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Dolphins vs 49ers: 4 Burning Questions

It's Friday and gameday is rapidly approaching - though I will admit that these weeks seem to be going by much slower ever since the Dolphins became legitimate playoff contenders.  Oh well - the anticipation is half the fun, I suppose.

So let's continue our preview of Sunday's game by talking about some of the "burning questions" that I'm sure many Dolphin fans have been pondering this week.

Are the Dolphins ripe for the picking?
Remember that this is a Dolphins team that was 1-15 last year.  And a lot of Miami's players don't have much, if any, playoff experience.  Some don't even know what it feels like to be involved in a playoff race.  Considering that as well as the fact that the Dolphins haven't exactly been blowing away the teams that they have been favored against, could the Dolphins be primed for an upset loss? seems to think so - having selected the 49ers as one of four road teams who have "a victory in reach."  Of course, the other 3 teams - the Titans, Packers, and Chargers - are all favorites in their respective games.  The Niners, on the other hand, are currently 6 point underdogs.  Yes, did indeed "slap" the Dolphins right in their face.  Ouch!

Luckily, the players themselves seem to be confident that they will not overlook the 49ers.  Vonnie Holliday said this week, "Considering where we've come from, I would think it would be highly unlikely to overlook an opponent."  Vonnie added that the playoffs "are something to be excited about. It's motivating, no doubt about it. We understand where we are, but we also understand how we got here. We took it one game at a time, one day at a time. That's the kind of team we have."

But perhaps Chad Pennington, this team's offensive leader said it best: "You can't win three until you win one. That's real simple."

Will Miami's defense continue their terrific play - especially against the pass?
We're all aware that the Dolphins have won 6 of their last 7 games.  And one of the big reasons for that has been the play of their secondary.  In those 6 wins, the Dolphins have allowed just 175.6 yards per game through the air and have intercepted 8 passes.

What you may not know, though, is how outside of 3 games, the Dolphins have played very, very well against the pass.  I know it's not fair to do this, but humor me.  If you take away 3 games, the game in Arizona, the game in Houston, and the game against the Patriots in Miami - all of which saw the Dolphins get torched through the air - the Dolphins, in their 10 other games, have only allowed 173.2 yards per game passing - which would rank them 2nd in the NFL.  And if you wanted to add back those 3 bad performances, but instead of allowing 381 yards passing per game in those 3, assume the Fins allowed only 280 in each game, the Dolphins would still have a top 10 defense against the pass.

So as bad as the secondary has played at times, they are actually not a unit that's as bad as people think.

Enter Shaun Hill.  As a starter this season, Hill is 3-2 and is averaging 235.8 yards passing per game and had a QB rating of at least 95 in each of his last 4 starts.  He's a QB who can make all the throws and will really distribute the ball well - never really keying on one specific target.  And what makes him most dangerous is how the offense has clearly rallied around him.  When you watch the Niners' offense play, they look totally different than they did earlier in the season.  So don't take Hill and SF's passing attack lightly.  You're going to likely be surprised with how good they are.

It'll be a big task for the Dolphins to limit Hill's success through the air.

Can Tony Sparano out-coach a coach with even less experience than himself?
I'll be honest.  Like many of you, Mike Singletary scares me.  He's a scary, scary man.  And I think he has the potential to be a very good head coach in this league.  Since being promoted to head coach, Singletary's 49ers are 3-3, including 2 straight wins over AFC East opponents.  And in the process, Singletary has sent a player from the sidelines to the showers right in the middle of the game, gave a memorable post-game press conference, and has dropped his pants and revealed his bare ass to his team at halftime of a game.  Wow.

But Tony Sparano and his trusty crew of assistant coaches have done a great job of preparing each week and having their players ready to go - which includes out-coaching some of the best coaches in the NFL in the process.  On Sunday, it'll be up to Sparano and company to have come up with some "zags" to San Francisco's "zigs" - if you know what I mean.  This coaching staff hasn't really let me down yet - with the one exception of the 2nd NE game.  And I'll especially be interested in seeing what the Dolphins do if the 49ers and Mike Martz try what the Pats did against the Fins and spread out Miami's defense and let Hill fling it around.

Is Chad Pennington in store for a big day?
I know I've been preaching for a while now that I want to see the Dolphins pound the rock with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.  But two things got me thinking about Chad Pennington's potential for a big day on Sunday against the Niners.

First of all, the weather might not be too good in Miami on Sunday.  It's hard to predict South Florida weather even a couple days in advance, but there's the potential for some heavy rain.  While common sense would tell you this means Ronnie and Ricky will both get a lot of work, I think we might see it go the other way.  I think the Niners will make it a point, especially in bad weather, to put 8 in the box and stop the run.  But the short passing game - Pennington's specialty - isn't really that effected by rain.  And I get the feeling that Pennington, who is heating up, could be in store for a big, efficient day on Sunday if the weather is poor.

The second thing that got me thinking about CP10's potential for a big game is how poor the Niners have played against the pass this season.  They are allowing 230 yards per game through the air - 25th in the NFL.  And in their last 6 games, the Niners have surrendered 254.6 passing yards per game and 9 touchdowns, with opponents completing 64% of their passes.

So call me crazy, but I have this gut feeling that tells me Pennington could potentially be in store for a pretty damn good game on Sunday.

So those are my 4 "burning questions" for week 15.  Thoughts??