By Jeremiah Thermidor
The Dolphins have nearly reached the end of their rope as far as making it to the playoffs is concerned. The Colts at 8-4 look like they’re going to be walking away with one of the wildcard spots while the Steelers (7-5) and Browns (7-5) appear to be in a horse race for the second spot. Miami’s only chance would be to run the table and hope the other teams in contention stumble along the way. A loss against San Francisco, however, would certainly end any chances the Dolphins have of reaching the postseason as they now stand at 5-7 with just four games remaining on the schedule.
The 49ers are looking to bounce back from a defeat at the hands of the Rams, while Miami hopes to get back on track after falling to the Patriots in a loss that ended the season of one its most valuable players. The Dolphins lost left tackle Jake Long for the remainder of the year as he was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday after tearing his triceps during the game. Long’s absence is definitely a setback for the Dolphins, but they’ll need to overcome it and play a whole lot better than they did last Sunday if they hope to knock off the 49ers.
San Francisco starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick shouldered the blame for his team’s overtime loss to the Rams. In the fourth quarter, Kaepernick botched a pitch which was intended for wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. The ball was, instead, fumbled and recovered by St. Louis rookie star cornerback Janoris Jenkins who returned it for a two-yard touchdown. Kaepernick’s mistake helped the Rams tie the score at 10, which sent the game into overtime. Kaepernick, who was making his third NFL start, took full responsibility for the error and is now seeking redemption versus the Dolphins.
Despite Kaepernick’s blunder, he’s played well since taking over the reins as the starter from Alex Smith, picking up big wins against Chicago and New Orleans while maintaining San Francisco’s lead atop the NFC West.
“He’s a very, very good athlete,” said Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle when asked this week about what kind of challenges Kaepernick presents. “He’s a big guy that can run. He has a strong arm and has some real elusiveness in scrambling.”
In addition to the running threat Kaepernick poses, the Dolphins will also have to deal with three time Pro Bowl tailback Frank Gore, who is just 28-yards shy of eclipsing 1,000 yards in a single season for the sixth time in his career.
“He runs hard. He’s physical,” said Miami head coach Joe Philbin regarding how tough it will be to stop Gore in the 49ers offense. “They have a good blocking scheme. They have a good offensive line. I’m confident we’re going to do a very good job,” Philbin said referring to his rush defense. “But it will be a challenge no doubt.”
Miami’s rush defense has, unfortunately, regressed since Week 3 of the season. The Dolphins had the third best rushing defense in the NFL and have fallen to seventh after facing off against some of the league’s most efficient running backs this year, including stars such as Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller.
The 49ers have the second best passing defense in the league, so, Miami rookie starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will likely run into some problems against the 49ers. One of those problems is San Francisco outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who leads the league in sacks this season with 17.5 while also boasting 51 tackles and three forced fumbles. In fact, Smith is chasing history as he is just five sacks away from passing Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 set in 2001. Dolphins rookie left offensive tackle, Jonathan Martin, who is taking over for the injured Jake Long, will certainly have his hands full trying to handle a beast like Smith. The Dolphins really need to brace themselves as a whole because trying to get a win against this 49ers team will be no cake walk.
The Miami Dolphins (5-7) will play host to the San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) on Sunday at 4:05 p.m. eastern. You can watch full coverage of the game right here on CBS 4.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.