Clearly our goal thus far has been to beat the Raiders and 49ers running backs into the ground. However, as Richard mentioned, getting the running game going is key for both offenses. The team with more success on the ground will probably end up winning this year's Battle of the Bay.
Raiders running back Darren McFadden has set his odds of playing this week at 50%. The Raiders have had success in the running game without McFadden, but I do think his absence would certainly help the 49ers battle some of those outside runs. However, if the Raiders are going to run it up the middle behind their guards, this 49ers fan point to one particular key for the 49ers defense to have success: Get Aubrayo Franklin going!
Franklin sat out most of training camp waiting to sign his franchise tender and the coaches have expressed the belief that his absence from camp has caught up with him and he's not quite 100%. The problem for the 49ers is that Franklin's role as the nose tackle in their 3-4 is an essential part of Patrick Willis' own performance. Willis is an athletic beast, but if the nose tackle isn't opening up some holes, Willis can't burst through to make plays. He'll get tackles but they'll come further into the second level of the 49ers defense.
The 49ers are currently in the middle of the pack when it comes to adjusted line yards for their defensive line. While they're middle of the pack in most areas of the run, it shouldn't surprise folks that they rank 5th overall in second level yards. Second level yards are yards gained between 5 and 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries. One would imagine having Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes in the second level is a big reason for the 49ers success in that area of the field. While Franklin's struggles hurt near the line, that second level is all Willis and Spikes.
Of course, the 49ers also rank 18th in open field yards, which are yards gained by running backs at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries. So basically, once a back gets past Willis and Spikes, it's open season on the 49ers secondary.
Seeing as we've beaten this dead horse into the ground, we'll be back in a bit with a non-running back matchup!