From The Other Side, Part 1

To get the lowdown on the Dolphins' next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, we checked in with SFIllustrated.com Editor in Chief Craig Massei. In Part 1, we get his take on the 49ers offense.

Q: QB Shaun Hill is coming off a solid performance against the Jets; is he really someone the Dolphins need to worry about?

Craig Massei:
If he had played more than just the past 5½ games, Shaun Hill would be the NFL's fifth-ranked quarterback with his 95.5 passer rating. That's a pretty good indication of how well he has been playing since taking over as San Francisco's starter near the end of October. He has yet to have a bad game and he has moved the offense in each of his starts. Hill is a very accurate passer who makes good decisions and he's deceptively athletic and has good mobility in the pocket. He's not an imposing world-beater, but he's big and has a presence about him, manages the game well and gets the job done. A don't know if the Dolphins should be worrying about him, but he's definitely a player they need to stop to win. He has really given the offense a boost and minimizes his mistakes.


Q: Frank Gore has become a question mark for Sunday's game because of an ankle injury; can the 49ers possibly do anything offensively if he doesn't play?

CM:
A lot of us out here are wondering the same thing. The answer last year would have been a definite no. Heck, the 49ers couldn't do much offensively last year even with Gore – he was their offense last year. This year, I guess the answer would be that the 49ers were able to muster two scoring drives in the fourth quarter without Gore in the game to break a 14-14 tie and beat the New York Jets. The 49ers have some decent backups behind Gore in DeShaun Foster and Michael Robinson, but neither comes close to Gore and his impact ability, which is substantial. If Gore can't play, the 49ers likely will test the Miami secondary with a short and intermediate passing game, something at which they're starting to get pretty good.


Q: Has Vernon Davis become any more of a factor at tight end since his well-publicized banishment in Mike Singletary's first game as interim head coach?

CM:
Nope, he's just the same talented tight end that the 49ers just don't get the ball to enough. Davis has made just as much impact with this blocking this year as his pass-catching, even though he has the skills to be one of San Francisco's top offensive weapons. The Mike Martz offense just isn't designed to take advantage of his talent as a playmaker and he spends a lot of time blocking in protection on passing downs when he could be making plays as a receiver. Davis is one of the better players on the team and has been playing at the same level he was before his banishment by Singletary, which is a story that was way overplayed in the media. Singletary and Davis were buddy-buddy the next day and have been every since. Davis is one of Singletary's biggest supporters, and vice versa.


Q: Despite his age, Isaac Bruce appears to be the 49ers' best wide receiver; should he still command a lot of attention from the Dolphins defense?

CM:
Bruce has clearly emerged as San Francisco's No. 1 receiver, though he's not the No. 1 receiver he was in his prime. He's probably a solid No. 2 receiver at this stage of his career, which says a lot considering all the mileage he has on him at age 36 in his 15th NFL season. Bruce has really helped this team in a lot of ways, particularly as a reliable threat in the passing game. He still knows how to get open and his hands are legendary, and he also is a deep threat who's averaging 15.4 yards a catch with a team-high six touchdown receptions. The Niners will come at the Dolphins with a lot of different receivers, but Bruce is always a guy you have to keep an eye on in the Mike Martz offense.


Q: What has been the 49ers' offensive philosophy under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who doesn't have the weapons he had in St. Louis?

CM:
The philosophy definitely has changed since Mike Singletary has taken over as head coach. The offense is more of a physical, ball-control, focus-on-establishing-the-run attack. This is a reflection on Singletary, who has been able to impose his will on Martz and kind of rein in the flamboyant coordinator a little. That's not to say Martz still doesn't like to wing it – and Singletary lets Martz run the offense – but a lot of the risk in Martz's system seems to be toned down since Singletary took over. The thing is, Martz has seemed to adjust very well to the style and the parts he has to work with, and the offense has been at its best over the past month.


Q: The way the 49ers are playing lately, do you think Mike Singletary might be coaching himself into a permanent job?

CM:
Absolutely. I wasn't sure at first if Singletary knew what he was doing as a head coach, but I am now a true believer – along with a lot of other people around here. There is something special about the guy. Despite his lack of experience at the coaching level, he definitely is not in over his head. There is true greatness about the guy, and he may have already worked his way into the permanent job regardless of how the remainder of the season goes. To be sure, if the 49ers don't make him their regular head coach next year, someone else will.


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