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49ers @ Dolphins: Four Key Matchups

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Since finsxfactor opened up the floor for questions, Matty I, from The Phinsider, and I thought an exchange of four matchups would give us an alternative take.  Matty came up with two matchups and I came up with another pair.  We each gave our opinion of the matchup and who had the advantage.  I think some of my own predictions were pushed by the two-game winning streak.  Hopefully I'm right.  Feel free to throw out who you think has the advantage in the various matchups.

MATCHUP #1: Ronnie Brown vs 49ers Front Seven
Matty I: It's getting to that time in the season where you need to run the ball effectively to win.  With at least two more games remaining in potentially cold-weather cities, the Dolphins need to get into that PTR (pound the rock) kind of mindset.  The 49ers haven't played particularly well against he run in their last 4 games.  Here are SF's last 4 opponents' leading rushers: Thomas Jones (10 for 56), Marshawn Lynch (16 for 134), Marion Barber (19 for 59), and Antonio Pittman (14 for 95).  That's a 5.83 yards per carry average combined among those 4 backs.  And Ronnie Brown is just as talented, if not more talented, than every back on that list.  Advantage: Dolphins

Fooch: This is an interesting matchup for the 49ers.  Heading into this past game against the Jets, the 49ers were #2 on defense in the NFL in yards per rush up the middle.  49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin has gotten a lot of grief but has stepped up his play as of late.  As he has become more of a force in the middle, it's made it easier for ILBs Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes to make plays (they're #1 and #2 on the team in tackles).  The 49ers have certainly given up a decent chunk of yards lately, but to be perfectly honest, the yards really haven't hurt them.  The Bills were shut down in the red zone, the Jets abandoned the run and the Rams....well they're the Rams.  And Dallas only averaged 2.6 yards per carry.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Dolphins get their fair share of rushing yards.  However, I see this like the Bills game, where an always game 49ers red zone defense can contain the rushing attack in the red zone.  I give the 49ers the advantage for that reason alone.  Advantage: 49ers

MATCHUP #2: Frank Gore/DeShaun Foster vs Dolphins Front Seven
Matty I: This is going to be a very interesting matchup.  Gore, who is nursing an ankle injury, has been very good this season - 978 rushing yards on the season placing him 11th in NFL.  But his last 3 games have been very mediocre.  Against the Jets, Bills, and Cowboys, Gore totaled just 144 rushing yards on 52 carries (2.8 ypc).  On the other hand, the Dolphins have the NFL's 11th ranked rushing defense and only allow 3.9 yards per carry.  But they've been up and down in their last 4 games.  Back in week 11 against Oakland, the Dolphins allowed just 70 yards rushing and 3.3 yards per carry.  But in week 12 against NE and week 13 against St. Louis, the Fins surrendered a combined total of 251 yards and 4.56 ypc.  Then just last week, the Dolphins held the dynamic Marshawn Lynch to just 31 yards on 13 carries.  So it's unknown which Dolphins' defense will show up.  But since Gore might be slowed by the injured ankle, I'll give the slight advantage to Miami.  Advantage: Dolphins

Fooch: The 49ers running game has really struggled the last few weeks.  Frank Gore just hasn't seemed to be able to get a full ahead of steam.  Throw in the ankle injury this past week against the Jets and it could be a tough road ahoe for the 49ers rushing attack.  Gore missed virtually the entire second half of the Jets game, as DeShaun Foster finished out the game.  Foster struggled in securing the ball and hopefully worked on that this week.  I think Gore plays this Sunday because he's from Miami and I'm curious how the emotion of coming home affects his play.  Given his recent performances I'm not expecting a big game but I think he'll do enough to take some pressure off Shaun Hill.  Entering this season I never would have conceded this matchup, but given Gore's struggles the last three weeks, I think the Dolphins have the edge. Advantage: Dolphins

MATCHUP #3: Joey Porter vs 49ers Offensive Line
Matty I: Everyone knows that Joey Porter is the heart of this Miami defense.  He's also been a complete beast rushing the passer this season, leading the league with 16.5 sacks on the season.  After struggling against the Rams two weeks ago, Porter bounced back last week in Toronto with a 2 sack performance, forcing a fumble in the process.  On Sunday, he'll face an offensive line that has allowed 45 sacks in 13 games - the 3rd most in the league.  And in their last 4 games, the Niners have surrendered 11 sacks.  That has got to worry Shaun Hill and his young left tackle Joe Staley.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Porter face a lot of double-teams as well, therefore freeing up some other pass rushers to do some damage.  Advantage: Dolphins

Fooch: The 49ers have struggled for large stretches in the pass rush.  While J.T. O'Sullivan was QB it seemed like every other play he was knocked down.  Shaun Hill has certainly been sacked a lot but it has not hurt his confidence or his ability to step up into the pocket and make the necessary passes.  Furthermore, the 49ers offensive line has been re-shuffled a bit in recent weeks and is forming into a more cohesive unit.  Rookie right guard Chilo Rachal is getting better and better by the week and Mike Singletary and Mike Martz have called tight end Vernon Davis the best blocking tight end they've ever seen.  I'd expect the 49ers to keep Davis back in pass protection a little more often to counter the Dolphins pass rush.  I think this could actually end up much like the first matchup above.  The Dolphins probably get 2 or 3 sacks, but they're more like "garbage time" stats. Advantage: 49ers

MATCHUP #4: Shaun Hill vs Dolphins Secondary
Matty I: So let's be honest.  After getting off to a slow start, Shaun Hill has played exceptionally well these last 4 weeks, completing 68% of his passes for 962 yards, 7 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions.  And it seems like the Niners have really rallied around Hill.  And I think what makes him even more dangerous is that he seems to spread the ball around very well.  But outside of the game against New England, Miami's secondary has played very well.  In their 6 previous games (excluding the game against the Pats), the Dolphins have allowed just 175.6 yards passing per game.  However, what worries me (as a Fins fan) is that I think the 49ers might be able to do what the Patriots did - spread Miami's secondary out and hit the open man.  Of course, the way to stop that would be a consistent pass rush.  But if the Dolphins can't get to Hill, then Hill could have a good game through the air.  Advantage: 49ers

Fooch: For the first time since Jeff Garcia was at the helm, the 49ers seem to actually have a competent QB.  He may not be a long-term solution, but for now, Shaun Hill is making the plays and leading this team.  As Matty indicated, the team has rallied around Hill.  He often gets stuck with the "game manager" label, but he's shown an ability that goes beyond game management.  He's not going to beat you with 30 and 40 yard bombs.  Rather, he's going to kill you on the 5-15 yard routes, setting his wide receivers up for all sorts of YAC.  As long as he can stay on his feet, Hill should be able to have a solid day.  And that kind of day doesn't necessarily mean 300+ yards and 3 TDs.  He could put up 150-200 yards and that could very well be sufficient. Advantage: 49ers

Thanks again to Matty for joining in the fun here at Niners Nation.  When you get a moment, head on over to The Phinsider to see what they're saying about 49ers-Dolphins.