San Francisco 49ers (1-9) @ Miami Dolphins (6-4)
Sunday November 27 – Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL
Betting Line: Dolphins -8
After a quintuple of blood pressure escalating games, the Dolphins return home for what is SUPPOSED to be a walk in the park. Coming across the country for a game that is played at 10 ‘o’ clock in the morning for the 49ers player’s body clocks, the Dolphins figure to get a team sleep walking. As much as we want to paint these athletes as machines, the fact remains, that they are human and susceptible to the same poor decision making as you and I.
It’s not a guarantee that they will treat this trip as a vacation, but the bright lights and allure of South Beach beckons for a team that is merely playing at the string for the 2016 season. Last week, the 49ers gave their A effort against the New England Patriots and were still blown out by 17 points.
Chip Kelly brought a failed experiment from Philadelphia to a team that is near the level of incompetence of the roster built in Cleveland.
This game isn’t about the 1-9 San Francisco team. This is a Dolphins team that once lost to a winless Tampa Bay team in Primetime when the club was jockeying for similar playoff positioning. This group is out to prove it’s different under this head coach.
How will the Dolphins respond to the challenge of treating this game against a middling franchise after an impressive five game stretch? How will it fare when the five remaining games beyond this tilt are all against teams that are relatively equally matched?
That’s the challenge Adam Gase faces. Don’t fall into Dave Wannstedt’s famous lobster trap, take care of business, and get to 7-4 for the first time since the 2003 season.
Dolphins Offense vs. 49ers Defense:
This is a classic case of a coach needing to avoid outsmarting himself. San Francisco allows nearly 180 yards per game on the ground (last in the NFL) and 31.3 points per game (also dead last.) While a fair number of those rushing yards come as teams are salting the game away, it’s not exactly a precarious position to be in – especially for a Dolphins team that has put three of these five wins on ice with the running game.
The Jay Train should be cranking early and often in this game and the hope is that he can spend the fourth quarter on the sideline resting up for next week’s pivotal match-up in Baltimore. If the Dolphins win that game, they’re essentially looking at needing two wins from the final four to be a playoff team.
Look at that, I caught myself looking ahead. Good thing I’m a fan and that bears literally no impact on the team. Seriously, tell any fan that suggests, “One game at a time” to shut the hell up. We aren’t playing, it’s our civic duty as fans to forecast what’s ahead.
Random tangents aside, the 49ers front is a 3-4 alignment that will play variations of one gap and two gap looks. Without linebacker Navarro Bowman, the Niners really struggle against run offenses built just like this Miami ground attack. Inside zone should offer plenty of holes for Ajayi to carve his way to another 100 yard performance.
San Francisco has rotated a trio of nose tackles through the wringer this season and none have paid dividends. Anthony Steen and Kraig Urbik, should they have to start, should be formidable players in this game moving a lack luster defensive line as they please.
The loss of Eric Reid in the secondary would be the straw that broke the camel’s backs had this defense not already been the worst in the business. Antoine Bethea is a good player trapped on a bad team and the Niners will commit him to the box to attempt to supplement a bad run defense.
This only makes the Niners vulnerable to more play action passing which just happens to be the Dolphins’ forte.
The more I write about this game, the more comfortable I feel. It has the makings of an offensive showing where the Dolphins are consistently facing second and third and short yardage situations with an efficient passing game that can take chunks out of the field.
I’m not even entirely sure which wide receiver I should paint as the go-to guy. I guess whoever isn’t covered by Tramaine Brock, who has been the only competent perimeter corner for the Niners this season.
As if this defense wasn’t lacking enough in personnel, Chip Kelly insist on ensuring his defense plays worse than the sum of all its parts. His high tempo offense leaves the defense on the field more so than any other team. The Niners have defended 130 opposing drives, the most in the NFL. Their 825 defensive snaps are tied for the most in the league with the Cleveland Browns.
Dolphins Defense vs. 49ers Offense:
Colin Kapernick engineers an offense that is a proven failure at this level. It’s a timing and rhythm based offense that requires years of synergy, receivers that are consistently asked to make flash decisions and throwing to spots on the field.
The reason this offense worked in college was because Oregon just recruited superior athletes compared to their competition. What Kelly forgot was that, at this level, everyone is fast and windows close as quickly as they open.
The one saving grace for the Niners offense in this game is Kaepernick’s ability to extend plays and pick up yardage with his legs. This has long been a thorn in the side of the Dolphins defense and could create problems in this game.
If the Dolphins bracket Torrey Smith and prevent any vertical game, tackle Carlos Hyde consistently and spy Colin Kapernick, the Niners won’t score a point.
I don’t think it’s realistic to think all three of these events will occur, so they will find some success, possibly early in the game.
The Niners paltry 6.5 yards per pass ranks 29th in the NFL but the 4.1 yards per carry ranks their ground game 17th. The problem persists when the Niners are always so far behind in games that they’re forced to rely upon the aforementioned Smith, Quinton Patton and Jeremy Kerley – a rather uninspiring group of pass catchers.
This offense lacks explosion in many ways. The Dolphins can line up in a nickel base look, assign a linebacker on Kapernick and shut this unit down.
Opposing offenses tend to give the Dolphins fits with their scripted plays (first 15 plays of the game that are pre-determined) and tend to settle down with in-game adjustments. Chip Kelly, as much as I hate his scheme, is still a bright football mind. So when the Niners get a first quarter touchdown, don’t freak out. Just know that it’s probably the only visit to pay dirt they will experience come Sunday.
I wrote about it in the introductory portion of this entry, but coming across the country almost always presents problems for west coast teams playing the in 10 AM time slot. With nothing to play for this season other than pride, coming over to play a team that just stole two games on an extended west coast trip is going to be a daunting task.
These Dolphins players have a new energy this season. Just look at the sideline following the Devante Parker touchdown in Los Angeles. There is a sense of comradery and “team” that this group hasn’t played with in over a decade.
With a ramped up crowd, an energized team, the first mistake the Niners make could undo their entire day
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