The final quarter of the regular season is here as the San Francisco 49ers look to remain on top of the NFC West for the remainder of the season.
As the 49ers (8-3-1) come down the stretch, they must first get by the visiting Miami Dolphins (5-7). After having a great October in which they were 3-0, Miami has fallen considerably going 1-4 since then. The 49ers, meanwhile, have not had a bad stretch of games all season but have failed to win more than 2 games in a row.
There doesn’t seem to be as much of a Quarterback controversy this week in San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick was named the starting QB vs. the Dolphins earlier this week. As for his performance against the Rams, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t seem that critical of Kaepernick at least publicly.
“Just a winning quarterback performance in tough circumstances,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “In the evaluation, I thought Colin played well, did a lot of really good things, made some good decisions. … I thought some real positives to take away from his performance.”
Kaepernick had a rough start in St. Louis being forced into his own end zone for an intentional grounding penalty that was ruled a safety and then later making a bad pitch resulting in a Rams touchdown. Despite the poor performance, 49ers LT Joe Staley showed his support for Colin this last week.
“Colin’s our quarterback and I support him 100 percent,” Staley said. “The whole team is behind him and we want to see him do well, and do everything we can to help him succeed and help the team succeed.”
Going into Sunday’s game, Joe Staley and the rest of the line better worry about that pass rush of the Dolphins which is tied for 6th in the NFL for most sacks with 33. Staley will be dealing with LB and DE Cameron Wake all game long who leads Miami in sacks with 11.
As for the rest of the Miami defense, they are a good against the rush ranking 8th in the NFL in rush defense allowing 97.7 yards per game on the ground. Frank Gore is coming off perhaps his worst rushing performance of the season rushing for 58 yards against the Rams only getting 2.5 yards per carry in St. Louis. Gore’s only solace was that he scored the 49ers only TD in that game.
San Francisco might start using rookie RB LaMichael James, who hasn’t played yet this season, against the Dolphins. With Kendall Hunter out for the year, Frank Gore ran the ball more last Sunday vs. the Rams with 23 carries, his most in a game this season. Brandon Jacobs has not looked fruitful as the 2nd string runner and perhaps James could shake things up on the ground game.
As for what the 49ers have to defend against, the Dolphins are a middle of the road offense at best. Their strength is the rushing game which is ranked 17th in the league (108.3 rushing yards per game). Reggie Bush is their most productive rusher with 726 rushing yards this season averaging 4.4 yards per carry but Reggie has had only one game where he ran more than 100 yards all season and that was all the way back in week 2 vs. the Raiders where he ran for 172 yards.
2nd back Daniel Thomas has gotten a fair share of carries for the Dolphins with 316 rushing yards in 2012 but is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. As a team, Miami is averaging 3.9 yards a carry.
Meanwhile, the 49ers are the 3rd best rush defense in the league allowing 90.6 yards on the ground per game and are just allowing 3.6 yards per carry.
On top of that, Miami is also going against the 2nd best pass defense in the NFL allowing 189 passing yards per game. Part of that reason is the pass rush created by LB Aldon Smith, DE Justin Smith, and the rest of that front seven. Aldon Smith has 17.5 sacks which leads the league. Coach Joe Philbin is well aware of the recent surge by Aldon Smith.
“That’s quite a pace he’s on,” Philbin said of Smith. “He’s got a knack for getting to the quarterback, sniffing things out. … He’s around the quarterback a lot.”
While Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill is not having a great rookie season throwing 12 interceptions with a 72.3 passer rating, he might have a worse start than usual considering that his LT Jake Long is out for the season with a triceps tear. That could cause more disruption to Tannehill from both Smith’s on his blind side. Add that with the fact that Aldon Smith has been switching sides on occasion and is still succeeding at getting to the quarterback makes him even more of a threat.
Despite all the areas where the 49ers are favored against the Dolphins, this game is very important and a must win for the 49ers in some respects. While they have rebounded from losses well this season, San Francisco cannot start slipping now with the Seahawks (7-5) making a late season push. Surprises happen every week in the NFL and if there is one in Candlestick this weekend, the whole NFC West will be up for grabs.
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Written by Daniel Trucios