Through the first quarter of the young NFL season, the Miami Dolphins currently stand at 1-3, good for third place in the AFC East.
Their record, however looks better when you take a closer look at the level of talent the Fins have played all year. The three teams Miami have lost to this season (NE, BUF, and SEA) have a combined record of 10-2, with the Dolphins losing by an average margin of eight points, per Pro Football Reference.
Are the Dolphins playing up to their level of competition or are they closer to being contenders rather than doormats? Miami will have an opportunity to prove it’s the latter, as they will take on the defending NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) on Sunday afternoon.
The Fins are chomping at the bit ahead of their Week 5 match-up. Let’s take a look at what needs to happen for Miami to secure their second win of the season!
As always, questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter – @Donny_Diablo7.
When, Where, What Else?
The Dolphins will fly across the country to Levi’s Stadium, located in Santa Clara, California. Kickoff is slated for 4:05 PM EST, with mild weather conditions at game time. Forecast is calling for partly cloudy skies, a high of 74 degrees, 10-15 MPH winds, and just a 10% chance of rain.
The last time Miami made the trek to San Francisco was during the 2012 season. Led by former QB Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco would win the contest by a score of 27-13, as the 49ers would eventually go on to be the NFC’s representative in Super Bowl XLVII that season.
Miami did, however, win the last bout between the teams in November 2016, winning 31-24. The clubs have met 12 times in the regular season, with Miami holding the edge with a 7-5 record.
The teams have met in the postseason just once, in Super Bowl XIX. The Dolphins were there largely due to Dan Marino’s record-setting season in which he threw for 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdown passes. Ultimately, Miami’s “Killer B’s” defense had no answer for Joe Montana and the rest of the 49ers offense, as Miami would lose 38-16. It was Marino’s first and last chance at a Super Bowl title.
The Fins will also be making the second-longest trip of any team all year, traveling 3,140 miles across the country, second to only the Seattle Seahawks who made the 3,370 mile trek last weekend visiting Miami.
Tale of the Tape
Miami Dolphins (1-3):
The Fins welcomed the Seattle Seahawks to town last Sunday, losing by a score of 31-23.
Miami pressured QB Russell Wilson consistently for the duration of the contest and was the first team all year to not allow him to throw for four touchdowns, while also holding Russ to his lowest passer rating on the season (112.4). Sadly, this wasn’t enough, as Wilson would finish 24-of-34 for 360 yards, two TDs, and one INT, with a bevy of his damage coming from explosive downfield plays.
Both receivers registered catches of at least 30+ yards, with Moore being the focal point of the longest play of the day on a 57-yard strike to set up a Seahawks touchdown right before half time. Moore especially tormented rookie CB Noah Igbinoghene, who blew the coverage on the 57-yarder and allowed the game deciding touchdown reception from Moore as well.
Metcalf entered the game leading the league in yards per reception (24.7 YPR), and that translated over to on field action. Metcalf was the catalyst for Seattle’s first and last scoring drives, accruing a reception of 30+ yards during both series. Metcalf did not have a ton of volume, but made the most of his opportunities, finishing the game with four receptions and 106 yards.
Offensively, the team played well, but the failure for Sunday can be chalked up to the inability to finish drives. Miami had no issues moving the ball between the 20s, but more often than not, drives would stall on third down.
Miami’s savior was K Jason Sanders who constantly bailed Miami out, hitting all five of his field goal attempts to continue his perfect season thus far. Outside of Sanders, Miami’s most productive offensive player was WR Devante Parker (10 receptions, 110 yards) who registered his ninth 100+ receiving game of his career.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had trouble generating explosive plays down the field against a Seattle secondary allowing the most passing yards per game, a concerning sight. Fitz finished the game throwing for 315 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. He salvaged his production with a 10-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
San Francisco 49ers (2-2):
The defending NFC champions have been dealing with a myriad of injuries to the core of their Super Bowl team from last year. I’d list them all out, but you’d be able to read a Harry Potter book faster. You can find the complete list of 49ers 2020 injuries here.
The 49ers are coming off a gut-wrenching home loss to the lowly Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, losing by a score of 25-20.
Mullens finished the game with 18-of-26 for 200 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a fumble. The second of two interceptions was a brutally thrown ball right into the hands of LB Alex Singleton, who returned it for a touchdown to extend the Eagles’ lead to 11 points with five minutes left in the contest.
”We had plenty of opportunities. I really just didn’t execute,” Mullens said. ”The way I’m feeling is pretty black and white right now. I just didn’t execute. That’s what it comes down to. Three turnovers, 14 points off turnovers. That’s really about it.”
Following the turnover, Mullens was pulled for Beathard, who engineered a late scoring drive to keep the game close, but ultimately came up short. Beathard finished the game 14-of-19 for 138 yards.
