Mostert/McKinnon versus the Dolphins linebackers
Raheem Mostert practiced for the second day in a row on Thursday, which is an excellent sign that he’ll be active against Miami Sunday afternoon—a Miami defense that’s 31st in DVOA and 28th against the pass. The Dolphins have been susceptible to deep passes, but that’s not how the 49ers passing game have attacked defenses and hasn’t been the past two seasons. Where Miami has struggled the most at is giving up yards to running backs through the air. They’re allowing 50 yards a game and are 30th in DVOA.
Brian Flores is a Bill Belichick disciple, which means he’s going to run predominant man coverage, and he doesn’t care if you know that. Man coverage leads to coverage busts, and Miami has had their fair share of those this season, and that was on full display last week against the Seahawks. In this play below, the receiver open by 20 yards to the bottom of the screen went in motion before the snap, but nobody picked him up. That was an easy 23 yards for Seattle.
The Seahawks split out running back Chris Carson as a wide receiver a couple of times, and he was 1-on-1 with a linebacker. Those are the matchups Mostert and McKinnon must take advantage of. They have all season, and that should continue on Sunday. The Dolphins have allowed 23 receptions for 210 yards to running backs this season. For comparison, the 49ers have allowed 13 receptions for 85 yards. Jerome Baker is a great athlete, but he’s over-aggressive in coverage. The Dolphins linebacker has given up 11 receptions in 16 targets for 118 yards. Kyle Van Noy is a smart player, but you want to get him in space. He’s given up six receptions on six targets for 106 yards this season.
Do your thing, Shanahan.
Devante Parker versus Jason Verrett
Sunday will mark the first time since Week 1, where the 49ers cornerbacks are challenged. Miami has six pass-catchers with at least 80 yards on the season, but there is no bigger threat than DeVante Parker, who is capable of hurting any defense if he’s healthy—ask the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore. With Emmanuel Moseley remaining in the concussion protocol, the Niners will start Jason Verrett once again. It appears that Ahkello Witherspoon will play as he practiced for the second day in a row on Thursday as well.
Parker has 24 receptions on 29 targets for 279 yards on the season and a touchdown. Of those, 15 have gone for first downs. The Ryan Fitzpatrick to Parker combo efficient. Surprisingly, Parker doesn’t have a target over 20 yards this season. The majority of Parker’s volume has come underneath, where he’s been targeted 18 times under 10 yards, and ten of those targets have come over the middle. Will that change on Sunday? That’s unlikely, as Miami only has nine passing plays over 20 yards on the season, which is only two more than the Steelers, who are dead last in the NFL.