49ers vs. Dolphins: 5 Key Matchups to Watch for San Francisco

The San Francisco 49ers visit the Miami Dolphins in Week 12. Niner Noise breaks down the five most important matchups if the Niners want to come away with a road win.

49ers

49ers Carlos Hyde. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Niner Noise won’t be giving you a live in-game thread in Week 12, as the San Francisco 49ers visit the Miami Dolphins (thank you, mini family reunions).

Instead, we leave you with this breakdown of the five most critical matchups for the red and gold as they travel to Hard Rock Stadium near Miami.

The 49ers are riding a nine-game losing streak. Another loss would push the Niners’ loss streak to 10 in a row, which would set a franchise record.

Not a good look.

Meanwhile, the red-hot Dolphins enter this contest with five straight wins under their belt. First-year head coach Adam Gase seems to have hit his stride, and Miami has to be considered a legitimate playoff contender.

It also helps to have a running back like Jay Ajayi, who is leading all tailbacks with 5.6 yards per carry.

He’s good. The Niners run defense isn’t.

Hint: that’s a matchup to watch we’ll explore in a bit.

But what others? Let’s take a look at the key matchups San Francisco will have to win if the 49ers hope to come home with a victory and end the streak.

Sep 1, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; 49ers offensive guard Joshua Garnett (65) looks on from the sideline during the second half of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. San Francisco won 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 1, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; 49ers offensive guard Joshua Garnett (65) looks on from the sideline during the second half of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. San Francisco won 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5: OG Joshua Garnett vs. DT Ndamukong Suh

Rookie offensive guard Joshua Garnett will face one of the biggest tasks of the season, squaring off against three-time All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Suh is second on Miami’s defense with five sacks, and pass protection has never been one of Garnett’s strengths. Even in college.

Pro Football Focus has Garnett graded in pass protection at 49.4 which, if you’re not familiar with PFF’s grading system, is pretty bad.

Garnett has shown improvement as of late though, as our own Nicholas McGee pointed out:

This is the kind of work Garnett will need to do in order to keep quarterback Colin Kaepernick upright. Kap took five sacks last week against the New England Patriots, and a repeat of that stat line won’t help matters at all.

Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (17) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4: WR Jeremy Kerley vs. CB Bobby McCain

Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley hasn’t gotten in on much of the action since Colin Kaepernick took over at quarterback in Week 6. He had 26 receptions over the first five games of the season, compared to only 14 in the equal amount of time since.

But Week 12 could prove to be a boost for Kerley’s production.

He’ll likely face off against Dolphins nickel corner Bobby McCain on Sunday, and it’s a matchup that favors the 49ers wideout.

McCain owns a 64.8 overall grade on the season, per Pro Football Focus, which is the lowest out of any Miami defensive back in nickel formations.

Assuming the Dolphins do a good job locking down Nos. 1 and 2 wide receivers Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton, Kerley should have his chances to get open.

Kaepernick would be wise to target him.

October 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

October 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3: RB Carlos Hyde vs. Dolphins Run Defense

Guess what, 49ers fans… Miami’s run defense is almost as bad as San Francisco’s.

It’s true. While the Niners are last in this category, the Dolphins aren’t too far behind. A total of 1,261 yards against puts this unit at No. 30 in the NFL entering Week 12. It’s not a great number at all, even if the difference between it and San Francisco’s is pretty substantial.

The Tennessee Titans exploited this weakness to a great extent in Week 5 — Miami’s last loss — and rushed for a whopping 235 yards.

Needless to say, running back Carlos Hyde could be in for a big game.

Hyde needs to be more decisive in hitting his holes though. The Niners can’t afford for him to dance around like he did in Week 10 versus the Arizona Cardinals. Instead, Hyde must look more to his efforts the following week against the Patriots.

Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to mix in some designed runs by quarterback Colin Kaepernick either.

Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) warms up prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) warms up prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 2: DE DeForest Buckner vs. OG Kraig Urbik

Dolphins left guard Kraig Urbik is one of the bigger weaknesses along Miami’s offensive line.

The Dolphins have allowed 24 sacks of quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the season, and that number could increase significantly if rookie defensive end DeForest Buckner wins the trench battles against Urbik.

Buckner has been coming on strong as of late. He was nearly credited with a sack, which would have been his fourth of the year, on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — it was later given to linebacker Ahmad Brooks — and has shown improvement against the run as well.

As such, Buckner has been one of the better 49ers pass-rushers this season. And he’ll need to continue this trend in order to keep Tannehill off balance and out of rhythm.

But stopping the run might be something which Buckner needs to do even more.

Nov 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) runs the ball during the fourth quarter as San Diego Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget (94) and free safety Dwight Lowery (20) defend at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1: San Francisco’s Run Defense vs. RB Jay Ajayi

If the 49ers slow down Miami running back Jay Ajayi, they Niners stand a chance to win. If they don’t, well, it’s going to be a long day.

We already know how bad San Francisco’s run defense is this season. This group has allowed eight 100-plus yard rushers in 10 games on the year and is poised to set records in rushing yards against.

So far, the Niners are averaging 179.5 rushing yards against per game this season and are on pace to allow 2,872 on the year.

It doesn’t help the 49ers have to face off against Ajayi.

Ajayi already has three games in which he’s rushed for over 100 yards. And two of those he went for over 200 yards on the ground.

But recently, opposing teams have somehow figured out a way to slow him down. He managed only 79 yards against the San Diego Chargers in Week 10 and just 77 against the Los Angeles Rams last week.

San Francisco would be wise to watch plenty of film from these last two games.

Possibly the Niners hold off Ajayi like they did against Cardinals running back David Johnson (55 yards) two weeks ago.

If this happens, maybe San Francisco stands a chance.

This article originally appeared on