Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) match up in six key areas ahead of Sunday’s Week 13 game at Levi’s Stadium (4:05 p.m., Fox):
When the Dolphins run: As the Dolphins get set to go against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, they are coming off a discouraging game on the ground against the league’s worst run defense, the Texans. Miami could only muster 2.5 yards per carry against Houston after having its best rushing effort in the previous outing against Cleveland.
Running back Raheem Mostert wasn’t there for the Dolphins, though, and he’s expected to be back from his knee injury this week. He and Jeff Wilson Jr. will face their former team in San Francisco. If left tackle Terron Armstead is unable to play, that hurts Miami’s ability to run to his side as his steamrolling run blocking will surely be missed.
Fred Warner, a Pro Bowl linebacker in 2020, leads the 49ers in the heart of that defense with 82 tackles. Outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw is right behind him with 79. FAU product Azeez Al-Shaair is one to keep an eye on, and defensive tackle Arik Armstead could make a return to action this week, after being out since Week 4 dealing with foot and ankle injuries. Edge: 49ers
When the 49ers run: Christian McCaffrey, the oft-injured star running back is trying to fight through a knee ailment, and Elijah Mitchell has a knee injury of his own he’s dealing with. Much like Armstead does for the Dolphins, Trent Williams anchors the San Francisco offensive line from the left tackle position and is probably the league’s best.
The 49ers were held to 96 rushing yards last week against the Saints, but had back-to-back 150-yard outputs the previous two weeks. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel always has to be accounted for on the ground with all the creative ways coach Kyle Shanahan can get him involved.
Miami continues to stop the run well, specifically the traditional run game to the running backs. Their 10th-ranked run defense is inflated because of big scrambles surrendered to dual-threat quarterbacks. Last week, the Dolphins held the Texans to 36 rushing yards and limited Dameon Pierce to 8 yards on five carries. Edge: Dolphins
When the Dolphins pass: Miami owns the league’s second-ranked passing offense, but if Armstead is out, that will present the pass protection with the challenge of keeping quarterback Tua Tagovailoa upright against a 49ers pass rush with 33 sacks on the year, 11 1/2 of which belong to South Florida product and former St. Thomas Aquinas High star Nick Bosa, whom Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel called the league’s top pass rusher. Miami could be counting on backup tackles Brandon Shell and Greg Little with Austin Jackson also likely out.
Tagovailoa’s 115.7 passer rating continues to lead the NFL. In the five games since he returned from a concussion — all wins — Tagovailoa has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, breaking a team record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has a 1-yard lead on the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson for most receiving yards in the NFL (1,232). Jaylen Waddle ranks fifth with 963.
The quick passing game to Hill and Waddle and hoping for yards after catch may be the best route for Tagovailoa if he indeed faces pressure like he did once Armstead went out in the win over Houston. Bosa will be getting after him. On the back end, strong safety Talanoa Hufanga has four interceptions, and cornerback Charvarius Ward and free safety Jimmie Ward have to be accounted for. Edge: 49ers
When the 49ers pass: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is completing passes at a 67.4-percent clip with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Of course, he has tight end George Kittle and Samuel to throw to, but it is actually Brandon Aiyuk that leads San Francisco with 51 receptions 652 yards and six touchdowns through the air.
The Miami pass rush will look to remain active in the backfield after collecting five sacks last Sunday against Houston with five different players recording one. Bradley Chubb, acquired in a trade with the Broncos at the deadline, will actually face the 49ers for the second time this season as Denver won against San Fran., 11-10, early in the year. He, Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram and company look to create pressure against Williams and right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
The Dolphins secondary is finding its groove after having a rough time dealing with injuries to safety Brandon Jones, cornerback Nik Needham and having Byron Jones nowhere to be found. Xavien Howard has fumble recoveries in back-to-back games, the last one returned for a touchdown off an Eric Rowe forced fumble. Verone McKinley had his first career interception against the Texans, and outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel also had a pick that he nearly took back the other way. Edge: Dolphins
Special teams: Kicker Jason Sanders had a nice bounce back after his share of struggles on short kicks on the other side of the bye. He made all three field goals and extra points against Houston. The Dolphins special teams units still gave up too much on punt returns, though.
49ers kicker Robbie Gould is 16 of 19 on field goals this season. Kick and punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud is capable in his role. Fun fact about punter Mitch Wishnowsky: He is nicknamed Boomin’ Onion. Edge: 49ers
Intangibles: Both teams come in hot with San Francisco on a four-game winning streak and the Dolphins winners of five in a row. Miami faced a lot of tough competition early in the year but hasn’t seen an above-.500 team since Week 6. The familiarity aspect between McDaniel and Shanahan can go either way, but the Dolphins do have to travel across the country and possibly face a top pass rusher without either starting offensive tackle. Although the edge is going the Niners’ way, don’t discount that defensive coordinator Josh Boyer had a great game at Levi’s Stadium in 2020. Edge: 49ers
PREDICTION: 49ers 23, Dolphins 17