Kyle Shanahan has dominated in games against coaches from his coaching tree, like Sean McVay and Matt LeFleur. However, Shanahan will get his first shot against Dolphins head coach and former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel. The Dolphins under McDaniel are 8-3, sit atop the AFC East, and are currently on a five-game winning streak.
The 49ers will have their hands full with their most challenging game since the Chiefs. Here are five players that will need to stand out for the 49ers to win.
DT Arik Armstead
Armstead said on Thursday that he would play for the first time since Week 4 on Sunday against the Dolphins. Armstead last played in the 49ers' first game against the Rams, where he suffered an ankle and foot injury that has kept him out for two months now. He’s a boost to an already stout 49ers defensive line that will be tasked with facing former 49ers Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert and the Dolphins' 28th-ranked run offense.
RB Jordan Mason
With the 49ers trading Wilson and Elijah Mitchell suffering a knee injury last week, Mason will likely become the second back behind Christian McCaffrey. Mitchell played on 20 percent of offensive snaps the last three weeks, sharing the backfield with McCaffrey, so it might be expected Mason could see at least that against the Dolphins. Mason has 10 carries on the season for 46 yards, with nine of the attempts and 39 of the yards coming in the 49ers' last two games.
WR Jauan Jennings
Jennings had what was the best game of his season so far, with six receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Saints last week. However, 14 of Jennings’ 24 receptions on the season have come on third down after four of his six receptions on Sunday were on third downs.
The Dolphins' defense has allowed a conversion on third down on 41.7 percent of attempts, which is in the bottom 10 of the league. With Jennings seeing a season-high in targets last week and him already being Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite third-down target, expect another big “third-and-Jauan” game.
DE Nick Bosa
The Dolphins could be without both of their starting tackles, with Terron Armstead (pec/toe) and Austin Jackson (ankle) missing practice on Thursday. Armstead suffered a torn pec on Sunday, and it doesn’t seem likely Jackson will play against the 49ers, which would leave Miami with Greg Little and Brandon Shell as their tackles.
Little and Shell have allowed 27 and 21 pressures, respectively, according to PFF, which is the most and second-most allowed on the Dolphins. If Little and Shell both get the start, both sides will offer a huge advantage to not just Bosa, but the entirety of the 49ers' pass rush.
CB Charvarius Ward
Ward has had a couple of tough matchups the last two weeks, matching up against DeAndre Hopkins and Chris Olave. The 49ers cornerback handled them well, allowing a combined six receptions on eight targets for just 53 yards to Hopkins and Olave. Sunday will be Ward’s toughest matchup, as he will see a healthy dose of both Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. The duo has combined for nearly 2,300 receiving yards this season while seeing 52 percent of the Dolphins' target share.