How San Francisco can slow down Miami offense; Five burning questions for 49ers vs Dolphins

The San Francisco 49ers will look to extend their longest winning streak since 2019 to five in a row and improve to 8-4 when they face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

This is a homecoming of sorts for many Dolphins players and coaches including Mike McDaniel, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr. among others.

The Dolphins will enter Levi’s Stadium with an 8-3 record following their 30-15 victory against the Houston Texans in week 12. Miami is riding a streak of four consecutive games scoring at least 30 points.

Here are five things to watch for during Sunday’s game.

1.) Can Jimmy Garoppolo get the offense into the endzone?

The 49ers offense has been able to move the ball up and down the field this season but have struggled to score touchdowns. San Francisco is currently in the middle of the pack in redzone touchdown percentage.

With Jimmy Garoppolo under center the 49ers have averaged 30 points per game against NFC West opponents but only 19.8 against all other opponents.

San Francisco has been successful against former Shanahan colleagues with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. In thirteen starts against Sean McVay and Matt LaFleuer, Garoppolo has led the 49ers to an 11-2 record.

2.) Will the 49ers get their run game on track?

The 49ers rushing attack has been inconsistent, averaging only 4.4 yards per attempt in 2022.

Elijah Mitchell went down with an MCL strain early in the second half against New Orleans and will be out for up to eight weeks.

Mitchell’s injury means rookies Jordan Mason and Ty Davis-Price will need to step up.

Davis-Price has only a pair of carries since week two and has been inactive since week seven. A physical runner, Davis-Price gives the 49ers a back capable of picking up tough yards inside.

Jordan Mason finally had an extened opportunity in the fourth quarter against New Orleans. With Mitchell out and McCaffrey nursing a sore knee, Mason stepped in with four strong carries to help close out the game.

With good vision and the ability to cut and accelerate through the hole, Mason is a prototypical Shanahan running back.

Whoever lines up in the backfield will need the offensive line to improve.

One of the main reasons San Francisco has struggled to get touchdowns in the deep redzone has been the inability of the offensive line to move people at the line of scrimmage. This explains why they are better running a zone scheme. Zone runs get defenders moving and the offensive linemen are able to use that movement to their advantage.

3.) Can the 49ers defense take away the middle of the field?

San Francisco’s ability to take away the intermediate middle of the field will be crucial to stopping the Dolphins passing attack.

Tua Tagovailoa is having a career renaissance under the tutelage of Mike McDaniel.

A big portion of Tagovailoa’s success in 2022 has been his ability to hit throws in the middle of the field. Hitting receivers such as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in stride leads to explosive plays.

“They have so much speed that they blow the top off stuff, which gets some people open underneath,” said Kyle Shanahan on Wednesday. “Tua, to me, is the reason that they’re leading the league in explosives because he knows how to hit people over the middle. It’s rarely deep. It’s usually running and hitting these guys on the move and there’s some really open space with all that speed and then the quarterback who can drop it over linebackers, who is not worried about safeties and is doing that part of his game as high as anyone I’ve seen right now.”

Tagovailoa has completed 38 passes in the middle third of the field at a depth of 10-19 yards. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, this is 16 more than any other quarterback.

The Niner defense is uniquely prepared for this challenge. Afterall, they face an offense every day in practice that attacks the middle and have one of the linebackers in the NFL.

Since adding Fred Warner in 2018 no team has been better taking away throws in the intermediate middle area of the field. Over this time San Francisco has allowed only 71 completions in this area, 15 fewer than any other defense.

4.) Will San Francisco’s defense be able to take away their former teammates?

San Francisco needs to stay disciplined and take away explosive runs.

The 49ers run defense has allowed only 3.3 yards per carry this season, best in the NFL, and may see the return of Arik Armstead on Sunday.

Since adding Jeff Wilson Jr. through a trade with the 49ers the Dolphins rushing attack has averaged only 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.

As they did during their time in red and gold, Wilson and Raheem Mostert don’t generate consistent yardage. Instead, much of their damage comes when they are able to gash opponents with a long run.

Miami may be without both starting tackles on Sunday. Austin Jackson has already been ruled out and Terron Armstead is listed as doubtful.

Advantage 49ers.

5.) The teacher or the pupil?

Prior to this season, Mike McDaniel had spent his entire career in the NFL working with Kyle Shanahan.

McDaniel took what he learned, added his unique style, and has the Dolphins among the top teams in the league.

