Dolphins and 49ers aim to bounce back in Week 5
The Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers will look to rebound from Week 4 losses when they meet at Levi's Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The home team has come away victorious in each of the last three occurrences of this matchup, with Miami winning 31-24 the last time these two teams met, at Hard Rock Stadium in 2016.
Miami (1-3) will head to the West Coast after playing three of its first four games in Florida (two at home, one in Jacksonville). The Dolphins opened the season with a 10-point loss to New England and a three-point home loss against Buffalo before rebounding with a dominant 31-13 win at Jacksonville just four days after losing to Buffalo. But last week against Seattle, the Dolphins' defense allowed 31 points for the second time in three games as the Seahawks prevailed 31-23. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ran for a touchdown (with six carries for 47 yards) but failed to throw for any, instead completing 29 of his 45 passes for 315 yards with a costly pair of interceptions mixed in.
San Francisco (2-2), meanwhile, is in the midst of a three-week homestand. Normally, that would be seen as a positive, as teams tend to find a rhythm at home. However, that cannot be said for the 49ers in 2020. The 49ers, incidentally, have played in only two stadiums this season: Levi's Stadium and MetLife Stadium. They won both games in MetLife Stadium (31-13 against the Jets, 36-9 against the Giants) but have lost both home games — to the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles — by a total of nine points. Last week's loss saw the 49ers with a 14-11 lead after three quarters, only for the Eagles to score two touchdowns and escape with a 25-20 win for their first victory of 2020.
Miami at San Francisco
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 11 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: 49ers -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Miami's offense break through?
Miami hasn't exactly been prolific on offense so far in 2020, but in the Dolphins' lone win one key element stands out: the run game. Against Jacksonville on Sept. 24, Miami rushed for 138 yards — not a staggering number by any means, but the team's high mark for this season. In their three losses, only once have the Dolphins surpassed 100 yards (103 last week vs. Seattle) and are averaging 96.3 yards on the ground in those other three games.
That may be key against a 49ers defense that has had quite a bit of success to start the season. San Francisco has done well to keep teams out of the end zone, limiting its four opponents to 17.8 points per game this season, third-best in the NFL and best in the NFC. However, while the 49ers also are allowing the third-fewest total yards in the NFL (an NFC-low 294.8 per game), and they sit more in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing yardage. Their 110.8 yards per game allowed is still a top-15 performance but a far cry from their NFC-leading marks.
Coming into the season, who the Dolphins' leading rusher would be was a major question mark. Fitzpatrick (243 yards) was the team's top rusher a season ago, and the team looked likely to split carries between free-agent addition Jordan Howard and former 49er Matt Breida. Instead, it's been 2019 seventh-round Myles Gaskin, who only had 133 yards on 36 carries last season, who has led the way. Gaskin, a former Washington Huskies standout, has racked up 30 more carries than any other back but has only totaled 192 rushing yards through four games. San Francisco has been stout defensively in the first quarter of the season, but their relative struggles to slow the run game might pose an opportunity for Miami to find some offensive momentum.
2. Encore for Kittle?
49ers tight end George Kittle simply could not be stopped last week in the loss against Philadelphia, hauling in all 15 of his targets for 183 yards and a touchdown (with an additional carry for eight yards). The game marked the first time in Kittle's four-year career in which he was targeted at least 10 times and caught all of them, as his previous high mark in a perfect (100 percent catch rate on targets) game was just eight targets.
That 183-yard total last week was Kittle's second-highest receiving total in his four-year career, topped only by his seven-reception, 210-yard effort in 2018 in a win against Denver. The very next week, he caught just three passes (on eight targets) for 51 yards, his fourth-lowest receiving output of the 2018 season. As he continues to work his way back from a knee injury, performances like last week's can continue to propel the 49ers' offense forward in a big way.
3. 49ers' quarterback questions
Speaking of injuries, Kittle isn't the only San Francisco playmaker on offense who has missed time. Jimmy Garoppolo returned to practice this week after suffering an ankle injury in Week 2 against the Jets. His likelihood of taking the field on Sunday remains a question mark, though head coach Kyle Shanahan wouldn't rule out the possibility of Garoppolo suiting up against Miami.
When Garoppolo left the game against the Jets, Nick Mullens entered and kept the 49ers safely in control for the win. His stat line — 8-of-11 passing for 71 yards and an interception — wasn't all that noteworthy, but he rebounded the following week — also in MetLife Stadium, though this time against the stadium's other residents, the Giants — with 25 completions on 36 attempts for 343 yards and a touchdown in a 36-9 victory.
But when Mullens struggled against Philadelphia last week, C.J. Beathard stepped in and kept the 49ers in the game before ultimately falling short. While it's possible that Garoppolo returns to action on Sunday, both Mullens and Beathard will need to be ready — and hopefully will be able to regain some momentum should they be the one leading the offense.
Both San Francisco and Miami eclipsed 30 points in Week 3 wins, and both lost by single digits last week. The 49ers' defense has been among the league's best, but if Jimmy Garoppolo remains out then Miami might be able to keep pace in what ought to be a low-scoring game.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Dolphins 20
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.