The Miami Dolphins loss last week at home put their season on the brink. After losing 4 of their last 5, the Dolphins are as close to earning a top 10 pick in the draft, as they are to making the playoffs. If the Dolphins can pull off an upset on Sunday and a few other things happen, we might be able to entertain the possibility. But, the Dolphins’ task at hand is a very large, physical, and stingy one. The San Francisco Giants are currently the #2 seed in the NFC, have an exciting young QB at the helm, and have the stingiest defense in the entire NFL. Considering the Dolphins troubles on offense recently, it’s going to take a near-perfect game from the Dolphins to pull this one out.
Photo Courtesy of Dolphins.com
To make matters worse, the 49ers are not exactly going to be happy this week after losing last week to the St. Louis Rams in overtime. So if you were hoping this might be a trap game for the 49ers, the Rams ruined that hope. The 49ers want to hold onto the #2 seed so that they can claim a bye in the first week of the playoffs. The Giants and Packers are closing in on them, so they need this game. The Dolphins will certainly get their best effort on Sunday. So what do the Dolphins have to do to have a chance? Here’s our gameplan, which doesn’t include praying this week….but that doesn’t mean it won’t help!
Keep Tannehill Alive
Out of all of the weeks this season for the Dolphins to lose starting LT Jake Long, this might have been the worst possible scenario. The Dolphins have practiced with rookie Jonathan Martin at left tackle and veteran utility man Nate Garner at right tackle. Martin should feel comfortable on the left side, since he played there in college and protected Andrew Luck’s blind side. Well, he’ll feel comfortable until the game starts and he has to somehow block Aldon Smith. Aldon Smith, for those of you that haven’t heard, has 17.5 sacks through 12 games this season. He had 5.5 sacks in just one game. HE can destroy the Dolphins’ offensive gameplan single handedly…..and he’s probably eager to get his shot to take on a rookie LT and a backup RT.
The key for the Dolphins will be to keep Tannehill from getting killed. I say that figuratively, but they need to give the kid enough time to find an open receiver and deliver the football without a defender in his face. I think the Dolphins coaches realize what a challenge this is going to be. So, I expect them to adjust their playcalling accordingly. Use more 3 step drops and get rid of the ball quickly….Call some screens and draw plays to slow down the pass rushers and keep them off balance.
If Martin can rise to the challenge against Aldon Smith, it should give the confidence to play well for the rest of the season. If Martin can show that he could be the long term answer at left tackle, it could help the Dolphins make their decision regarding Jake Long this offseason. However, if Martin struggles for the next 4 games, it could go the other way. What no one wants to think about is what would happen if Garner or Martin got hurt? The Dolphins offensive line is not deep whatsoever, so keeping these guys healthy is crucial for the remainder of the season. (cont’d on page 2, click below)
Let’s get physical
Cue Jane Fonda because the Dolphins are up for a physical test this weekend. The 49ers are one of, if not the most physical teams in the NFL. Through the early part of the season, the Dolphins would’ve been considered a physically dominant team. They stopped the run and ran the ball whenever they wanted to. Lately though, the Dolphins have been outplayed physically by their opponents. To win this game, the Dolphins must match the 49ers physicality.
The 49ers are best when they run the ball well and they are averaging over 162 yards per game on the ground. They also stop the run well, averaging just over 90 yards per game, which is #2 in the NFL. They win the battles in the trenches and play the type of football that the Dolphins were winning with earlier this season. The team that can win the line of scrimmage has a clear advantage in this game.
The Dolphins have struggled in 2 big areas on offense this season. They are not good enough on 3rd down and in the red zone. Both of those areas are going to be huge in this week’s game. The Dolphins offense needs to win on 1st and 2nd down to create manageable 3rd down opportunities. They also must capitalize on their chances in the red zone. Third down and red zone opportunities are what can define a quarterback. Thus far, Ryan Tannehill’s numbers in those areas are not very good. He knows he must improve, but he also has to get a little bit of help from his teammates.
The Dolphins have to take advantage and convert their red zone opportunities because they have been settling for field goals far too much lately. Every time I see a field goal, visions of Fist Pumper Sparano dance in my head…..it’s not a good vision. The 49ers defense is stingy when it comes to giving up points, so that doesn’t help the situation. The 49ers have given up the least amount of points in the NFL this season, averaging just over 14 points against per game. The Dolphins must take advantage of their opportunities and score touchdowns instead of field goals.
The 49ers made the switch to Colin Kaepernick a few weeks ago and the 2nd year quarterback has been playing very well. His QB rating is over 96 and he has thrown only 1 interception versus 3 touchdowns. Kaepernick is not taking over games in the way that Peyton Manning or Tom Brady would, but he’s being efficient with the football and moving his team down the field. Kaepernick is a double threat, as he can use his legs as well as his arm to move the chains. The Dolphins would be wise to ‘spy’ him with a linebacker or a safety to ensure he doesn’t scamper for a first down when it’s 3rd and 11….like Andrew Luck and Jake Locker have done against the Dolphins defense.
The Dolphins need to rattle Kaepernick and that means Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Koa Misi, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, and Jared Odrick need to get him his fact. Make him uncomfortable. Make him throw before he’s ready. Pressuring Kaepernick and showing him looks he hasn’t seen before, will help the Dolphins secondary. The Dolphins defense played great last week against the Patriots (except for that last drive). If they can limit Kaepernick’s effectiveness, they can help the Dolphins offense by giving them good field position in what should be a field position game.
Overall, this is a tough matchup for the Dolphins. First, they are flying across the country to play the game. Second, they are playing a team that has a very physical, dominating defense, at a time when their offense has been struggling. The Dolphins will need to keep this a low scoring, win it in the 4th quarter style game. If the score gets into the 20′s, it will be tough for the Dolphins offense to put up enough points to pick up a victory.
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