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A vintage performance from Derek Carr last week wasn’t quite enough to overcome the Indianapolis Colts in a thrilling game in Oakland. This week the Oakland Raiders travel 40 minutes south along I-880 to Levi’s Stadium to take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Battle of the Bay. To say both sides are desperate for a victory is an understatement, but this game means so much more to two sides struggling in 2018.

The 49ers (1-7) have been decimated by injury this season and could be forced to third-string quarterback Nick Mullens on Thursday night. Mullens, a 2017 undrafted free agent would step in to make his NFL debut with the 49ers riding a six-game losing streak. C.J. Beathard has a right wrist injury and will be a game-time decision.

Despite the six-game losing streak, the 49ers have had a similar season to the Raiders (1-6). They have been close in most of their games, just haven’t been able to get across the line. This week will be no different.

The Raiders defense can expect a heavy dose of run plays, particularly if there’s a new man under center. Expect running backs Matt Breida and Alfred Morris to get a lot of carries.

Last week against the Colts, Raider Nation saw the Derek Carr fans all know and love. Carr completed 21-of-28 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns.

The fallout from the loss to the Seattle Seahawks was difficult on Carr. Rumors in the locker room about Carr’s leadership surfaced, trade speculation and the departure of top receiver Amari Cooper took a toll.

With a short turnaround this week, Carr will need to find that drive and determination he against the Colts again. The 49ers defense is ranked 28th in the NFL in points against (29.5 points per game) and 25th overall. They are better against the run (102.9 per game), so expect Carr to air the ball out against a team who leaks 262 yards per game.

This is where tight end Jared Cook comes into play. Cook, in the absence of Cooper, had his second-best game of the season last week. His four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown are something for the team to work on going forward. Cook will need to be a factor this week again this week for the Raiders to be successful.

A concern on the defensive side of the ball is Bruce Irvin. The Raiders Captain and possibly best defender, only played 31 percent of the snaps last week and went missing against the Seahawks in the previous game. Irvin expressed his displeasure with the decision to trade Khalil Mack and perhaps he hasn’t quite gotten over it.

Head Coach Jon Gruden addressed Irvin’s lack of playing time in a Monday press conference saying, “Well, he’s tweaked his shoulder a little bit. I think that has a little bit to do with it.”

Irvin made just one tackle the week earlier against the Seahawks in London and implied after the 24-point loss, that he was more interested in making babies with his wife. There is starting to be a real culture problem in Oakland and it is flowing from the top down.

Gruden and Carr need to read the players the riot act. Regain stability of the locker room now or this season will continue to spiral downward. A win against the Niners on Thursday would be a start.

Sports Al Dente 2018