Armando Salguero

San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins: Five things to watch

The play of the offensive line has become a strength for the Dolphins, but on Sunday they will be without Mike Pouncey (51), are likely to be without Branden Albert, and are only hoping that Laremy Tunsil will be able to take the field.
The play of the offensive line has become a strength for the Dolphins, but on Sunday they will be without Mike Pouncey (51), are likely to be without Branden Albert, and are only hoping that Laremy Tunsil will be able to take the field. adiaz@miamiherald.com

1 How beaten up is the Dolphins offensive line? The worst-case scenario is the Dolphins will be missing three of the five starters on the line. Mike Pouncey is out. Branden Albert is not likely to play. Laremy Tunsil is hoping to play but that comes with no certainty. So how is it a team that built its five-game win streak on the play of the offensive line can continue to win without that offensive line?

2 How does San Francisco’s run game match up against Miami? The answer is not great for the Dolphins. The 49ers struggle in practically every facet of the game except running the football. They have the fifth-ranked run attack in the NFL. That is primarily because the team gets help from its quarterbacks, who have combined for 432 of the team’s 1,198 yards. Carlos Hyde is the team’s leading rusher, but he’s averaging only 3.8 yards per carry — evidence the team has a productive run game because it doesn’t abandon the run rather than because the run is effective on a yards-per-carry basis.

3 Can the Dolphins avoid the letdown? The Dolphins have won five consecutive games whereas the 49ers are on a nine-game losing skid. That tells you what direction this game should take. The problem is the Dolphins are not a good enough team to assume they can beat San Francisco, or anyone, simply because the records suggest it. The Dolphins must avoid the letdown. Will they? Everyone on the team says they recognize this and are not taking the 49ers lightly.

4 The 49ers tight ends are a handful: So the San Francisco receiver corps has not been overly impressive this season — maybe because the quarterbacks haven’t, either. But the tight ends are weapons. Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald are perhaps the second-best double-tight-end formation the Dolphins see this season behind what the Patriots do with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. McDonald has four touchdowns. Celek has one more reception that McDonald and is averaging 13.7 yards per catch. Miami’s linebackers and safeties, dealing with an injury to Jelani Jenkins and the absence of Reshad Jones, will be challenged in coverage.

5 Can DeVante Parker keep getting better? The past two weeks have been encouraging for DeVante Parker. He has been getting healthier, and as that has happened, his play has improved. Last week he caught the game-winning touchdown. So, can Parker, who showed great promise toward the end of last season, continue to build on the traction he’s found? The 49ers give up more touchdowns than any NFL team, but their pass defense cannot be dismissed. San Francisco is 14th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game.

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