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Pick Six: Raiders head to South Bay for rivalry game against 49ers

Two football games in five days – in the immortal words of Bruno Mars; that’s what I like.

Playing on the short week is brutal for players, so the guys in the locker room might not like it as much as we do, but the fact remains, the Oakland Raiders kick off Week 9 NFL action Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium.

Thursday’s matchup between the Raiders and San Francisco 49ers has Bay Area bragging rights on the line, so here are six things to watch.

1. Health is wealth

Playing on the short week is difficult in myriad ways, but when you’re talking about the challenges of preparing for a game in just 96 hours, those challenges have to start with the physical ones for the players.

At this juncture in the season, I don’t think there’s any player in the NFL who’s operating at 100 percent, but getting back to as close to 100 percent as possible will be critical headed into Thursday night’s matchup at Levi’s Stadium.

Whether that’s more time in the cold tub, or an even more dedicated approach to recovery, whichever team is healthier come kickoff will no doubt have the upper hand at gametime.

I know that sounds super obvious – of course the healthier team has the upper hand – but especially with a Thursday game, play close attention to the players listed on the team’s respective injury reports.

2. Stop the run

Without the services of a handful of their starters – perhaps most noticeably Jimmy Garoppolo – the 49ers offense has struggled to find its way in 2018.

Headed into Week 9, San Francisco’s offense ranks 22nd in the NFL, and while that number doesn’t really strike fear into the opponent, what the group can do on the ground should.

Led by running back Matt Breida – who is currently 10th in the league in rushing by the way – the 49ers are an effective group at moving the ball on the ground, averaging 133.6 rushing yards per game.

The Raiders come into Thursday night’s game with even a little bit of extra motivation to stop the run, as they’re fresh off the heels of allowing the Indianapolis Colts to amass 222 rushing yards in Week 8.

Especially with the 49ers dealing with quarterback uncertainty, stopping the run would go a long way to ensure a Raiders “W.”

3. How does Doug Martin bounce back?

Look, I understand that all anyone will remember from Doug Martin’s first start as a Raider is his fourth quarter fumble.

Given the timing – as well as the immediate implications of said fumble – I totally get that Martin’s blunder is going to be the lasting takeaway from his effort Sunday, but I don’t think that’s fair to the veteran running back.

Yes, Martin’s fumble was a tough blow for the Silver and Black, but let’s not forget that prior to that (fumble aside), No. 28 averaged north of five yards per carry in his first extended run of 2018.

Martin certainly looked to be the beneficiary of some fresh legs Sunday afternoon, I’m excited to see what he does in primetime.

4. Some reinforcements along the defensive line?

It’s no secret that the Silver and Black have had their fair share of problems taking down the quarterback – a quick look at the numbers shows that the Raiders rank last in the league with just seven sacks.

Now, is that lack of production the natural result of playing a ton of rookies who are still finding their collective NFL footing? No doubt, but over the second half of the season, the Raiders coaching staff would assuredly like to see an improvement in that area.

After suffering a knee injury in last year’s finale, Eddie Vanderdoes has been out of action for the entirety of 2018, but after practicing last week, his return could be imminent, and if we do indeed see No. 94, it would spell good things for the Raiders defensive line as a whole.

Although, during his Wednesday press conference, Coach Gruden didn't seem overly optimistic the big man would return this week.

Keep an eye on his status next weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers though.

5. Keep an eye on Kittle…

When you’re going over the 49ers offensive stats, you see the name George Kittle a lot – and for good reason too.

The second-year tight end has been stellar; he leads San Francisco in both receptions (37) and receiving yards (584), and he’s also added a pair of touchdowns for good measure too.

No disrespect to any of the 49ers wide receivers, but Kittle is probably the 49ers most dynamic offensive weapon, and the Silver and Black should treat him as such.

The group had some issues shutting down the Indianapolis Colts tight end over the weekend; let’s hope that issue has been remedied by the time the Raiders arrive at Levi’s Stadium.

6. Who owns Levi’s?

Every time we hit the road I’m reminded how well Raider Nation travels.

Whether it’s Miami, Seattle, or somewhere in between, regardless of what stadium we play in, there’s always a strong contingent of fans rocking the Silver and Black.

With that in mind, I can’t even imagine how many Raiders fans are going to be in the house at Thursday’s “road” game just over an hour from Oakland.

I’m fired up to see just how much Silver and Black we get into Levi’s, and I really do expect the split to be about 50/50 by the time kickoff rolls around.

You know what to do, Raider Nation; we’ll see you at gametime.

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