Considering the Niners and Dolphins hardly ever get the chance to face off, it’s weird that I felt almost over-prepared for this round of question and answer with an opposing team’s writer. However, it’s not all that weird when you take stock of all the newly-formed connections between these two teams, the latest being the trade deadline.
They’re apparent but worth restating. Mike McDaniel migrated to South Beach and brought several Niners’ assistants with him as he took on the role of head coach, the team signed several 49er free agents, including Raheem Mostert, Trent Sherfield, and River Cracraft, and they traded for Jeff Wilson Jr. only a few weeks ago. They look a little bit like the East Coast arm of the Niners' operation.
With all that in mind, Kevin Nogle of Phinsider provided some in-depth answers to get us all that much more prepared for today’s game.
Depending on who you ask, Tua Tagovailoa might either be the next great young quarterback talent in the league or a system game manager that’s lucky to be in such a friendly offensive system. After watching him all season, where do you think he lands on that spectrum, and how do you account for his jump in production?
Over the last couple of years, Tagovailoa’s performance has been scrutinized, critiqued, and broken down by almost every single pass. From almost the moment he was selected, then head coach Brian Flores was trying to get rid of him.
He was never supported by his own coaching staff, and he struggled with his confidence because of it. The potential was there, and it is why he was selected fifth overall, but he was never really put in a position to succeed.
Fast forward to this year, and suddenly everything seems to be clicking for Tagovailoa. Mike McDaniel has come in and rebuilt Tagovailoa’s confidence, the team has added weapons to the offense, and the system plays to Tagovailoa’s strengths.
I think the term “system” quarterback is a strange one - it is the job of the coaching staff to put all of their players into the system that works best for them. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, and Jimmy Garoppolo, they all shine in a system that is designed to play to their strengths and limit their weaknesses. Why is that a bad thing? If it leads to success, is that not the goal?
So, yes, Tagovailoa is benefitting from being in McDaniel’s offensive system, which is an evolution of Kyle Shanahan’s system, which is an evolution of Mike Shanahan’s system. Quarterbacks seem to thrive in each of those systems. Is Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo a “system game manager” if they do well in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, or is the offense designed to make them do well?
Tagovailoa is going to be a good quarterback in the NFL. He is going to push to be among the elite. He has the skills and the ability to lead the Dolphins and push them into contention in the AFC.
If he stars for 20 years in McDaniel’s offense, does it matter if he is a “system” quarterback? So, yes, I think he is lucky to be in such a friendly offensive system, but I also think he is a great young quarterback talent. And I do not believe there has to be a separation of the two.
In 2021, fans of the San Francisco 49ers became huge fans of Mike McDaniel. His raised profile as the team’s first offensive coordinator under Kyle Shanahan allowed for his quirky brilliance to shine during weekly press conferences and, eventually, led to his being hired away by the Dolphins. How would you rate Head Coach Mike McDaniel's experience thus far? How has he improved over his predecessor, and do you see any areas he could grow?
For the most part, Dolphins fans love him. It is exactly what you said, too. He is quirky, he shines in press conferences, and he is not afraid to just be himself. He really just feels like a breath of fresh air after so much drama and chaos over the last...well, 20 years, really.
The best part of McDaniel is that he really cares for the players, and he is not looking to make himself the star. He just wants to win, and he wants the players to succeed. His game planning, his methods of creating mismatches, and his ability to make adjustments have been strengths and have clearly made this a fun ride and, at least through 11 games, has made it seem like Miami has finally found the right head coach.
Looking back on the brief Brian Flores era, things seemed to be going well on the field, but everything behind the scenes seemed to be a mess. Flores seemed to not like major personalities with players, which led to things like Minkah Fitzpatrick being traded, and that may be part of what caused friction in the background. McDaniel is clearly a different person from Flores, and, while the team put up winning records under Flores, it feels like this is a more sustainable version of winning.
