SANTA CLARA -- The Raiders are dying for a win, anything to distract from the turmoil surrounding this team. Jon Gruden's return to the Silver and Black has fallen far below expectations, especially after it became clear he's committed to a total rebuild.
That eliminates the prospect of Raiders success while the team remains in Oakland through 2019 at the latest. Beating their Bay Area rivals on Thursday night would provide a positive moment in an otherwise bleak 2018, and provide some much-needed bragging rights.
We all know Derek Carr is vital to Raiders success. That's a given, so you won't seem him featured below. There are members of every unit vital to a quality showing against the 49ers, who have struggled mightily in their own right.
Here are four Raiders key to this game at Levi's Stadium.
RB Doug Martin
The seventh-year veteran fared well in his first game as Raiders feature back, a role assumed after a groin injury put Marshawn Lynch on injured reserve. He had 72 yards on 13 carries versus Indianapolis, after averaging 4.5 per game in a reserve role.
There was some question whether Martin still had it, but getting in a carry rhythm brought out his trademark combination of burst, wiggle and physicality.
Now the goal is to repeat it. Gruden loves to run steadily, but can only do so if the Raiders take a lead and aren't struggling to get possessions.
"What a performance he had (against the Colts)," Gruden said. "He picked up a couple blitzes. He ran with authority. He can catch the ball. He has a great stiff-arm, still. He still has a lot of life in his legs."
He'll have to show that again in Santa Clara against the No. 13-ranked 49ers run defense.
DE Bruce Irvin
It's uncertain how much Raiders fans will see Irvin. He's playing less now than any other time in his Raiders tenure, with his role honed as a situational pass rusher. He used to play most every snap as a strongside linebacker who spent significant time on the line and proved a solid run player.
Irvin is the team's only established pass rusher, and leads a terrible pressure team with three sacks. The Raiders will either face C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens, and steady pressure can rattle either quarterback.
It will be interesting to see how much Irvin plays in this game, and how he responds to trade rumors swirling around him before Tuesday afternoon's deadline.
Irvin hasn't made an impact in some time, with just six total tackles all season, with just 10 total pressures. The Raiders could use Irvin as his best, though he might not have the opportunity to do so.
P Johnny Townsend
The Raiders have lost the battle for field position each week. Punter Johnny Townsend plays a big part in that. The fifth-round pick hasn't started well. Without raw power required to flip fields and imperfect accuracy. That combo has produced an uninspired 38.1-yard next average.
His uneven play was clear in two punts last week against Indianapolis. He uncorked the first one 55 yards, but drilled it too solid and allowed for a 10-yard return. He shanked one in the fourth quarter he had to crush, and he travelled 25 yards after an unfortunate bounce.
Townsend hasn't been good. He must be better and live up to his draft selection, starting with Thursday's game against the 49ers.
"I'm still waiting for Johnny Townsend the kid we drafted to really put it all together," Gruden said. "I'm not going to give up on Townsend and I'm not going to give up, period."
WR Brandon LaFell
The veteran receiver was a surprise victor in the race to replace Amari Cooper. The top Raiders wideout was traded to Dallas for a first-round pick just after a Week 7 bye, leading the Raiders to scramble for someone to fill in.
LaFell was the choice, selected as a veteran presence and reliable, quarterback friendly target. He ended up with three catches for 39 yards and a touchdown in his first Raiders start against the Colts.
He played 92 percent of Raiders offensive snaps, with Seth Roberts working a ton from the slot and Martavis Bryant, easily the team's most talented receiver, glued to the sideline.
Bryant could be incorporated more into future starts, but LaFell's reliability may have carved out a permanently increased role on this team.
"He doesn't take one rep off, even if he knows he's not getting the ball," Carr said. "He's friendly to the quarterback. He always runs friendly routes. He can play with anybody. I'm glad that we had some time to work and all those things, but he's the kind of guy that you can just throw him in and just play.
"When quarterbacks, when we watch the film, obviously we're looking at a lot of things, but you always also notice, when a guy knows a ball isn't coming to him, how hard does he run? When a guy knows they don't play that coverage but only 4 percent of the time so I'm probably not going to get it. You watch him and he's always running his tail off. That's not the case with everybody."
The Raiders will need reliability against the 49ers, especially if they devote more attention to Jordy Nelson on the other side.