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Dolphins vs. 49ers: What to watch for Miami in Week 13

The Miami Dolphins are facing a tough test in Week 13 as they take on the NFC West leading San Francisco 49ers. What should we watch for as the Dolphins take the field?

NFL: NOV 27 Texans at Dolphins Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins face the San Francisco 49ers later this afternoon in a Week 13 game. Both teams come into the week in first place in their respective divisions, Miami in the AFC East and the 49ers in the NFC West. The game will feature the Dolphins brining in one of the top offenses in the league against the 49ers, who have the top-ranked defense in the league. It should be a classic slugfest all game long.

What will be the keys to a Miami victory? We take a look this afternoon at the storylines to watch for the Dolphins as they look to hold on to the top spot in the division and the second-seed in the AFC playoff picture.

Offensive tackles holding on against Nick Bosa and the 49ers pass rush

Last week, we saw what happened when the offensive line lost Terron Armstead to an injury and it was not pretty. Suddenly, the offensive line could not block anyone and the Dolphins pulled Tua Tagovailoa to try to protect their franchise quarterback. In Week 13, Miami will be without both of their starting tackles, with Armstead out with the pectoral muscle injury he suffered last week and right tackle Austin Jackson missing this week with an ankle injury he sustained in that game. The 49ers are going to come after Miami’s rebuilt offensive line and they are not going to be shy about doing it. Nick Bosa is going to have to be identified and schemed to stop on every dropback, but the 49ers are not going to rely solely on him. They are going to blitz Miami and they are going to do it often.

Until the offensive line proves they can protect Tagovailoa, expect to see plenty of pre-snap movement, stunts, and disguised blitzes. The offensive line, especially the tackles, have to be ready to stand up to a tough test this week.

Mike McDaniel vs. Kyle Shanahan

For nearly all of his coaching career, Mike McDaniel has been tied to Kyle Shanahan. McDaniel has worked as an offensive assistant, wide receivers coach, and quarterbacks coach under offensive coordinator Shanahan at multiple stops. When Shanahan became the 49ers head coach, McDaniel started as the run-game coordinator and then moved to be the team’s offensive coordinator in 2021. Now in 2022, McDaniel is the Dolphins’ head coach and will be facing his mentor.

There has been plenty of talk about this matchup throughout the week, and McDaniel has tried to play it down. The game will come down to who executes better on the field, and neither coach is on the field, but there will definitely be an aspect to the scheming and game planning for it as well. This game could prove to be a chess match between the two coaches, with each making a move to counter the previous move from the other.

Can Miami run the ball?

One of the early moves McDaniel could make this week is to get Miami’s running backs - both former 49ers players - going early in the game. Last week against the Houston Texans, who have the worst rush defense in the league, the Dolphins threw the ball 41 times and were happy to be a pass-first, pass-often, nearly pass-only offense. Switching it up and looking to get Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr., started early could be an adjustment that not only starts the chess match, but also could get some of the pressure off the offensive line.

Plus, you know Wilson, for whom Miami traded at the trade deadline this year, wants to prove to the 49ers that they gave up on him too early. The 49ers acquired Christian McCaffrey, which pushed Wilson down the depth chart, and he likely comes into this game with a chip on his shoulder. Feeding him the ball early and letting him get into a rhythm could be a good move for Miami.

Get after Jimmy Garoppolo

The Dolphins beat the 49ers 43-17 in 2020, with the defense forcing two interceptions from Garoppolo and forcing him from the game after three sacks. They then added two more sacks of C.J. Beathard. The Miami defense finished the game with nine quarterback hits. It was a day in which Miami’s defense was constantly attacking the 49ers and it is a performance they need to repeat today.

Miami has not had the defensive success they expected this year, in large part due to injuries forcing the scheme to change. Additions like Bradley Chubb have been helpful, but the defense needs to look like that defense from the 2020 game today.

Who wins in the middle of the field?

The Dolphins love to throw the ball to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in the middle of the field, looking to give them space to make a move and add yards after the catch. The 49ers shut down the middle of the field with Fred Warner patroling the area. This is a strength versus strength battle that will be fun to watch all day.

Miami uses the possibility of the deep ball, with Hill and Waddle’s blazing speed always a threat, to create space. Tagovailoa anticipates the cut and puts the ball into the perfect place for the receivers as they make a move into the middle of the field. As Ben Solak from The Ringer wrote this week, “Nobody has attempted more passes to the intermediate middle than Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It is not close. The difference between Tagovailoa and the second quarterback (Tom Brady) is the same as the difference between Brady and the 22nd quarterback.”

It works really well, but the 49ers know it and they play the middle of the field better than anyone else. Warner is a beast in clogging up the middle and preventing players from getting open or breaking up the pass should it be attempted. Again, this is strength versus strength. Which ever team wins the matchup in the middle of the field may prove to be the team that wins the game.