Kyle Shanahan has faced off against former assistants Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur 19 times, posting a record of 12-7. With Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback for 13 of those contests Shanahan has led the 49ers to an 11-2 record against his former assistants.


49ers 23 Dolphins 16

This article has 14 Comments

  1. Wow. You have the 49ers holding the Dolphins to 16 points? Damn. From your keyboard to God’s ears. I’m not that optimistic. I know the 49ers can win the game but I think they’ll have to score more than 24 to win. My prediction would be 28-24 for the 49ers.

  2. If Williams and Deebo play the 9ers win 23-20. If Williams is out and Deebo plays 9ers lose 27-20. If Deebo is out and Williams plays the 9ers lose 23-20. If they are both out 9ers lose 30-13.

    1. You’re saying that if Williams doesn’t play that costs the Niners 10 points, 3 on offense and 7 on defense, yet Williams plays offense. If Deebo is out it costs the Niners 3 on offense and 3 on defense. If neither play it’s costs them 10 on offense and 10 on defense – Wow. I don’t understand the logic on these predictions but we get to find out the truth tomorrow.

      1. Felix,
        If your O is not moving the ball it effects field position and time of possession which both effect your D in a negative way.

          1. Not when you consider time of possession….losing offensive players like Williams and or Samuel, could decrease time of possession for the 9ers, and on the flip side, give Miami more opportunities…at this stage of the season, losing any starters will have a negative impact, since the backups are best

            1. Exactly, and as if the opposing defense can’t score either on a turnover? Your offense can’t be responsible for giving up additional points with a turnover deep in your own territory? Also, as already mentioned, the difference in time of possession. You’d think someone so far up Shanahan’s backside would understand how important time of possession is to his team’s chances.

              We’ve already seen times when Williams is out (or playing injured or working his way back) what that does in terms of negative plays. The strip sack or INT on your own side of the field is a risk when you have a backup tackle lining up against the pass rush. And when Williams is out or hampered, it affects the entire line, not just one position. Couple that with a QB that tends to make foolish decisions from time to time and you end up with, well, that goal line play in Denver. Or the late INT in last years NFC Championship game.

              I would think it was obvious that Williams injured or out could affect Miami’s scoring, but apparently not.

  3. Jack
    IMO, the key to a 9er win against Miami is the O-line!
    #1) 9ers offense score TD’s, not field goals, especially in the red zone
    #2) The O-line must create lanes for the RB to move the chains, control the clock, keep the Miami offense off the field and give JG time to find his receivers.
    #3) Defense Sacks Tua and create turnovers
    #3) The 9er LB’s must control the middle of the field and DB’s limit Miami receivers Hill and Waddle YAC,
    #4) Shut down RB Wilson and keep Mostert from any long runs for TD’s
    9ers 24 Miami 20

  4. The 9ers need touchdowns, and not field goals…..with their ability to get to the red zone, particularly inside the 10, it almost looks like they’re willing to settle for the FG’s, since it happens so often….with the speed Miami has on the outside, this could end up looking somewhat like the KC game…I hope not…but, the DB’s are the weak link in the Defense…

    The 9ers are the league’s top-ranked defense, allowing just 281.7 yards per game this year. They’re 1st in rushing defense, giving up 79.5 yards on the ground each game, and in scoring defense, allowing 15.7 points per game. They are 11th against the pass, allowing 202.3 yards per contest.

    On offense, the 49ers are 10th in total offense, gaining 358.5 yards per game, 10th in passing offense with 234.2 yards per game through the air, 11 in rushing offense with 124.4 ground yards per game, and 15th in scoring offense, putting up 22.6 points per game.

    The Dolphins defensively are 17th in the league, allowing 343.4 yards per game. They’re 22nd against the pass, giving up 233.8 yards per game, and 10th against the run, allowing 109.5 yards per game. Miami is 19th in scoring defense, allowing opponents to average 23.3 points scored per game.

    Miami’s offense is third overall this year, gaining 386.7 yards in each game. They’re 2nd in passing offense, picking up 291.9 yards through the air in each game. They’re the 28th-ranked rushing offense, gaining just 94.8 yards per game on the ground. The Dolphins are sixth in scoring offense this season, putting up 25.6 points per game through 11 contests.

  6. Against my better judgment, I’m taking the 49ers 16-10 today. Feel like maybe the game will give us the opposite of the expected high scoring.

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