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Dolphins at 49ers preview: Injuries, Jimmy Garoppolo returns, and taking advantage of the secondary

San Francisco 49ers v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins will visit the San Francisco 49ers later this afternoon in their second-straight game against an NFC West opponent. Having lost to the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, Miami will be looking to even their record against the division and pull themselves to 2-3 on the year overall.

The 49ers, meanwhile, have a chance to move above .500 on the season, a year that has been dominated by injuries for San Francisco. They will be getting starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back this week and will be looking for much better play from the position. Even with a depleted roster, the 49ers are 11th in total offense (390.5 yard per game), 12th in passing offense (262.0 yards per game), 11th in rushing offense (128.5 yards per game), 11th in scoring offense (26.8 points per game), 3rd in total defense (allowing 294.8 yards per game), 2nd in passing defense (allowing 184.0 yards per game), 14th in rushing defense (allowing 110.8 yards per game) and 3rd in scoring defense (allowing 17.8 points per game).

The 49ers are banged up, but still playing solid football through the first quarter of the season. To get a closer look at the 49ers and what Dolphins fans can expect during the game, I spoke with Kyle Posey from SB Nation’s 49ers site, Niners Nation, to preview the game.

The 49ers are one of the most injured teams in the league, with 11 players on injured reserve, three players on the physically unable to perform list, and 13 players on the injury report throughout the week including four players ruled out for the game. After games against the New York Jets and New York Giants, it looked like the 49ers were able to play the “next man up” game well, but then they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles last week. How well are the 49ers adapting with all of the injuries?

The 49ers are up to 13 players on the IR after last week, so the going is getting more difficult by the day. They’re adapting about as well as any team could with everything considered. They signed Ziggy Ansah as a replacement edge rusher for the two they lost for the season, and Ansah is now out for the year. It’s impossible to script the injuries that have happened in San Francisco. They’ve remained competitive, thanks to a softer schedule, but we’ll find out more about this team over the next month as the schedule will be the most difficult in the NFL. They’ve adapted well, but, eventually, the loss of so many critical starters was going to come back to haunt the Niners, and that happened last Sunday.

With all of the injuries, the 49ers are clearly having to play some players who maybe would have been buried on the depth chart if everyone was healthy. Who has been the biggest surprise so far this year?

Defensive tackle Kevin Givens has been a pleasant surprise. His talent is obvious, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a much larger role as the season goes on. He’s one of the few linemen on the team that has shown he’s capable of getting after the quarterback. Cornerback Jason Verrett has started two games, and he looks like his old self in man coverage. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will have a decision to make when all of the cornerbacks return as to whether Verrett should remain on the field. I lean, yes.

Is there any way to slow down George Kittle?

Other than a bad throw, no. He did a lot of damage late in the game, but you could make a strong argument that Kittle is the 49ers best receiver and blocker. You know Kittle is going to do something special when he takes the field, yet, he does something, and it still takes you out of your seat. Last week, the one-handed catch where the ball was behind Kittle was a thing of beauty. I think the Dolphins have the smarts and athleticism to keep Kittle somewhat in check, but he’s such a dominant player that you could be in perfect position, and it still won’t matter.

How concerned are you about Jimmy Garoppolo’s ankle as comes back this week? What should Dolphins fans expect to see from the 49ers’ offense?

A high-ankle sprain usually limits you for 4-6 weeks, and we’re coming up on the third week, so I’d be pretty concerned. You have to think long-term for your quarterback, even if you feel like the season is slipping away. It’s not as if this is Garoppolo’s first injury, and to make matters worse, he’s not coming back to an offensive line that has done the quarterbacks any favors. Kyle Shanahan doesn’t know who the starter will be Sunday. I’d expect to see a ton of play-action to get whoever is under center defined reads and clear throwing lanes, so there is no Nick Mullens-mistakes where he’s throwing the ball directly to the other team. The offense’s ceiling may be slightly higher with C.J. Beathard, thanks to his mobility and arm strength. If Beathard is under center, expect more passing plays down the field and outside of the numbers.

Where are the 49ers strengths? Where can the Dolphins find an advantage?

The 49ers are very well-coached. They come into games prepared, despite all of the injuries, and that allows them to be competitive. Shanahan puts the offense in good spots, and Saleh makes offenses earn every yard. Even with a makeshift defensive line, the 49ers are still getting after the quarterback at a high rate. The difference this year is they aren’t turning those plays into sacks.

As long as the 49ers are down their three “best” cornerbacks, any team that has perimeter threats will have the advantage. I think highly of Devante Parker and think Fitzpatrick does a great job of giving guys like Preston Williams chances. The secondary will have their hands full, but Fitzmagic will also give them chances for turnovers. On the other side of the ball, man coverage has always been the way to slow down this offense. You load the box and make the receivers beat you. Miami has the speed on both sides of the ball on the outside to challenge San Francisco.