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The San Francisco 49ers are getting healthier, and it needs to result in a win on Sunday.

After a frustrating loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) in Week 4, the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) welcome the Miami Dolphins (1-3) to Levi’s Stadium for a Week 5 matchup that the 49ers absolutely need to win.

Sitting at 2-2, the 49ers find themselves in last place in the highly competitive NFC West. Coming in to this season, very few expected this 49ers team to have a .500 record through four weeks against favorable opponents.

Of course we all know about the injuries this team has suffered, but with the return of more key players, it’s time to get back on track.

Injury updates

After a disastrous Week 4 performance that led to his benching, and the insertion of C.J. Beathard in the final minutes of the game, neither backup QB Nick Mullens, or Beathard, will get the start on Sunday.

Yes, that means the man is back: Jimmy Garoppolo will make his return to the field Sunday after missing two and a half games due to a high-ankle sprain. Great news for the 49ers, whose offense was unable to maintain any level of consistency in Week 4.

Garoppolo showed Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers what they needed to see out of him in practice, in order to clear him for Sunday. The main factor for Shanahan, as he’s said for two weeks, was whether Garoppolo was able to show that he can protect himself in the pocket.

This injury was a first for Garoppolo, whose mindset was always to prepare in case he was able to start:

“I’ve had normal ankle sprains, never had a high ankle sprain. So, this was a first and I kind of just thought it was going to be like a normal ankle sprain that I could come back and just trying to get myself mentally prepared each week. So, I was kind of talking to myself, telling myself, ‘Hey, I could play this week. I’ll be all right.’ And just, it took a little time, but I’m glad to be back out there with the guys. It feels great.”

Another key member of the 49ers offense made his return to practice this week. RB Raheem Mostert practiced on a limited basis and is officially listed as questionable for this week. Immediately after last Sunday’s game, Shanahan wasn’t confident that his No. 1 back would be able to return this week.

After easing back in this week, Mostert’s status depends on how he feels after a week of practice. Shanahan provided an update:

“Really just how he’s feeling then. He got a little bit more work today. He was able to get through it. We didn’t put him through everything, but really want to see how that responds tomorrow, how he wakes up tomorrow and how he feels on Sunday.”

WR Deebo Samuel missed multiple practices this week due to an illness. No, not THAT illness. Samuel was not dealing with Covid-19, but because of the overlapping symptoms, he was required to pass multiple tests before returning to the facility.

Shanahan said that Samuel feels great and is symptom-free, and will play Sunday after returning to practice Saturday.

Despite being eligible to return to practice this week, 49ers CB Richard Sherman will not play Sunday. The veteran corner is close to making a return though.

What will the Dolphins look like on offense?

The Dolphins are an interesting team this year. They’re not a good team, but they’re a team that will hang around in games. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks, with whom they went toe-to-toe in Week 4.

Arguably the most exciting part of this Dolphins team is their backup QB. The highly-touted Tua Tagovailoa is the future of the team, just not this week. Veteran journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Sunday against the 49ers.

Given the issues the 49ers defense has had with containing opposing QBs on the ground, the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick shouldn’t be an issue, right? 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh may argue otherwise:

“With Fitzpatrick, he is a lot more nimble than people realize. He’ll tuck it down. I mean, he had a QB draw, I think, last week for an 11-yarder for a touchdown. So, we are aware of his running ability, which is no different
than any other team. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re doing a great job communicating and being mindful of his ability.”

Fitzpatrick has a few notable weapons on offense that the 49ers defense will need to zero-in on. They have a promising RB in Myles Gaskin, a true number one receiver in DeVante Parker, and an emerging tight end in Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins offense doesn’t exactly blow you away on paper, but they have more active weapons than the Eagles did last week, and look how that tuned out.

In all basic offensive metrics (yards, yards per game, passing yards, rushing yards, points per game) the Dolphins rank in the bottom half of the league in all of them. It’s a favorable matchup for the 49ers defense, who has held their own despite big injuries. Given the weapons the Dolphins have though, the 49ers cannot afford to get too comfortable.

Garoppolo and the 49ers offense versus the Dolphins defense

On defense, the Dolphins have surrendered the sixth-most (409.8) yards-per-game this season. They’ve allowed the fifth-most (285.0) passing yards-per-game this season, the 13th most (124.8) rushing yards per game, and the 21st most (24.0) points per game this season.

Just from these very basic metrics, we can see that that the Dolphins are one of the worst teams in the league against the pass, but are better (but still not great) against the run.

With the return of Garoppolo, and the availability of TE George Kittle, Samuel, WR Brandon Aiyuk, RB Jerick McKinnon and potentially Mostert, the 49ers offense will have plenty of options in the passing game.

Garoppolo said he is excited to have some of those weapons back, and to establish some continuity at practice this week:

“It’s exciting to get a group out there that you envision and just sort of really stack days together. Stack days of the same group going out there, just getting the chemistry down and the communication part of it. There’s so many things that go into it, but it just takes time. And so, whenever we could get guys healthy and get guys back, it always is going
to help everyone.”

On the ground, the 49ers are one of the best rushing teams in all of football when healthy. If Mostert returns Sunday, they shouldn’t have any issues when it comes to running the ball. If he cannot play, the 49ers may lean more towards attacking the Dolphins through the air.

Prediction

It’s only Week 5, but this is a must-win game. The 49ers cannot afford to lose another game to a team they should beat. Falling to 2-3 in a division like the NFC West will put them in a big hole.

The defense is still missing a couple of key pieces, but there should be no excuse when it comes to beating this Dolphins team Sunday.

  • 49ers: 30, Dolphins 17

The offense is in good shape for the most part. The Dolphins defense is bad. That combination, paired with a couple of key turnovers from Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins offense should be enough for the 49ers to control this game from start to finish. After a devastating loss in Week 4, the 49ers will come out with more fire, looking to bounce back in a big way.

Notes

  • The road to recovery for both Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas begins now. Torn ACL’s usually take anywhere from 6-9 months after surgery for a player to return. With this timeline, there’s a chance that both Bosa and Ford could return in time for training camp in 2021.
  • Happy Birthday to George Kittle

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