A week after a a tough division loss, The Miami Dolphins are set to travel across country to take on the San Francisco 49ers. Sitting at 5-7, the Dolphins hopes of a playoff birth are all but gone, yet this game still remains an important one. The Dolphins need to show the same kind of resiliency that won them a home game against Seattle. Phins fans need to see some progress, especially on offense. With the 49ers leading their division with a record 8-3, it would seem the Dolphins do not have a true shot at this game, read on for the breakdown and my personal prognosis.
Lead by 2nd year quarterback Collin Kaepernick, this is a dynamic offense. Kaepernick may only have 3 starts under his belt, but he has yet to look poor. Collin has demonstrated an ability to be very accurate, as he is so on 82.7% of his 98 “aimed passes”. San Fran’s wide receivers have averaged 4 drops a game, in Kaepernicks 3 starts, compared to 1 a game when Alex Smith was the starter. The young QB is also averaging a low amount of 3 deep attempts a game (8.5% of his attempts are deep), but has hit on 66.7% of them. Another area where Kaepernick shines is his pocket awareness and accuracy under pressure. Kaepernick has been pressured on 37.1% of his dropbacks, but has only been sacked 18.4% of those pressures, though he does warrant blame on 1 sack. Kaepernick on average takes about .3 seconds longer to make a decision which is at least part of the reason why he is pressured on 10% more of his drop-backs.
The 49’ers offensive line has been very average as a unit when trying to protect the QB. They have allowed 18 sacks, 11 hits, & 67 hurries which earns them the 15th best pass blocking efficiency rating. As a run blocking unit, however, they lead the league. The stars of the line are Joe Staley (left tackle), and Alex Boone (right guard), as they are both are rated with positive grades across the board. Every offensive line man has a positive grade in run blocking (with the lowest score being a +3.0), so the Dolphins defensive line needs to be aware of their gap control if they do not wish to see Frank Gore run by them all day. Odrick and Vernon need to step up against Staley and add some more sacks to his 6 allowed this year. Alex Boone is the right tackle tasked with stopping Cameron Wake. Things dont look like he will, with his 6 sacks, 2 hits, and 25 hurries allowed. He is considered to be the 49th best pass blocking OT in the NFL.
Frank Gore, running back out of The University of Miami, has perennially been a force to reckon with. He has power, he is elusive (12th highest elusive rating by ProFootballFocus in 2012), he has the fourth most runs over 15 yards, and he contributes to the passing game on average 2 catches a game. He currently has the 8th highest yards per carry, and the 9th most yards.
The 49ers have a very talented set of wide receivers Michael Crabtree has been pretty good this year and is currently rated 11th best WR overall. Mario Manningham is rated as 18th best overall, and Randy Moss is rated 40th best.
The Dolphins offense will face a much tougher defense than that of the Patriots this week. ProFootballFocus rates the 49ers defense as the best overall defense, with being 1st in run defense, 12th in pass rush, and 6th in coverage. They are a defense that is riddled with talent at seemingly all positions. The Dolphins have had some success against some good defenses this year (Arizona, Seattle, Cincinnati) , but you can count on this 3-4 style defense to do everything it can to stop them from doing the same to them.
Starting with the defensive line, starting right defensive end Justin Smith will be going up against rookie Jonathan Martin, who is playing left tackle in relief of an injured Jake Long. Smith is a very dominate player on the line and is rated the 3rd best 3-4 DE behind only J.J. Watt, and Muhammad Wilkerson. He has contributed 4 sacks, 5 hits and 19 qb hurries. He has also stopped a run 31 times and has an additional 12 tackles. This performance is good enough to earn Smith a spot as the 2nd best run stopping 3-4 DE as well as the 8th best pass rusher. On the other end, you have Ray McDonald who will be going up against Nate Garner (seemingly). McDonald is tied with Smith at 8th in pass rushing productivity even tho he only has 1 sack. The difference? Ray has 27 hurries. McDonald is not as dominate in the run stopping game, but he is still the 9th best among 3-4 DE’s. At nose tackle, they have Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga has negative marks across the board and has only attributed 11 tackles (7 run stops), and 2 QB pressures.
The 49ers have to boast one of the best linebacker cores in the NFL. Lead by Patrick Willis, the units only weakness has been Aldon Smith’s coverage skills. Take that negative with a grain of salt because Aldon Smith is a ridiculous pass rusher (2nd best, but most sacks), very good against the run (5th best run stop %), and is rarely in coverage (only 71 snaps). Going back to Patrick Willis, I found it surprising that he is rated 16th against the run, which is 6 spots behind Miami’s own Karlos Dansby. Willis is however, much better at rushing the passer (6th among ILB), and also 13th best when in coverage. The other ILB Ricardo Bowman, is not much of a threat at rushing the passer, but any runner that NT Sopoaga lets slip by, has to deal with Bowman, which is not a fun thing to do. Bowman is rated as the 3rd best run stopping ILB in the NFL. 37 of 56 of his tackles were run stops. He does a fine job watching the running lanes. As if this linebacking core couldn’t get any better, the OLB opposite Smith is Ahmad Brooks. While not quite as good as Aldon, he still has 6 sacks 8 qb hits, and 27 hurries. He is the 7th most efficient 3-4 OLB, and has the 9th best run stop %.
This secondary is not joke either. Cornerback Chris Culliver is quietly having a great season. He is allowing only a 57.9 QB rating when his coverage is targeted which is the 4th best among all CB. Tannehill has thrown against a CB of this caliber this year twice in Patrick Peterson (rated 5th) and Richard Sherman (rated 3rd). The 49ers also have the 9th best slot CB in the NFL in Carlos Rodgers, who is allowing a QB rating of 83.8 into his coverage. Tarell Brown plays opposite Culliver on the boundary and is 19th in QB rating allowed (81.6). San Fran’ has really only one safety to watch for, and that is Dashon Goldson. He is rated as the 8th best coverage safety with 3 interceptions and 4 passes defended. Dontae Whitner has been pretty poor at just about everything except not committing penalties.
This game is a tough one to call, on one hand the 49ers could not beat the St. Louis Rams either time they played this year, and the Dolphins beat the Rams even with only 18 yards in the run game. At the same token, the Dolphins have lost to Tennessee in horrid fashion. With 2 teams with top 5 overall defenses, this game has the smell of a low scoring game. The 49ers could be looking at this game as a breather though since they play the Patriots next week. It should prove tough to run on 49ers and the Dolphins may not have success doing so. They really need to look at the game-plan they had for the Arizona game in week 5 because there are many similarities to play style. Kaepernick should have success against our secondary, as our line really only has issues getting to mobile QB’s of which Kaepernick is. Im scared of what the Dolphins new offensive line will look like sans Long, with an addition of Garner. Tannehill & the defense will most likely have to win this game for the Dolphins, as Im predicting a poor run blocking performance and quite possibly in the pass blocking as well.