It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom for the 49ers though, as they welcomed back TE George Kittle, as well as Super Bowl hero WR Deebo Samuel back to the lineup after each player had been sidelined the majority of the year.
Samuel (three catches for 35 yards) had a relatively quiet game as he was eased back into the fold. The same cannot be said for Kittle, who served as the 49ers’ go-to target, finishing the game catching all 15 of his targets for 183 yards and a touchdown.
As of now, it looks like the 49ers will head into this contest shorthanded again as it is unlikely QB Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle sprain), RB Raheem Mostert (knee), and CB Richard Sherman (calf) will suit up according to Coach Kyle Shanahan.
Head to Head
Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard vs. DC Josh Boyer: Finally! Josh Boyer and the Dolphins defense catch a break on the quarterback front. It has not been announced at this time who will be under center for San Fran, but even Jimmy G were to make a surprise start, none of the 49ers quarterbacks match the talent the Fins have faced all year. With the continued improvement of the front-seven getting after the quarterback and Boyer’s tendency for exotic blitz schemes this matchup bodes well for the Fins. Edge: Dolphins
(Editor’s Note: Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed to local media Friday afternoon that QB Jimmy Garoppolo will start on Sunday, after having gone through practice without issues.)
49ers Defensive Line vs. Dolphins Offensive Line: The 49ers were already without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, the men who would be tasked with attacking Miami’s tackles, the weakest portion of the Miami O-Line. The interior of Miami’s line, however, has been stout in only giving up 12 pressures in four games, per Pro Football Reference. This is a toss-up, but I’m banking on the improved Miami O-Line to take care of business in the trenches. Edge: Dolphins
49ers Skill Positions vs. Dolphins Coverage: Miami has struggled covering skill weapons all year, namely running backs and wide receivers, where Miami ranks in the bottom-third defending both positions. However, Miami has been stout against tight ends this season, surrendering just 15 receptions for 152 yards and one touchdown to opposing tight ends through four games, per Pro Football Reference. Against a team boasting the best TE in football in George Kittle that probably won’t matter, he’s going to get his. Toss that in with a Kyle Shanahan-ran offense where the running backs are the focal point, and Miami’s recent struggles could make it a tough outing for the Fins. Edge: 49ers
What Must Happen
- Limit the deep ball: Here we go again. After being torched once again through the air on downfield passing plays, it is crucial for the Miami back end to communicate and prevent blown coverages and explosive plays down the field. This generally isn’t the 49ers’ strategy anyway, especially without Jimmy G, but nonetheless, it is still a concern. Also, is Byron Jones ever coming back?
- Finish Him!: More often than not, the talent level between each team is minuscule, and every point matters in every game. When Miami drives into scoring range, they cannot settle for field goals, and put an emphasis on finishing drives with six points.
- Take more shots downfield: With the big-bodied weapons at Miami’s disposal in receivers Devante Parker (6’3″), Preston Williams (6’5″), and TE Mike Gesicki (6’6″), Miami must be more aggressive in downfield passing. Each have shown capability to corral 50/50 balls, taking some of the pressure for Fitz to force balls into tight windows. Not to mention, the assumed absence of CB Richard Sherman helps, as well.
- Fire with Fire: The 49ers aren’t the only team with a stud tight end; what about Mike Gesicki? Gesicki came out of the gate on fire, catching 11 balls for 160 yards and a TD through the first two games of the year. Since then, Gesicki has been targeted just six times, accruing two catches, 30 yards, and another score over the last two weeks. Gesicki has that spark plug factor to his game that serves the Fins well; he needs to be targeted early and often.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Fred Warner
- Nick Mullens/C.J. Beathard vs. Kyle Van Noy/Jerome Baker
- Deebo Samuel vs. Xavien Howard/Noah Igbinoghene
- Jerick McKinnon/Jeff Wilson Jr. vs. Miami Front Seven
- George Kittle vs. Bobby McCain
In the beginning of the year, this was another one of those games that everyone penciled in as an easy victory for the 49ers. Luckily for the Dolphins, games aren’t won on paper; they’re won on the field.
Miami has improved each week, and hung tough with far superior opponents at this point in the juncture than San Francisco. In listening to what players in the Dolphins organization have said leading up this game, its clear they won’t be satisfied with another “moral victory.”
Given how beat-up San Francisco is heading into this game, if the Dolphins can gain some early momentum and jump out to an early lead, it will be hard for the 49ers to keep pace. Miami’s marked improvement shows they’re due for a big win, and I believe it’s coming on Sunday.
Prediction: Dolphins win 24-20
(Featured Image Credit: Dolphins.com)