If the 49ers’ pattern holds true to form, expect San Francisco to have no problems with the Dolphins this afternoon at Candlestick Park.
The Niners, at 8-3-1, have had a strange season. After two wins to open 2012, they lost to the Vikings. After two more victories, they lost to the Giants. After consecutive wins, they tied the Rams in overtime. And after two more wins they lost their last game in overtime to the Rams in St. Louis.
Which means they should be fine for Sunday’s matchup with 5-7 Miami.
That’s the way 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh sees it, too. He hopes the loss to the RAMs is a wakeup call.
“This was a tough one,” Harbaugh told reporters after the Rams loss. “We are going to have to bounce back very quickly. It was a football fight, and we did not win. This will test us. It tests our character as a team and the way our team competes and fights and plays with the effort that they do, I feel good about our guys and our character.”
NFL oddsmakers agree, and have made the 49ers a 10-point favorite.
The 49ers will be going against a Miami team that put up a good fight last week in a 23-16 loss to the Patriots, sacking Tom Brady four times, intercepting him once and stopping New England for most of the third quarter.
The Dolphins did lose, though, and have dropped four of their past five games.
This week, too, the Dolphins will come to San Francisco without Jake Long, their Pro Bowl left tackle, meaning rookie Jonathan Martin of Stanford will be in the spot opposite Justin Smith and league sacks leader Aldon Smith – a tall task.
Offensively, this will be the fourth start for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made some crucial errors in last week’s loss in St. Louis.
Since taking over for Alex Smith – who lost his job when he was sidelined by a concussion – Kaepernick has made some big plays with his arm and feet. But a bad pitchout last week led to a Rams touchdown that gave away what looked like a certain San Francisco victory.
This week, Kaepernick told reporters that he’s learned he “can’t make mistakes.”
Despite the error, Harbaugh affirmed that Kaepernick is his man.
“We’ve got faith in Colin and the way he plays,” Harbaugh told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “Therefore, another start this week.”
It’s possible that the 49ers may decide to attack the Dolphins through the air on Sunday. Miami’s run defense has been solid, allowing less than 100 yards per game, but the Dolphins are the 27th ranked pass defense.
To stop Kaepernick, the Dolphins might try to pressure him. James Walker, who covers the AFC East for ESPN.com, reports that Kaepernick’s effectiveness has gone down when he faces five or more rushers. He’s completing just 55.6 percent of his passes against the blitz. By contrast, Smith thrived in those situations, completing 72.2 percent of his throws when blitzed.
However, there’s a downside to that: when pressured, Kaepernick also is able to escape and run for big gains.