...Bruce Grankowski And/Or Jason Campbell
In the wake of JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders have improved their quarterback situation tenfold.
Bruce Gradkowski is a blue-collar quarterback with a heart the size of Texas. Although he has not been given the easy road to starting, Gradkowski's scrappy play and drive to win have made him the Raider's starter.
Injuries tend to find Bruce, however, and he will only start the game if he is healthy. If not, then Jason Campbell, who Oakland traded for in the off season, will get the nod.
Campbell is no slouch himself. he's coming off a late-game win against the San Diego Chargers, and has a knack for using whatever tools his offense gives him.
Both sides of the ball will approach with question marks at quarterback. Which Alex Smith will Show up? For how many quarters? Is Gradkowski healthy enough to start?
It all unfolds Sunday.
Running: Frank Gore and Company Vs Micheal Bush/Darren McFadden
Both teams can slam you with a power running game, but the Raiders have done it better than San Francisco this year.
Utilizing a double-punch combo out of the backfield, the Raiders have rolled up 134.4 rush yards per game, good enough for seventh best in the league.
The 49ers? They've been the victim of their own stubborn philosophies. Every commentator in the world can game plan for the 49ers offense these days. "Stop Frank Gore and the Run, and put the ball in Alex Smith's hands."
This strategy has not only led to San Francisco's 0-5 start, it's lead to 77.8 rushing yards per game—good enough for 30th in the league.
San Francisco will probably need more than Gore (they do have two other running backs, don't they?) to keep up with the Raiders savage ground game.
Recieving: Michael Crabtree Vs Darrius Heyward-Bey
Now here we have a wide-receiver matchup that's made scouts curious since the 2009 draft.
In one corner, we have a sticky-handed athlete who's known more for his holdout and sneaker designs than actually helping his NFL team win.
In the other corner, we have a super fast young ball catcher who's a threat to take it to the house if you give him an inch of wrong angle.
Both young players have potential out the door, but neither has lived up to hype...yet.
Receiving (TE) Vernon Davis Vs Zack Miller
Vernon Davis should be the obvious choice here, but he's only as good as the passes that are thrown to him. When he gets lost among Smith's targets, his big-play potential remains just that—potential.
Zach Miller, on the other hand, has been a focal target for both Raiders quarterbacks. He's a clutch escape dump-off and a sturdy over-the-middle hammer.
Expect the team that utilizes their tight end better to have an leg up by the fourth quarter.
Receiving: Supporting Cast
Obviously, both passing games come with more targets and threats than a second year receiver and a tight end.
Other Raiders receivers capable of burning secondaries are Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jacoby Ford, and Chaz Schilens.
49ers threats include Ted Ginn, Josh Morgan, Dominique Ziegler, and Kyle Williams (when he's not injured.)
Both of these secondaries should have their work cut out for them.
Blocking: Where It's At.
There's little doubt that this one, like so many other NFL games, has the potential to be decided in the trenches.
The 49ers drafted two brutally big, tough, first-round, offensive lineman. The result has been mixed at best. The two rookies have started every game. Their performances have shown their inexperience.
Oakland drafted a couple lineman as well in Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldheer. These two have not been starting every game this year, however. There is certainly more experience on the Raiders line than the 49ers front five.
If protection and blocking become a major issue for one team, you can assume the side with two starting rookies will worse off.
Defenses: A Tale Of Two Kitties
They can be pumas, and they can be house pets. Sometimes they're ruthless, sometimes they're toothless. Enough? Okay.
Anyways, moving the ball won't be a piece of cake for either offense, due primarily to a couple of seriously beef-cake linebackers.
Patrick Willis has been called the best linebacker in the league, but rookie (and member of last year's BCS Champion, Alabama) Rolando McClain has showed phenomenal brutality in his play as well.
Nate Clements is actually one of the better run stopping corners in the league, and he plays a very aggressive coverage. Nnamdi Asmugha, however, is one of the leagues premier shut-down corners. There's plenty of other talent in both secondaries, and they will both live—or die—by the performance of their primary corner backs.
Naturally, these secondaries need a boost from their respective pass rushes.
The 49ers have been habitually late to most quarterbacks this year, particurlarly as the games have unfolded. The Raiders have been fairly two-faced in what they've brought. When their blitzes are working, they're a thing to behold. When that doesn't happen, they're borderline harmless.
Venue: Candlestick Park
The home field advantage for the 49ers first day game at home will be minimal, as the Raiders must travel all the way across the Bay Bridge to get to The Stick.
Believe it or not, a Raider fan or two might even shell out the cash to infiltrate the Faithful. Was that a low blow? No, we can seriously expect The Raider Nation to make some noise of their own.
Anyways, Candlestick isn't the most hostile ball park to begin with, and this will likely be even fairly even in terms of crown noise.
Just because they're regional rivals doesn't mean they hate each other. The fan expecting a tickling contest is in for a frightening experience, however.
A desperate 49ers team should be willing to pull out all the stops for their first win of the season. The Raiders are as close to contention as they've been since their last Super Bowl run, and I think they like it.
Someone will win, some one will lose (unless they tie) but like in every other brutal game being in the NFL this weekend, it's pretty much guaranteed that someone is going to get hurt.
If the 49ers are going to "...bloody noses" as Nate Byham once said, or "...destroy a lot of people" as Iupati lovingly put it, week six—The Battle of the Bay—might be a good time to start.