Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Dolphins

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's inter-conference matchup between the 49ers and Miami Dolphins at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the game.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. Eastern
SITE: Dolphin Stadium in Miami
RECORDS: 49ers 5-8, second place in NFC West; Dolphins 8-5, tied for first place in AFC East
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers)

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 5-4, but are 0-1 in the postseason, a 38-16 loss in Super Bowl XIX. That was the only Super Bowl Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino would ever play in. The Dolphins are 2-2 in Miami, but 0-1 at Dolphin Stadium. The 49ers are one of five NFL teams who haven't loss at Dolphin Stadium. The teams haven't met since the 2004 season, a 24-17 victory by Miami in Candlestick Park. Former Dolphins DE Jason Taylor had three of Miami's eight sacks that day.

KEYS TO THE GAME: This is a bad game for RB Frank Gore's to miss with an ankle injury. Miami hasn't allowed a touchdown in its past two games, and Gore's backup, DeShaun Foster, has just 37 carries for 78 yards on the season. But San Francisco needs production on the ground to protect QB Shaun Hill. Hill has a quick release, but the 49ers' line will struggle with the Dolphins' aggressive 3-4 defensive front in protection. ... The 49ers give up 335.2 yards per game, but they do a good job of buckling down in the red zone, where they have allowed just 21 touchdowns in 47 drives. Miami will move the ball, but the game could swing on its ability to punch the ball into the end zone. The Dolphins are doing an excellent job of using the short passing game to complement the ground game, averaging 6.03 yards on first down.

FAST FACTS: The 49ers' 10-3 win at Buffalo two weeks ago stands as the only win by a West Coast team in 17 tries in the Eastern time zone this season. ... Miami has 10 turnovers, an average of .77 per game. The lowest average in NFL history was .88 by the 1990 Giants, who had 14 in 16 games.

BY THE NUMBERS: 95 -- Quarterback Shaun Hill has exceeded a passer rating of 95 in each of his past four starts, and in seven of his nine career games. 12 -- The Dolphins lead the NFL in turnover ratio and their 10 turnovers are also a league best, while the 49ers are last in the NFL with 30.

"I know the type of character guys we have, and I know the talent level we have. If we just keep playing our style of football then we should be fine" – 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill on why he believes the 49ers can run the table to end the season.
"I thought we were recession proof, TV deals and all. You know it's getting bad when the NFL starts laying off people." -- DE Vonnie Holliday, on the NFL laying off 150 employees this week.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Mike Singletary says he is not as gung-ho about running the ball as he is about doing what is necessary to win football games. It just so happens that the best way for the 49ers to win games is to run the ball. That could change a little this week with running back Frank Gore out after sustaining a left ankle sprain in last week's game against the Jets. With Gore out, the 49ers will turn to veteran running back DeShaun Foster and Michael Robinson. And that might mean that Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Martz will want to put more responsibility on the right arm of quarterback Shaun Hill, who has performed admirably in just about everything the 49ers have asked of him since he joined the organization. The Dolphins rank in the middle of the pack in the NFL in team defense. They rank slightly better against the run, so Hill might be asked to throw the ball around the field on Sunday. Hill is at his best when there is the threat of the run. He has been good in play-action situations. Hill has developed a nice rapport in recent weeks with veteran wideout Isaac Bruce. Defensively, the 49ers will be tested against the league's 10th-ranked offense. The 49ers must stop the running of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and outside linebacker Parys Haralson has to step up with a big game to put pressure on quarterback Chad Pennington.

DOLPHINS GAME PLAN: From the ain't broke, don't fix game plan, the Dolphins will continue to utilize a short passing attack, particularly on first down, where they are ranked second in the NFL with 6.03 yards, mixed in with misdirection handoffs to RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. They'll certainly bring out the Wildcat, although it hasn't been as effective in recent weeks. Defensively, they'll use OLB Joey Porter and his league-leading 16.5 sacks to pressure QB Shaun Hill, who is only 5-2 as a starter over his seven-year career as mostly a backup, while focusing on stopping RB Frank Gore or DeShaun Foster, depending on Gore's ankle. Foster has a penchant for fumbling and the 49ers are worst in the NFL with a minus-14 turnover ratio compared to Miami's league-leading plus-12. Miami will use shutdown CB Will Allen on future Hall of Fame WR Isaac Bruce, who attended high school in nearby Fort Lauderdale.

