Week 12 Preview: San Francisco 49ers v. Miami Dolphins

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The San Francisco 49ers (1-9) have officially become the laughingstock of the NFL. Losers of nine consecutive games, there seems to be some disconnect surrounding the team. Who’s the unquestioned leader inside that locker room? Who has that mean-streak mentality to impose their will down in the trenches? Who is going to rally the troops, when the chips are down during games, on the 49ers sidelines?

Sakamoto: What Happened To Promising Rookie Ronald Blair? New Role Could Be OLB!

Simply put, this team is lacking a cultural identity, veteran leadership, and direction. How many times over are we going to hear from coaches that players are coming along and fighting? News flash! This is the NFL, it’s their job to perform at the highest level play-in and play-out regardless of the scoreboard. If you don’t, there are millions of other people waiting to have that opportunity. I don’t want to hear that these young players are progressively getting better–because at the end of the day, all that really matters is wins and losses. 

Sure, I’ll give the coaching staff a break. Why? Because they simply don’t have the horses (players) to keep up with the other NFL teams. You want to know why the 49ers jump to an early lead only to squander it mid-way through the third-quarter? It’s called football. At some point the better team will win out. You can’t play one half or three-quarters, but instead need to perform for all 60 minutes. That’s the truth.

The 49ers need to figure out who they are. Under HC Jim Harbaugh teams knew going in what to expect. A physical, old-fashioned, black-and-blue, smash-mouth football game. That was the 49ers identity during Harbaugh’s reign. It didn’t matter who they played or where they played. It was going to be physical and you better bring your ice-packs. 

The same can’t be said of the current state of the 49ers– which is why they are constantly trying to find consistency on both sides of the ball. But that can’t happen without some type of direction and cultural identity the team can identify with. Are they a run first-team? Are they a pass-first team? Are they a spread-offense? Game-plans vary week-to-week to some extent to create mismatches and that’s called coaching, but what’s their identity? 

Defensively, they have been trying to cover up their weakness at inside linebacker by shrinking their defensive ends from a 4-technique (2-gap) to a 3-technique (1-gap). Why? Because they don’t have any inside linebacker who has the ability to shoot the gaps, take on blockers, stack-and-shed, and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. 49ers special-teams ace ILB Nick Bellore gets swallowed up by offensive lineman on the daily while ILB Michael Wilhoite and ILB Gerald Hodges don’t have the instincts to read-and-react. It’s not all DC Jim O’Neil’s fault. 

But personnel wise, I can’t say this enough that rookie fifth-round pick DE/OLB Ronald Blair needs to be starting in the team’s odd-man front. I’ve been beating a dead horse since the season began that Blair is the team’s best 3-4 defensive end in terms of two-gaping. Just look at the second to last play in last week’s game against the New England Patriots where Blair stuffs the run on the goal-line. A small sample size to pull from, but I watch practice, and I see a player who has been clearly out-performing last year’s first-round pick (No. 17) DE Arik Armstead week-in-and-week-out from a run-fit standpoint. 

So how can the 49ers sure up their run defense woes? Plug ‘Optimus Prime’ in at defensive end and let his game do the talking. The 49ers will be facing a very strong runner in Boise State product RB Jay Ajayi. A player who recorded back-to-back 200-yard rushing games earlier this year, you can be sure Ajayi will be out for blood, as I believe he not only tops the century mark but scores two touchdowns in the process. 

The 49ers will be starting SS Jaquiski Tartt in place of FS Eric Reid and that’s a blessing in disguise. Despite what Pro Football Focus grades may indicate, I don’t believe Reid is a top-tier safety in the NFL. His ball-skills are marginal, his range is poor, and his tackling ability is questionable. I’d rather see what the team has in Tartt to better assess how he fares in coverage. We all know he can hit and be a valuable box-safety, but what about his range? That’s where my progress report would be focused on.

I’ve said all along that DB Jimmie Ward is by far the team’s best free-safety that no one knows about. He has the best ball-skills, best range, and elite aptitude for pre-snap recognition. Why not pair Ward with Tartt like back in high school? Sure, you can say this isn’t high school football– but what does this team have to lose? I asked coach O’Neil if he toyed with the idea of using Ward as a free-safety and O’Neil shot that down saying he was strictly a cornerback under his system. 49ers GM Trent Baalke would beg the differ, I can assure you. 

Normally I wouldn’t discuss these issues in this article, but instead preview the game. However, these things need to be brought to light so you can see what I’m talking about. 

But let’s get back to the game at hand. The 49ers are on the road going up against a team that has only lost once this season at home. This doesn’t look good. I don’t see the 49ers winning although they may surprise and cover the spread like they did in Arizona a couple weeks ago. But in the end, the Dolphins offense will prove to be too much, as they win 31-23.

 

Vegas Odds

Sakamoto: 37-21 (Over/Under) 

2016: 4-6

With the total points set at 45.5, I would slightly take the over. 

Sakamoto: 34-24 (ATS)

2016: 5-5

With the 49ers being -7.5 point underdogs, I’m rolling with the Dolphins to cover the spread.

Fantasy Football (62/170)

2016: 17 of 30

RB Jay Ajayi (twice)

WR Jarvis Landry

As you know we select three players each game who we think will score touchdowns (quarterbacks omitted). Here are this week’s picks:

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Ryan is the Founder/CEO of NinerFans.com, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at ryan@NinerFans.com or call him at (408) 622-0996.

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