Nothing jumps out as a huge weakness for McDaniel, but again, we are only 11 games into his first year as a coach. As funny as it seems, I would love him to focus more on getting the running game going - Miami is so very pass-first, almost to the pass-only level. Against the worst rush defense in the league last week, Miami threw the ball 41 times. It is hard to argue against success, but a little more balance seems like an improvement McDaniel could make.
The story of the season for the Miami Dolphins has been their high-flying offense built on the speed of dynamic receiving duo, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, which have left secondaries flat-footed and lit up scoreboards. Ultimately, this has left the defense lost in the shuffle that, by most metrics, are a middle-of-the-pack unit. Considering that McDaniel retained the previous regime’s defensive coordinator, do you think he made a wise decision there, and how do you feel about the matchup against this Niners’ offense?
I think the defense has been largely impacted by injuries. Miami’s defense under Josh Boyer is designed to run a cover-zero scheme, relying on shutdown cornerbacks to work man-to-man and free up additional pass rushers to get after opposing quarterbacks.
With cornerback Byron Jones on the physically unable to perform list following surgery in the offseason - a procedure that originally seemed to have him on a timeline to play in Week 1 but still has him sidelined - the Dolphins have had to turn to younger players opposite Xavien Howard.
Then add in cornerbacks Trill Williams and Nik Needham and safety Brandon Jones are on injured reserve, and cornerbacks Howard, Kader Kohou, and Keion Crossen are also missing some time this year due to injuries, and Miami has not had the secondary to shut down receivers, so they have to add more players in coverage and sacrifice some of the pass rush.
Adding a player like Bradley Chubb to the defense was clearly a move to try to offset the injuries in the secondary, bolstering the pass rush.
There is probably some argument to the defense missing the defensive mine of Flores as well.
Obviously, the 49ers have weapons that are scary, especially with the addition of Christian McCaffrey, and that is going to be a challenge no matter what. That said, I feel better about this game against Miami’s defense than something like facing the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, or even the Chicago Bears.
Miami struggles to stop running quarterbacks, and while Jimmy Garoppolo can run, he is not Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, or Justin Fields. That is a positive for the Dolphins. Miami will have their work cut out for them, with weapons like McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Bradon Aiyuk, but at least they do not also have to figure out who to slow down someone like Josh Allen.
Niners’ fans are very familiar with a fair amount of current Dolphins players, such as Jeff Wilson Jr., Raheem Mostert, and Trent Sherfield, who all followed Mike McDaniel’s migration to South Beach. Can you tell us a player who might not be on our radar that could make a huge impact this Sunday?
Sherfield and another former 49ers player, River Cracraft, are usually my answers to this kind of question. While all the focus of talk about the Dolphins is on Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Sherfield and Cracraft have been solid options for Tagovailoa. They are not going to put up massive numbers.
Sherfield has 24 receptions for 280 yards with a touchdown, and Cracraft has six catches for 68 yards with two touchdowns, but they have been there when they are needed.
So, to look toward a non-49ers related player, I might go with a player who may be a recognizable name but could have an impact. Safety Eric Rowe started the season as a backup but has been moved back into the starting role after the injury to Brandon Jones.
Rowe’s strength is tight end coverage, so I would not be surprised to see him on Kittle for much of the game. If they do make that move, and he does play up to his potential, he could have a good impact on the game (from a Dolphins fan point of view).
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Niners are currently 4-point home favorites, with the over/under set at 46.5 points. With that in mind, what’s your prediction for the game? Will the Dolphins win outright, and would you smash the over?
Miami has been involved in so many shoot-out-style games this year, relying on being able to put points on the board over trying to limit what the opposing offense does. Since Week 8, the Dolphins have scored at least 30 points in every game. I believe that the over is the way to go most weeks with Miami, both because of the offense and because the defense will give up points in bunches.
I think this is probably going to be a close game. I think the Dolphins could win this outright, and I am going to pick them, but I also would not be surprised to see the 49ers' defense dominate this game and throw the Dolphins off their rhythm. I think something in the 28-25 range is not out of the picture.