--- 49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. Dolphins OLB Joey Porter - Davis has turned into a much more valuable player as a blocker. Porter leads the NFL with 16.5.
--- 49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Dolphins RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams: Willis leads the 49ers in tackles and is a sideline-to-sideline pursuer. Brown will try to keep the 49ers guessing out of the "Wildcat" formation. Brown and Williams have combined for more than 200 yards against the Patriots this season and five times have gone over 100, but they'll have their hands full against the 49ers and tackling machine Willis. Willis, the NFL Rookie of the Year last season with a league-leading 226 tackles, already has 153 stops this season (according to 49ers stats). He also has a team-high 11 passes defensed, a sack, a forced fumble and recovery, and an interception return for a TD. Despite the loss of starting LG Justin Smiley, Brown and Williams are coming off a combined 110-yard outing against the Bills. They'll need some push from inexperienced guards Andy Alleman and Ike Ndukwe.
--- 49ers DE Justin Smith vs. Dolphins LT Jake Long: Smith has been one of the 49ers' top defensive players and rarely comes off the field. Long has started all 13 games after being the No. 1 overall pick.
--- 49ers CB Nate Clements vs. Dolphins WR Ted Ginn Jr.: Clements returns this week after missing last week's game with a broken thumb. Ginn is tops among active Dolphins with 48 catches for 669 yards and a touchdown.
--- 49ers C Eric Heitmann vs. Dolphins NT Jason Ferguson: Heitmann stonewalled Jets lineman Kris Jenkins last week. Now he'll face Ferguson, a 12th-year pro who has started 10 games this season.
--- 49ers WR Isaac Bruce vs. Dolphins CB Will Allen: Bruce has emerged as Shaun Hill's favorite target. Allen has recorded a team-leading three interceptions this season.
--- 49ers RB DeShaun Foster vs. Dolphins run defense: Foster is averaging 2.1 yards per carry as Frank Gore's backup. The Dolphins are allowing 96 yards rushing per game, which is in the middle of the pack in the NFL.
--- Dolphins WR Davone Bess vs. 49ers CB Nate Clements: Bess has 20 catches for 245 yards in the last three games and has dramatically picked up the slack for WR Greg Camarillo's season-ending knee injury, will go up against veteran CB Nate Clements, who missed the last game with a broken thumb. It was the first missed game of his eight-year career. Clements, a 2004 Pro Bowl player, had a pin inserted into the thumb this week and practiced this week. He has 17 career forced fumbles and 29 interceptions, including two this season. Clements has eight career touchdowns, five on pick-sixes, two on punt returns and the other came on a return of a blocked field goal against the Giants last month. He signed an $80 million free-agent deal with San Francisco last season. With his 39 catches, Bess needs four more receptions to surpass former Colts WR Terrence Wilkins' 43 to become the second-most productive undrafted rookie receiver in NFL history, trailing only former Jets WR Wayne Chrebet, who had 66 in 1995.


RB Frank Gore (left ankle) didn't practice this week and his injured left ankle did not improve enough before the game to allow him to play today.Veteran DeShaun Foster is likely to start in his place. CB Nate Clements is expected to return to action this week after missing one game with a broken right thumb. Clements had surgery last week to insert two screws and a pin. He had the pin removed this week. WR Arnaz Battle returned to action last week after missing a month with a foot sprain. However, Battle aggravated the injury and he was placed on injured reserve Saturday, ending his season. S Dashon Goldson (knee) has missed six games with a torn MCL in his left knee, but he will be available for action Sunday against the Dolphins. KR Allen Rossum (ankle) missed the past two games. He returned to limited practice early in the week, an indication he might be available for Sunday's game. C Eric Heitmann (abdominal strain) missed practice time early in the week, but the 49ers expect him to be ready to start Sunday's game. CB Marcus Hudson (concussion) is questionable for Sunday's game.

DOLPHINS: The loss of LG Justin Smiley wasn't as damaging as expected in last week's win over the offensively challenged Bills, but the 49ers have improved against the run since Mike Singletary took over and are 15th in the league so expect LB Patrick Willis to go at Smiley's replacement, Andy Alleman and/or Brandon Frye. If 49ers RB Frank Gore sits out with a sprained left ankle, expect Miami to stuff the box and dare QB Shaun Hill to beat them.



--- RB Michael Robinson might get a few more carries Sunday against the Dolphins in the likely event Frank Gore is unable to play. On the season, Robinson has 12 rushing attempts for 38 yards. A quarterback at Penn State, Robinson has taken about a dozen snaps this season in the 49ers' version of the "Wildcat" formation.
--- TE Delanie Walker has done a commendable job on kickoff returns, filling in for injured Allen Rossum. Walker has averaged 20.5 yards on 12 kickoff returns with a long return of 35 yards three weeks ago against the Dallas Cowboys. Walker has just one reception the past three weeks. He had an apparent 28-yard touchdown catch nullified by a holding penalty. He will return kickoffs today in place of Rossum, who is inactive for the game.
--- LB Tully Banta-Cain, who was a starter last season, has gotten little playing time on defense this season. However, Banta-Cain has made a contribution on special teams. He leads the 49ers with 15 tackles on special teams.
--- CB Nate Clements, who missed last week's game against the New York Jets with a broken right thumb, had a pin removed on Wednesday and is expected to return to action Sunday. Clements has two interceptions and eight passes defensed. Clements is also strong in run support, recording 45 solo tackles on the season.
--- LB Parys Haralson has recorded a team-high seven sacks, half of which has come in the past four games. Haralson has a chance to become the first 49ers player to achieve 10 or more sacks since Andre Carter in 2002.


