This week the San Francisco 49ers probably have their biggest test of the year when they welcome the Miami Dolphins to Candlestick Park for a Sunday afternoon game. One would not typically view this game against the 5-7 Dolphins as of major importance, but there are key factors this late in the season that make this game vital to hoe the rest of the year plays out. First of all, the 49ers have not clinched anything in relation to the playoffs yet, and there is only four more games left in the regular season. They have yet to even clinch a wild card spot, let alone their own division. And with their hard charging division rival Seattle Seahawks right on their heels in the divisional standings, losing this game against the Dolphins could prove very costly. The 49ers quite literally have to approach the game as a must win play off game. The Seahawks are talented enough to take advantage of any little opportunity that the 49ers provide them, as play off implications are concerned.
And even though the Dolphins record is sub par this year, the 49ers can not overlook this team. The 49ers cannot look to just roll over these Dolphins based on what their record indicates. The Dolphins are a much better team than what their record dictates. In the seven games that they have lost, only two have been by more than a touchdown. To make matters worse, they have played the NFC west very tough this year, beating both the Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. And they only lost to the Cardinals by three points back in week four when the Cardinals were playing as well as any team in the league.
The Dolphins have a very young team at this point; it makes them very streaky when it comes to performance and execution. When they are off their game, they can be way off. But when they are on, they are as good as any team in the league. Like a bolt of lightening, it’s never really certain when and where that flash of brilliance will take place. But when it does, it makes them a viable and dangerous threat. If the 49ers catch them in Candlestick Park operating to their full potential, it could be a very long night for the San Francisco hopeful.
As for the 49ers, the defense has been playing especially well as of late. Even with their tie and loss to the Rams the past few weeks, the 49ers defense has been at the top of their game. The defensive side of the ball has been either winning games for the 49ers or at least keeping them in it. It’s the 49ers offense that has been the question mark surrounding their play.
Now that Colin Kaepernick has been named the starting quarterback for the immediate future, the offensive scheme has changed so dramatically, that they struggle to find the rhythm that they once had. The success that they had this year as well as last year was due to the play of running back Frank Gore. The team is and has been reliant on his performance. Last week the 49ers leading rusher was the quarterback Kaepernick. That should never be the case when they have Gore in the backfield. Gore’s yards per carry have steadily dropped since Kaepernick took over as quarterback. Unfortunately, running an option style offense does not allow Gore the opportunities he once had. And now that Kaepernick is running the ball eight times per game, he is taking carries away from other backs that can be useful in opening up the offense. The 49ers were so successful at the hard ground and pound game that opened up the passing game, that it is a mystery as to why they opted for a different scheme. The worst part of it all is that any playoff bound team is due to rest some of their key players like Gore in the later stages of the regular season. Now that they have switched gears and are no longer a lock to make the playoffs, Gore just might have to endure too much of a burden if they want to make the playoffs.
If the 49ers want to win this game against the Dolphins they will have to implement their old school style of running game again. And bring in a back up running back like Brandon Jacobs to eat up crucial yards on nine to ten carries, much like Kendall Hunter did before he suffered a season ending injury. It will only help to keep Gore healthy for the playoffs, if they make it. Prediction: 49ers 24, Dolphins 21.
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