DATE: Sunday, Dec. 9
TIME: 4:05 p.m. ET
SITE: Candlestick Park
TV: CBS (Greg Gumbel, play-by-play; Dan Dierdorf, analysis)
SERIES RECORD: Miami leads 6-5 (including playoffs)
AT MIAMI: Dolphins lead 3-2
AT SAN FRANCISCO: Dolphins lead 3-2
AT PALO ALTO, CALIF. (Super Bowl XIX): 49ers lead 1-0
LAST MEETING: 2008 at Miami; Dolphins 14, 49ers 9
SERIES TREND: This has been a series of streaks. The Dolphins won the first four meetings before the 49ers took the next five, including the Super Bowl at the end of the 1984 season. But the Dolphins have won their last two games to reclaim the lead in the series. In an interesting twist, the Dolphins have won all six meetings decided by eight points or less, while all of the 49ers’ victories against the Dolphins have come by at least 15 points.
SERIES HIGHLIGHT: The Dolphins’ last visit to San Francisco came in Week 12 and gave interim head coach Jim Bates his first victory in his second game. It was a rather uneventful game until the fourth quarter when things got wild. On the second play of the quarter, 49ers linebacker Derek Smith returned an A.J. Feeley fumble for a touchdown to give San Francisco a 10-7 lead. But the Dolphins responded by forcing three fumbles that led to 17 points. The last came when Jason Taylor’s sack of Tim Rattay, one of three on the day for Taylor and one of eight for Miami, knocked the ball loose and linebacker Derrick Pope returned the fumble 1 yard for a score. Pope’s TD made it 24-10 and the final became 24-17 after the 49ers scored in the last minute.
SAN FRANCISCO’S RECORD: 8-3-1
LAST GAME: Lost 16-13 in overtime at St. Louis
OVERVIEW: After reaching the NFC Championship Game last season, the 49ers clearly are again among the best teams in the league, but there’s a lot of commotion right now after Coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to go with second-year player Colin Kaepernick at quarterback instead of former first overall pick Alex Smith. Sunday’s loss against the Rams, when Kaepernick was called for grounding in the end zone for a safety and later tossed an errant pitch to Ted Ginn Jr. to give the Rams an easy game-tying touchdown, didn’t help matters.
THE 49ERS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: Whether Kaepernick or Smith is at quarterback, what the 49ers do best is run the ball. Former University of Miami star Frank Gore is a consistent, if underappreciated, back and he gets to run behind an offensive line that includes three former No. 1 picks — LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati and RT Anthony Davis. Kaepernick, who ruhed for more than 4,000 yards during his college career, gives San Fran another rushing presence.
THE 49ERS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: While Smith compiled a good passer rating and made few mistakes, he also wasn’t a great downfield passer. Kaepernick has the arm strength to go deep, but he also has been rather conservative in his passing since taking over. San Fran isn’t a team built to come from behind and it struggles offensively if the running game is contained.
THE 49ERS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: Considering the 49ers have held five opponents under 10 points and nobody has scored more than 24 against them, it’s obvious this is a defense that does a lot of things well. The two things that stand out is the ability to stop the run (opponents average only 3.6 yards per carry) and a pass rush led by star outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who already has 17.5 sacks on the season.
THE 49ERS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: There probably isn’t anything that stands out as a question mark for a defense that ranks first in the NFL in yards per play allowed, and second in yards per game, rushing yards per game, rushing average, passing yards per game and passing yards per play. If we must pick something, the 49ers are only in the middle of the pack when it comes to interceptions. And here’s a stat that offers hope for the Dolphins and their fans: The four games where the 49ers have allowed opponents to average at least 4 yards per rushing attempt have all been in San Francisco.
THE 49ERS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: We probably should start with former Dolphins first-round pick Ted Ginn Jr., who remains a dangerous punt returner even though he hasn’t broken a long one this season. Punter Andy Lee also is a factor for the 49ers; his net average of 42.3 yards is the third-best in the NFL.
THE 49ERS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: The 49ers enjoyed the last few years one of the best kicking combos in the league with Lee and placekicker David Akers, but the latter is having a tough season. It started off great for Akers when he tied the NFL record with a 63-yarder at Green Bay in the opener, but he’s only 21-for-30 on the season — his 70.0 percent success rate is his lowest since he became a full-time kicker in 2000. Akers missed potential game-winning field goals in overtime of both games against St. Louis, one of which ended in a tie and the other which was won by the Rams. Another area that hasn’t been up to par for the 49ers special teams has been the coverage units. San Fran is ranked 31st in kickoff return average allowed and also gave up a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown to Green Bay’s Randall Cobb in Week 1.