The San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins enter Sunday's contest with the hopes of ridding the sour taste of Week 4 losses. San Francisco has yet to win a game at home this year, and aims to reverse the course of their unexpected start to the season against a 1-4 Dolphins team that has struggled to finish in the red zone. Here are six things to watch for in the Week 5 matchup.
1. The Cheetah's Return
Running back Matt Breida will make his first trip to Levi's® Stadium not as a member of the 49ers. Breida was traded to Miami in April in exchange for a fifth-round pick, which was used to select offensive lineman Colton McKivitz.
Last year, the 49ers were one of three teams in the NFL to have at least three players with 500-or-more rushing yards that featured Raheem Mostert (772), Tevin Coleman (544) and Breida (623). The former 49ers undrafted back ranked sixth in the NFL, averaging 5.07 yards per carry last year.
So far through four games, Breida has only notched 18 rushing attempts while playing behind starter Myles Gaskin, who leads the team with 48 carries. Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey alluded to getting Breida more involved, which could come against his former team on Sunday.
2. Quarterback Conundrum
Who starts at quarterback in Week 5? That's the lingering question 49ers fans and (likely) the Dolphins are eager to know. Nick Mullens got the start last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, but didn't play well enough to finish, as he was replaced by C.J. Beathard in the fourth quarter. Jimmy Garoppolo returned to practice this week in a limited capacity after missing two weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Despite his restricted return to practice, the team has not confirmed whether the quarterback will, in fact, play against the Dolphins. Kyle Shanahan conceded the team will monitor his progress through the course of the week.
The head coach said the team has made a decision about which quarterback would start if Garoppolo can't go in Week 5. However, Shanahan is playing it close to the vest of who will be the first quarterback off the bench for Sunday.
"If Jimmy can't go, I'd like Miami to find that out on Sunday," Shanahan said. "But I've decided that we'll get both (Mullens and Beathard) reps because both of them do have to be ready in case Jimmy doesn't go."
3. Rejuvenated Run Game
Week 4 was a rough outing for San Francisco's offensive line. The team allowed five sacks and 15 quarterback pressures that led to three turnovers and 14 points against the Eagles. The 49ers running backs struggled to find open running lanes and were held to 60 yards on the ground for just 2.92 yards per carry.
Last week, the Dolphins defense allowed 5 yards per carry to Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson and, on the season, are allowing 4.6 yards to opposing ball carriers. The 49ers could receive a huge boost to their ground game with the return of Mostert. The running back missed the 49ers last two contests with a knee injury, however, was a limited participant in this week's practices.
Earlier this week, Shanahan said the 49ers aren't running the ball "horribly," but the team isn't running "close to our standard." Against a Dolphins defense that's allowing 124.8 rushing yards per game to opposing offenses, ranked 20th in the NFL, the 49ers aim to find their footing on Sunday.
4. Offensive Jumpstart
Will Sunday be the week fans and pundits alike will see the firepower of the "YAC Boys" and a healthy 49ers offense? Miami has struggled against the pass, allowing a 71.5 completion percentage and 9.5 yards per passing attempt.
Pass protection will be crucial in helping the offense find its rhythm and getting San Francisco's playmakers involved. Miami sits near the bottom of the league, allowing 285 yards through the air per game, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL. Whether Garoppolo is back under center or the 49ers are forced to rely on Mullens or Beathard, the offense should be able to capitalize on a favorable matchup against the Dolphins.
5. Kittle vs. Gesicki
Sunday's matchup will feature two tight ends who could play big roles in Sunday's outcome. George Kittle had a monster performance in his first game back from a knee injury. The tight end returned after missing two games and put up a show-stopping 15-catch, 183-yard and one-touchdown performance against the Eagles that yet again proved he is one of the most dynamic tight ends in the NFL.
The Dolphins have a standout talent of their own in third-year tight end Mike Gesicki. In Week 2, Gesicki put up a commanding 8-catch, 130-yard and one-touchdown performance against the Buffalo Bills. Since, he's been limited to one catch for 15 yards in back-to-back games. Its likely Miami will try to get their playmaking tight end more involved, particularly in the red zone.
It's no secret the 49ers have experienced their share of struggles defending mobile quarterbacks. Through two of the team's first four contests, opposing QBs have led their respective teams in rushing yards (Kyler Murray – 91 yards, Daniel Jones – 49 yards).
The Dolphins are hoping to ignite a spark in Fitzmagic. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't exactly a mobile quarterback, but he has no hesitation in calling his own number to pick up extra yardage. Last week against Seattle, the quarterback rushed for 47 yards and added a touchdown on the ground. Fitzpatrick has totaled 21 rushes for 115 yards and two touchdowns through the first four games of the season, second on the team behind Gaskin. Containing the quarterback in the pocket continues to be a point of emphasis for San Francisco's defense.
"We're always mindful and respectful to the quarterback. A lot of his rushes come from scrambles, so they're designed pass plays (and the) D-line getting after it," defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. "Fitzpatrick is a lot more nimble than people realize. He'll tuck it down. He had a QB draw last week for 11 yards and a touchdown. So, we are aware of his running ability, which is no different than any other team. We've just got to make sure that we're doing a great job communicating and being mindful of visibility."