The San Francisco 49ers are angry, and rightfully so. The team is eager to get back on track following their disappointing outing against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 and will receive an opportunity to do so as they host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
49ers.com is joined by Anthony Garcia, associate producer and co-host of Triples Alley and Armchair Quarterback on NBC Sports Bay Area to highlight four pressing topics heading into the weekend's matchup. You can catch Armchair QB every Monday at 12 noon PT on Facebook or 4 pm PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.
Without further ado, here are this week's Four Downs:
First Down: Position Group You're Watching Closely
@KeianaMartinTV – Quarterback
Sunday is a favorable matchup for San Francisco's offense, regardless of who's in at quarterback. Signs are pointing to Jimmy Garoppolo's impending return from a high ankle sprain as the quarterback was a limited participant at practice leading up to Friday. With or without Garoppolo under center, the 49ers should be able to capitalize on a Dolphins defense that has struggled against the pass through four weeks of the season. Miami is allowing opposing quarterbacks a 71.5 completion percentage and 9.5 yards per passing attempt.
Through four games, San Francisco's three quarterbacks are averaging a 69.5 completion percentage (C.J. Beathard's appearance included) and 8.1 yards per attempt.
Miami sits near the bottom of the league, allowing 285 passing yards a game, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL. Last week against the Seattle Seahawks, the Dolphins allowed 343 yards through the air to Russell Wilson and Co.
Not only will I be watching the quarterbacks on Sunday, but will be keying in on San Francisco's pass protection, as well as Garoppolo (or Nick Mullens or Beathard's) ability to get the 49ers host of (finally) healthy playmakers involved and finish drives.
@SportsAnthony – Offensive Line
A couple of years ago my older sister asked me to watch her newborn son for the first time. I was in my mid-20s working part-time jobs as a bouncer and app bearer a couple of days a week, so my life essentially consisted of playing Xbox and ordering pizza. My child-watching abilities were about as good as my astronaut skills and trust me, I was not qualified to work for NASA. My sister laid everything out for me. She gave me diapers, baby wipes, extra clothes, food, told me how long to heat it up, what to do if he started crying. She 100% set me up for success. As long as I didn't juggle flaming knives around my nephew, he'd be fine.
This is a very long and convoluted way to say that the offensive line didn't do a great job setting up Mullens for success last week. Mullens is in no way an infant, but when you hand the offense to your backup QB, you have to do everything you can to make sure that he's in a position to succeed. The Eagles pass rush never let Mullens settle in. He didn't seem to find a rhythm all game. The O-line allowed five sacks, including one that led to a Mullens fumble that Philly recovered. The rushing stats are fine, the Niners averaged 5.8 yards per carry on Sunday, but it seemed like, at times, they weren't getting enough of a push against the Eagles D-line.
If Garoppolo can't go again this week and the 49ers have to turn to Mullens, or even Beathard, the O-line has to be able to protect him and create some holes in the running game to alleviate the load on the backup. Negate the Miami pass rush and please, no flaming knives.
Second Down: Who is Under More Pressure, Offense or Defense?
@KeianaMartinTV – Defense
For the sake of argument, I will go with the defense here. If you read below, Anthony makes a great point of San Francisco maintaining solid play out of its defense despite being without a number of starters.
San Francisco's pass rush has been key in the team's second-ranked passing defense (184.0 yards allowed), however the unit tends to struggle once a quarterback leaves the pocket.
Twice this year, the 49ers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to lead their team in rushing yards (Kyler Murray – 91 yards, Daniel Jones – 49 yards). Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick rushed for 47 yards along with a touchdown against the Seahawks last week, which is near the average yards the 49ers are allowing through four games (46). Fitzpatrick has registered 115 yards and two touchdowns on 21 rushes so far this season, second on the team behind starting running back Myles Gaskin.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh highlighted Fitzpatrick's "nimbleness" and ability to scramble to pick up additional yards. The 49ers need to adjust, especially with looming matchups against Russell Wilson (twice) and a rematch against Kyler Murray at the backend of the season. Sunday might be a good litmus test, especially if Miami has any tricks up their sleeves to throw the 49ers off balance in Week 5 (see Fourth Down).
@SportsAnthony – Offense
After Richard Sherman went on IR after Week 1, and Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas sustained season-ending injuries on the same series in Week 2, everyone probably expected the 49ers defense to just tread water until the reinforcements came. But the unit isn't just staying afloat, they've got a pretty good stroke going. Robert Saleh's D gave up a combined 22 points and one lone garbage time touchdown in the two games at MetLife Stadium. Then 18 (I'm not counting the pick-6) against Philly last week. The defense is holding up their end, which means it's the offense's turn.
