Earlier this week, I spoke with Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider, and we had a chance to break down a variety of topics related to 49ers-Dolphins. You can check out my answers to Kevin's questions over at The Phinsider. I broke up Kevin's answers into a couple of posts, focusing on the Dolphins offense yesterday and their defense today.
While the Dolphins have dealt with plenty of inconsistency, their defense remains a unit with solid upside that can put together good efforts. Football Outsiders ranks them No. 10 overall and No. 12 in variance from week to week. It is not a spectacular unit, but it is one that can do good things. A week after struggling to establish the run against the Rams, the 49ers will be tested once again by a solid Dolphins run defense. Of course, we might get a chance to see LaMichael James, so that could very well change the whole scenario.
Niners Nation: It seems like your rush defense has been a good deal better than the pass defense. Amidst the recent team struggles, how has the defense performed and what are some of the strengths and weaknesses within the unit?
The Phinsider: The rush defense really is the strength of the team. Paul Soliai and Randy Starks up the middle have been impressive all year, turning it up even more the past couple of weeks. It's hard to run on the Dolphins, but teams have been able to find success on the ground late in games. It might be the team is getting tired, or it might just be teams like the Patriots simply forcing the running game to kill the clock.
The pass defense is the weakness. If the Dolphins aren't able to get to the quarterback with Soliai, Starks, Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, or Olivier Vernon, the secondary is shaky and will probably allow some big gains. Safety Reshad Jones is having a Pro Bowl caliber season, and will make a play or two this week, but the cornerbacks are the weak link. Sean Smith has up and down games, and behind them there is not a lot of depth. Safety/nickelback Jimmy Wilson could be out this week after failing to practice Wednesday or Thursday, which will hurt even more. Nolan Carroll will most likely start on the outside, with R.J. Stanford and Bryan McCann rotating into the game.
Niners Nation: The Dolphins strike me as a young team. What off the radar players are worth keeping an eye on?
The Phinsider: Jones is the first one to watch. He's been special this year, in coverage and in support of the run. Another name to watch is defensive end Olivier Vernon. He does not get a lot of snaps, but he seems to always be in on the play every time he is out there. He's not an every down defensive end yet, and needs to work on his run support, but he gets to the quarterback, and he seems to understand his job in keeping containment. I really like how Vernon is developing.