Our 49ers.com staff writers break down San Francisco's next matchup, a Week 12 road game against the Miami Dolphins.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers upcoming non-conference matchup, presented by SunPower.
1st Down: Who records longest play from scrimmage for SF?@Joe_Fann: Garrett Celek
San Francisco's top tight end has five receptions of more than 20 yards this season which is tied with Jeremy Kerley for most on the team. Two of those catches went for touchdowns of 75 yards and 65 yards. McDonald has become a reliable weapon for Colin Kaepernick. His contested, 18-yard touchdown catch in Week 11 was evidence of his development. In addition, the tight end's combination of size and speed is starting to match the expectations placed on him as a former second-round pick. Two weeks ago, San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates posted 63 yards and a score against Miami's defense. There's no reason why McDonald can't enjoy similar numbers on Sunday.
@TaylorPrice: Torrey Smith
The sixth-year pro led the NFL in yards per catch last season, averaging 20.1 yards per reception. Smith's deep-ball targets haven't been as frequent in Chip Kelly's offense. Smith averages 14.3 yards per catch in 2016. After missing his first NFL game last week due to a shoulder injury, Smith sounded optimistic that he would play in Miami. The team's most experienced pass-catcher explained he's further motivated after being sidelined for the first time as a pro. If he's active, I'm expecting Smith to get a deep ball in this game against a secondary that has allowed 31 catches of 20 or more yards this season. Should Smith be ruled inactive for a second consecutive game, my backup choice will be McDonald, who is on his way to posting career-high numbers in 2016. 2nd Down: What is the best matchup of the game?
@Joe_Fann: Cameron Wake vs. Trent Brown
Brown will be tested throughout Sunday's contest against one of the league's top pass-rushers. Wake has 7.5 sacks on the season and will line up across from the second-year right tackle. Brown has had his ups-and-downs in pass protections this season, but will need to be on the top of his game against the Dolphins.
@TaylorPrice: Pierre Garçon vs. Jay Ajayi
Hyde told reporters that his injured shoulder is not bothering him any longer. This bodes well for Hyde, who rushed for 86 yards in last week's loss to the New England Patriots. San Francisco will need an even greater performance from its third-year 'back against a red-hot Dolphins team. Miami running back Jay Ajayi averages 5.6 yards per carry, which is tops among all qualified NFL running backs. The leading rusher in this game will have a big impact on deciding Sunday's winner.
3rd Down: What headline/storyline are you predicting following the game?
@Joe_Fann: "Can the 49ers offense solve second-half woes?"
San Francisco has scored just 16 points in third quarters this season. Even so, the 49ers are still not being blown out of games after three quarters. San Francisco has been within one score during the fourth quarter in eight of its 10 games this year. If the nine-game losing streak is to end on Sunday, it will be because the offense will have come to life over the final 15 minutes of the contest.
@TaylorPrice: "Jaquiski Tartt Looks Solid in First Start of 2016"
With Eric Reid out for the season due to a biceps injury, the 49ers will rely heavily on Tartt as the team's starting free safety. Tartt made eight starts as a rookie, so joining the first-team defense won't be an issue. The former Samford standout is an aggressive defender with excellent closing speed. I'm eager to see how he supports the run and covers deep passes to the likes of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Devante Parker.
4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@Joe_Fann: The 49ers get their second win
That's right, I think the losing streak will indeed end in Miami. Yes, it's a 10 a.m. PT kick off, which usually doesn't bode well for West Coast teams travelling east. Yes, the Dolphins have won five-straight and are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. But that doesn't mean Miami is a team without it's blemishes. The Dolphins had their first 11 possessions end in either a turnover or a punt last Week against the Los Angeles Rams. They needed four, fourth-quarter interceptions from Philip Rivers to secure a win in San Diego the week before. I have no idea what the score will be, but I think San Francisco gets it done in Week 12.
@TaylorPrice: McDonald scores another touchdown
The 49ers tight end and Kaepernick have a good thing going. I'd assume it'll continue in Miami. McDonald leads the 49ers with four touchdowns. He has two in the past three games with Kaepernick under center. McDonald also leads the 49ers with 17.9 yards per reception. Look for No. 89 to be a primary target when San Francisco gets into the red zone, too.