In the parallel worlds of Mike Singletary and Tom Cable, things are definitely on the upswing. Both shook off interim head coaching labels after ’08, turned their teams’ fortunes around after changing quarterbacks in ’09 and now rightfully believe they are guiding playoff-worthy teams in 2010. So how do the 49ers and Raiders stack up as they get ready for Saturday night’s Battle of the Bay in Oakland?
Neither Jason Campbell nor Alex Smith has played up to expectations, but the more athletic Campbell has had more success staying healthy and limiting costly turnovers. Smith finally gets to play in the same system for a second straight season. Although Smith appears more comfortable, Campbell remains the more polished passer.
Despite the loss of center Eric Heitmann, the 49ers boast a formidable unit led by rising star Joe Staley and talented rookies Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.
Oakland’s line is still in flux. Veterans Robert Gallery and Langston Walker are solid, but Mario Henderson remains an adventure at left tackle. Rookies Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell could be called upon later in the season.
Vernon Davis is one of the NFL’s most explosive tight ends. Michael Crabtree is a tremendous possession receiver. But where’s the home run threat?
There’s more explosiveness in the Raiders’ young pass-catching group, but will they mature quickly enough? Louis Murphy has arrived. Darrius Heyward-Bey looks much more poised after a forgettable rookie season. Oft-injured playmaker Chaz Schilens is hurt again. One of these receivers must step up to free up Zach Miller.
Frank Gore gets much-needed help with the signing of fellow Pro Bowler Brian Westbrook. Meanwhile, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden were expected to form a great Thunder and Lightning tandem in Oakland. However, McFadden has yet to show he can stay healthy or break a tackle.
Anchored by former Pro Bowl tackles Richard Seymour and John Henderson, Oakland is finally positioned to stop the run. New starting ends Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy provide an improved pass rush. The 49ers are strong on the edge with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, but suffer inside minus holdout nose tackle Aubrayo
How appropriate that this is Singletary’s most talented unit. Led by Patrick Willis, San Francisco has a fast and powerful posse in Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, Ahmad Brooks, Takeo Spikes and newcomer Travis LaBoy.
The Raiders’ revamped linebacking corps also looks strong with impressive rookie Rolando McClain flanked by veterans Kamerion Wimbley and Trevor Scott, but it’s a new unit still learning to play together.
All Pro Nnamdi Asomugha loves playing man-to-man; it’s too bad the other Raiders cornerbacks can’t come close to matching his skills. The 49ers have tightened up their coverage with the return of Nate Clements and development of Shawntae Spencer.
Although San Francisco starts the season with more promise, local bragging rights won’t come until the 49ers and Raiders go at it for real Oct. 17 at Candlestick Park. Imagine that. A Battle of the Bay showdown that should actually mean something in the standings.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.