Raiders Need to Keep Game Close

Oakland's defense must be solid early vs. 49ers Sunday to give Raiders offense a chance

If the Raiders hope to have any chance of beating the 49ers Sunday afternoon, they’ll need to avoid the kind of bad start they had last week.

Against the Rams in a 52-0 loss, Oakland went three-and-out on its first three possessions while allowing the Rams to score touchdowns the first three times they had the ball. And the 49ers and Raiders are at opposite ends of the NFL spectrum on opening drives in 2014. This season, the 49ers lead the league in points scored on opening drives (41), while Oakland has given up the most points on opening drives (44).

So the 1-11 Raiders will need to reverse those numbers in order to stay close and give themselves a chance against a 7-5 49ers team that figures to be able to run the ball against them. The Raiders, after all, have the NFL’s worst rushing defense and will be matched against the 12th-best rushing offense. In fact, 49ers running back Frank Gore has had terrific games against Oakland, rushing for 283 total yards in his two meetings vs. the cross-Bay rivals.

This week, Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver noted that Oakland defenders will be tested by the Niners’ offense.

“Different type of run schemes, downhill counter power run schemes, play-action shots, quarterback running,” Tarver said of the 49ers. “There’s some differences (to playing other teams). But the keys to playing good defense stay the same, setting edges, using our hands, getting off blocks, tackling in space.”

If the Raiders defensive front can get penetration and disrupt some of the 49ers’ blocking schemes, then linebackers such as Khalil Mack and Sio Moore may be able to attack the and make plays against Gore and running mate Carlos Hyde.

Also, says Tarver, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with his running ability and arm strength, can’t be allowed to make plays and get into a rhythm early.

“He’s very fast,” said Tarver. “He’s got a very strong arm. I know there are some criticisms in those things, but he’s a good football player. I think he’s the fastest (quarterback) straight up. … And he’s got a real strong arm. That thing is a cannon.”

On offense, meanwhile, the Raiders get back running back Latavius Murray. So if the defense can contain the 49ers early and keep the game close, then the Raiders can be patient, run Murray and allow quarterback Derek Carr to look for opportunities when the time is right.

If Murray can run effectively, some things may open up for Carr and the passing game. And offensive coordinator Greg Olson wants to see what Murray can do after sitting out a week following his breakout game the week before vs. the Chiefs.

“I think we’re all excited to see him now that he is healthy again and give him the opportunity to carry the football this week,” said Olson. “There is some anticipation, and I think there is some excitement this week seeing him out on the practice field. We’re excited to see him play.”

NFL oddsmakers have made the Raiders 8- to 9 1/2-point underdogs for Sunday’s game that kicks off at 1:25 p.m.

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