The offense isn't struggling. San Francisco is hanging 26.8 points a game through the first quarter of the season. That's good for 11th in the NFL. It's not that the 49ers offense is cold, it's when they're going cold. A potentially game-winning drive in Week 1 led to a turnover on downs and last week against the Eagles in the same situation, Mullens threw a pick-6 that sent him to the bench.
The 49ers shouldn't be in a scenario this week against Miami where they need a last-minute TD, but if they're in that spot, or any other where they need points, yards, or first downs to milk the clock, they've got to hold up their end and find a way.
Third Down: The 49ers Can Win If…
@KeianaMartinTV – The run game finds its footing
Kyle Shanahan is known for his run-first offense. Last year, the team owned the second-ranked rushing offense anchored by an offensive line that ranked eighth in run blocking. The offensive line led the way for an eighth-ranked 4.6 yards per carry, 64 explosive run plays of 10-plus yards (second) and a league-high 28 rushing touchdowns.
So far, 2020 has been a mildly different story. San Francisco is averaging 128.5 yards a game and 4.7 yards per attempt, good for 11th in the league. With Raheem Mostert out of the lineup, San Francisco has rushed for just 122 yards on 45 attempts, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
While Shanahan agrees the 49ers aren't running the ball "horribly," the team isn't playing close to their standards.
The 49ers have the opportunity to get their rushing attack back on track against a Dolphins defense that's allowing 124.8 rushing yards per game, ranked 20th in the NFL. San Francisco could get some relief this week with Mostert returning to practice from a knee injury. While Tevin Coleman remains out of the lineup, Mostert and Jerick McKinnon are likely to get a lion's share of touches, and hopefully unlock some of those big runs reminiscent of the 49ers 2019 ground game.
@SportsAnthony – They show up (and do one more thing)
The last few weeks before HS graduation are a fun time in an 18-year-old's life. It was my first real accomplishment, and as I told people in and around my life that I was graduating soon they all congratulated me and seemed genuinely happy for me. Well, except my dentist. I had a dentist appointment a couple of weeks before graduation. I remember telling him about my upcoming commencement. I kid you not, he looked down at me and said, "So what? Everyone graduates high school. All you have to do is show up."
The 49ers have shown up in all four games this season. It was enough in two of their games, it wasn't in the other two. The Dolphins are 1-3, with their lone win coming on a short week against 1-3 Jacksonville. Showing up on Sunday at Levi's® Stadium will probably be enough, but that's why I think they need to do one more thing; a big kickoff/punt return, a takeaway deep in Miami territory, a pick-6. Some sort of momentum-changing play that they didn't get in their two losses. It's the equivalent of showing up to a party empty-handed versus showing up with a 12-pack. They need to bring the beers this weekend. A win on Sunday over the lowly Dolphins is what's expected, but it'll get them back over .500 with a tough stretch of games ahead.
Just don't expect any praise from my dentist.
Fourth Down: Bold Prediction
@KeianaMartinTV – Tua makes his NFL debut
Take this as you will, but I foresee the Dolphins seeing their rookie quarterback taking the field in some capacity on Sunday. Last week against the Eagles, we saw Philadelphia draw up some plays that included rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts. Knowing San Francisco's woes at containing quarterbacks with a fleetness of foot, the Dolphins could opt to call Tagovailoa's number somewhere in their game plan.
During his time at Alabama, Tagovailoa registered 340 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns over 32 games. Placing the rookie on the field will put any opposing defense on high alert.
However, as for now, Tagovailoa has yet to take an NFL snap. The Dolphins don't believe the rookie is ready to take over the starting job just yet. But as always, a backup is just one play away from hearing his number called, even if it's to throw San Francisco off its game.
@SportsAnthony – Jimmy G returns this week
This was supposed to be the soft part of the 49ers schedule. The first four games were Arizona at home, then a double dip in New Jersey and Philly. That's three teams who missed the playoffs in 2019 with the toughest game being at home. 4-0 was the expectation. 3-1 was worst-case scenario. San Francisco went .500. We're not quite at DEFCON 1, but it's an emergency, it's time to break the glass.
San Francisco needs Garoppolo back. He'll start this week.
Jimmy G finally returned to practice on Wednesday, albeit in a limited capacity. George Kittle was asked about it and joked that Garoppolo was still handsome, still has a rocket arm and still was throwing Kittle the ball. That's all I need. San Francisco was a 7-point favorite last week against the Eagles. It was a game they should have won and you could certainly argue that QB play was one of the reasons they didn't. This is another game the 49ers should win (San Francisco is favored by nine) and I don't think they risk it. If Jimmy G can play, he will.
Being 2-2 isn't necessarily a death sentence, but the 49ers have some ground to make up. What better way to do it than with their starting QB at the helm.