The San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders face off for Bay Area domination one last time Thursday before the silver and black head to Las Vegas in 2020. The final Battle of the Bay, led by Kyle Shanahan and Jon Gruden, will feature two teams that combine for two wins and 13 losses so far in 2018. It’s a long-awaited matchup that fans are just hoping will be interesting if nothing else.
Here are five players to watch when the 49ers battle the Raiders on Thursday:
TE George Kittle
Kittle has emerged into one of the NFL’s elite tight ends and a valuable offensive weapon for the 49ers. The second-year player is on pace for 1,168 yards in 2018 and would be the first 49ers tight end to eclipse the century mark. Shoutout to Sacarmento Bee’s Chris Biderman the intel. Kittle’s impact will be one to watch Thusday as the 49ers increasingly rely on their standout tight end among an under-performing group of wide receivers.
RB Matt Breida
Breida may be too stubborn for his own good. The 49ers’ undrafted free agent from 2017 has proven remarkably durable this season as he continues to play through a nagging ankle injury. On the other hand, perhaps Breida should allow his body some time to heal before taking the field again or risk re-aggravating as he did against the Rams in Week 6. The 49ers’ lead back has been impressive when healthy, averaging 5.8 yards per carry so far in 2018. His health will be one to watch Thursday against a vulnerable Raiders run defense.
CB Richard Sherman
Sherman took a small step back Sunday against the Cardinals, allowing a handful of receptions including a big play to Larry Fitzgerald during the team’s fourth-quarter comeback. He’d only allowed a single reception before Week 7. In the Cardinals’ final offensive series, Sherman allowed a big gain to rookie Christian Kirk, but immediately followed that up with a pass breakup in the end zone. His resilience is something the young roster can learn from. It’ll be something to watch Thursday as the veteran cornerback battles a calf injury that he wasn’t sure would allow him to go on a short week.
WR Kendrick Bourne
The 49ers were without Pierre Garçon against the Cardinals Sunday. The veteran receiver was struggling with both knee and shoulder injuries before being ruled out. Second-year undrafted free agent Kendrick Bourne capitalized on the opportunity, reeling in seven receptions on 10 targets for 71 yards, all a respective best among the offense. The possiblity of an expanded role for Bourne will be worth watching Thursday, especially if Garçon returns.
S Tyvis Powell
The 49ers’ group of safeties has been decimated by injury. Starting free safety Adrian Colbert was placed on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain after the team’s Week 6 matchup against the Rams. Strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) has been ruled out along with his backup, Antione Exum (concussion.) Backup and recent practice squad promotion Tyvis Powell replaced Tartt against the Cardinals and instantly became the target of the offense. The 49ers will be depending on an improvement from Powerll after receiving the majorty of first-team reps throughout the week.
In addition to Powell, the 49ers plan to activate rookie safety Marcell Harris (hamstring) Thursday from injured reserve, per NFL’s Ian Rapoport. How coordinator Robert Saleh handles the playing time for both will be worth keeping an eye on.