Make Ryan Tannehill look and play like a rookie quarterback
YES: Tannehill barely completed half of his passes and finished with a pedestrian quarterback rating of 74.1 as the Niners harassed him and confused him into incompletions and chased him out of the pocket to break down several plays. Tannehill did hold his own on three drives that led to Miami scores, and he threw a perfect pass into the corner of the end zone to hit tight end Anthony Fasano on a three-yard scoring pass for Miami's only touchdown to bring the Dolphins within seven points midway through the fourth quarter. But he couldn't make plays when it counted to give Miami a shot at victory as the San Francisco defense shut down him – and the Dolphins – when it needed to. Tannehill completed 17 of 33 passes for just 150 yards, numbers the Niners will take from – or give to – the opposing quarterback any day.
Give Gore room to rumble against NFL's eighth-ranked rushing defense
YES: Frank Gore had only five carries in the first half, but he came on strong after halftime to finish with 63 yards rushing on 12 carries, a healthy 5.3 average. Gore produced the 50th rushing touchdown of his career to tie the franchise record, and his 19-yard burst up the middle in the fourth quarter set up another 1-yard scoring run for teammate Anthony Dixon. Gore surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier for the sixth time in his eight-year career, and he was admittedly kept fresh in the fourth quarter by the emergence of rookie LaMichael James, who complemented Gore with 30 yards rushing as the NFL's second-ranked rushing attack got back to business with 155 yards on the ground.
Expose the loss of Jake Long
YES: Anybody who saw Aldon Smith's classic bull rush over Jonathan Martin, Long's replacement at left tackle, knows that the 49ers were able to take advantage of the loss last week of Long, Miami's All-Pro left tackle who will miss the rest of the season to injury. Smith finished with two sacks to raise his NFL-leading total to 19½, and the Niners were able to get good pressure against Miami's Long-less offensive front while limiting the Dolphins to just 227 total yards.
Kaepernick keeps the pressure on Miami's suspect secondary
NO: Kaepernick had a fine day behind center, completing 18 of 23 passes for 185 yards and a passer rating of 100.2 despite not throwing a touchdown pass, but the Niners' game plan never really allowed him to challenge the Dolphins down the field except for his flea-flicker shot to Randy Moss that was a gadget play. Kaepernick had only two completions of 20 or more yards and the 49ers averaged just 6.1 yards per passing play even though Kaepernick threw just five incompletions, which is well below their average since the young quarterback took over as the starter.
Bang on Reggie Bush and keep him below his season rushing average
NO: The Niners banged on Bush pretty well, particularly with Donte Whitner's body-slam tackle of Miami's featured back after a pass reception in the third quarter. But Bush kept bouncing back, and he finished a fairly productive day as Miami's most potent offensive weapon, rushing for 65 yards on 14 carries and adding another 38 yards on five receptions. The 49ers did a good job of containing any damage done by Bush, but the veteran surpassed his game average of 60.5 yards rushing this season, a total Bush had reached in only half of Miami's first 12 games, and he averaged a healthy 4.6 yards a pop against a defenses that rarely allows that kind of average to anybody.
Don't get caught in Cameron's Wake
NO: Fourth in the NFL in sacks entering the game, Wake created havoc from his defensive end position to help the Dolphins keep even with the 49ers throughout the first half. Wake stripped Kaepernick of the football to thwart San Francisco's first offensive drive and he had three sacks alone in the first half, a big reason all the 49ers got offensively during the first two quarters was two short field-goal attempts by David Akers. The 49ers did a much better job containing Wake in the second half, when the game was won, limiting him to just two tackles and no hits on Kaepernick over the final two quarters.
Take the game to Miami starting wideouts Davone Bess and Brian Hartline
YES: It didn't quite start out that way as Bess had an 8-yard reception on Miami's first offensive play and Hartline beat the San Francisco secondary for a 28-yard completion on Miami's second play. Bess then had receptions of 10 and 21 yards on consecutive plays on Miami's second drive. Bess and Hartline each entered the game tied for the team lead with 55 receptions and had combined for 1,522 receiving yards so far this year, but around the NFL, the pair is considered more like third and fourth receivers rather than players who should be starting in Nos. 1 and 2 roles for their team. And after the early flurry of catches in the first quarter, that's what the 49ers made the pair look like the rest of the game. Bess finished with five catches for 50 yards and Hartline only had one six-yard catch after his initial big gain. The pair's combined total of seven catches for 84 yards was well below their combined season average of 9.2 receptions and 126.9 receiving yards per game.
Get Vernon Davis involved in the offense and give him big-play opportunities
NO: It's getting pretty bad for Davis, who is becoming a forgotten man in the San Francisco offense. The Niners' talented tight end finished with just one reception for four yards and was targeted on only two passes the entire afternoon. It was the third consecutive game Davis has had two or fewer receptions, and his grand total for those three games is three catches for 19 yards, which is very un-Vernon like.
Get return game, kicker going in right direction again on special teams
YES: It was anything monumental, but Ted Ginn had a 12-yard gain on his only punt return and rookie LaMichael James added a spark while averaging 26.3 yards on three returns as the team's new kickoff returner. Meanwhile, David Akers was perfect on field-goal attempts for the first time in four games, making routine attempts from 30 and 37 yards. The biggest play on special teams came from the coverage units, where C.J. Spillman recovered a fumbled punt deep in Miami territory that set up San Francisco's first touchdown in more than six quarters.
Reading the keys: 49ers/Dolphins
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