The Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers come into Sunday’s contest at Hard Rock Stadium headed in opposite directions. The Dolphins are winners of 5 in a row; the 49ers have lost 9 in a row, with 7 of those losses being of the double-digit variety.
This is the last “must-win” game, by my estimation, on the Miami Dolphins regular season schedule - it’s all toss-up games after this. As tempting as it is to delve into the future landscape of the Playoff picture, I’m going to follow Adam Gase’s lead and stay focused on this week. Vance Joseph even acknowledged Wednesday in his press conference that the possibility for a trap game exists (per James Walker on ESPN.com):
Dolphins DC Vance Joseph: "We're not going to overlook the 49ers." He said the threat of a letdown is there with Miami winning five straight and San Francisco losing nine straight.
Our coaches know it, and soon, our players will know it: there’s nothing else to focus on other than the San Francisco 49ers and getting a win. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Miami Dolphins to continue the win streak and position themselves that much better in the AFC.
All I will say about our Playoff future is that a victory this week allows us to “save losses” for later in the season when we face stronger competition. At the same time, if we lose to a 1-9 team at home, I will be in full “reevaluation” mode of what I’ve been seeing during the win streak.
3) Colin Kaepernick Vs. Dolphins LB’s
San Francisco is the 31st ranked passing team in the NFL, so it’s not Kaepernick throwing the ball that I’m worried about - I’m worried about a run-heavy Tennessee Titans game plan: mobile QB gets timely 1st downs and outside-the-pocket scramble yardage, while the bellcow gets chunk yardage on 1st and 2nd downs. I know going from Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray to Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde will largely be seen as a talent downgrade, but the game plan itself worked to devastating effect against the Dolphins in Week 5 (but not so well in Week 7 for Buffalo...eh, I digress).
San Francisco knows how to run the ball, ranking 5th in the NFL. Contain Kaepernick, storm gaps to contain Carlos Hyde, and tackle well. I’m sure we’ll see a fair amount of read-option looks, and we’ll need to be assignment-sound.
2) Jordan Phillips Vs. Joshua Garnett
This match-up goes hand-in-hand with the previous one: if Jordan Phillips is doing his part to clog the interior, we’re not allowing OL to get to the 2nd level and block our LB’s. Run defense is paramount in this game, and if Suh and Phillips both make their interior presence felt, I don’t see the 49ers being able to consistently get to the outside against us.
We simply can’t allow the 49ers to string multiple 1st downs in a row on the ground or win the time of possession battle. A motivated Jordan Phillips will go a long way in stopping both of those frightful contingencies.
1) Jay Ajayi Vs. 49ers Front 7
Reduce the penalties, no turnovers, stop the run, hand the ball off to Ajayi - that’s about as far as I can boil the game plan down. I believe we still need to maintain some semblance of balance to keep the defense guessing, but a run-oriented attack is the path of least resistance, in my opinion.
No need to reinvent the wheel, here. Our passing attack will undoubtedly be needed for some 1st downs and a big play or 2 splashed in, but I think a steady dose of Ajayi is just the recipe we need.
Perhaps the most important thing is getting out to an early lead, something that has been beyond our grasp during the win streak. If we’re able to do that, I like our chances of the defense and the run game preserving the lead for us.
What key match-ups do you see Phinsider Nation? Let’s hear it in the Comments!