--- CB Michael Lehan was released by Miami from its injured reserve list. He was placed on injured reserve Aug. 18 with a hamstring injury. The six-year veteran is free to sign with another team now.
--- SS Yeremiah Bell leads the Dolphins with a career-best 97 tackles with seven passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
--- CB Will Allen leads the team with 14 passes defensed and three interceptions to go with 45 tackles and a forced fumble.
--- WR Chris Hannon, who was signed off the 49ers practice squad last week, said the Dolphins have picked his brain a little for inside information but nothing too detailed such as audibles and play-calling, just what they do in certain situations. Last month, the Dolphins signed DT Joe Cohen, who was with the 49ers last season.
--- CB Jason Allen is on the injury list with a hand injury but has practiced all week. CB Nate Jones took his nickel spot last week, relegating Allen to mostly special teams.
--- RB Jalen Parmele was poached from the practice squad earlier this week by the Ravens. Tony Sparano said those are the risks you take by keeping raw draft picks stashed on the practice squad instead of the 53-man roster, where they can't be swiped. "Not so much a blow but a young guy we drafted and thought a lot about. Guy had some other options. I'm happy for Jalen but that happens. We've done that to other people right now where we've been able to grab a guy off someone else's practice squad. It's that time of year, holiday season," Sparano joked.



Running back DeShaun Foster started 16 games for the Carolina Panthers last season. Since signing a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers in the offseason, he has been a bit player.

That will change Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, as 49ers starting running back Frank Gore is out with a left ankle sprain. Foster will make his first start of the season for the 49ers.

Foster rushed for at least 875 yards in each of the past three seasons with the Panthers.

After starting 30 games in 2006 and '07 with the Panthers, Foster said he still considers himself a starter. But he has carried the ball four times or fewer in 11 of the 49ers' first 13 games. He did not have a rushing attempt in six of those games.

That will change on Sunday against the Dolphins. Foster said he figures to hear his number called quite a bit with Gore likely to be sidelined.

"I feel fresh," he said. "I haven't been pounded on at all."

Gore is holding out hope that he'll be ready to play Sunday. If he can't play, he'll watch Foster from the sideline.

"DeShaun will be great," Gore said. "He's done it before. He's been the man in Carolina. He knows the offense. He'll be fine."

Gore is fifth in the NFL with 1,345 yards from scrimmage. Foster, meanwhile, is having the least productive season of his career after spending his rookie year (2002) on injured reserve with a knee injury. Foster has gained just 78 yards on 37 carries. He has six receptions for 71 yards.

Because he did not know when his touches would come, Foster said he felt an urgency to make the most of his limited action. As a result, he said he has not always been patient with the ball in his hands. He has two fumbles in the past four games.

"I've been trying to fight, fight, fight for yardage," Foster said. "As long as I stay within myself, I'll be all right."


Winning generally brings players and coaches recognition, especially on a team that has gone from a 1-15 laughingstock to an 8-5 playoff contender in one season.

The fans' on-line voting for the Pro Bowl selections is complete and Miami has three players leading at their positions. The players and coaches vote this week.

The fans got this one right when they placed outside linebacker Joey Porter at the top at his position. His NFL-leading 16.5 sacks have him headed to his fourth Pro Bowl, but first since 2005.

"What Joey has done right now is pretty impressive. The list is not very long right now of guys with 16.5 sacks," coach Tony Sparano said. "There's no hiding with those kind of players. They're out there on the edge and everybody knows they're on the edge, and everybody tries to block them a bunch of different ways. ... Those guys at the end of the games when those guys play 55-60 plays it's like playing 120 plays. They're getting hit by two to three people on some plays."

Rookie left tackle Jake Long is having a solid season. However, it's obvious his status and notoriety from being the overall No. 1 draft pick has helped him secure the top spot for tackles.

In a shocker, undrafted rookie kicker Dan Carpenter, who has made 18 of 21 field goals, including 14 straight at one point, leads all AFC kickers. He only has five touchbacks and the Dolphins are ranked last in opposition field position. He is only ranked 11th in scoring in the AFC, so he clearly has quite a fan base back home in Montana.

Running back Ronnie Brown trails Titans rookie Chris Johnson, but he is expected to jump ahead after the coaches and players vote. Brown's value in the Wildcat formation is difficult to measure, but he has accounted for 1,010 yards from scrimmage, including 41 yards as a quarterback, and 11 touchdowns. He has lost just one fumble this season. Along with quarterback Chad Pennington, who seems deserving of a Pro Bowl berth this season, Brown is a key reason why Miami has an NFL-low 10 turnovers and leads with a plus-12 turnover differential.

Sparano is focused on preparing for a fired-up 49ers team under interim head coach Mike Singletary, but he took time out to pay tribute to these possible Pro Bowl players.

"There is a point during the course of a season where, as things are going good for you and you start to play well, maybe in the back of your mind you start to think about individual honors like that," Sparano said. "This team has done a great job of keeping their focus on team goals, and team honors. If in fact something like that happened for some of these players I'd be their biggest fan in that situation because I know how hard they worked. I know where they came from to get where we are right now."

Safety Yeremiah Bell and special teams stalwart Patrick Cobbs are legitimate candidates for the Pro Bowl, as well as cornerback Will Allen.

Niners Digest Top Stories