From The Other Side, Part 2

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 2, we get his take on the 49ers defense and special teams.

Q: From the outside looking in, it appears the 49ers defense is playing much harder under Singletary; is that accurate?

Craig Massei:
That's an interesting question. Maybe the defense is playing a little harder for Singletary. It certainly is playing better, that's for sure. But then, the whole team seems to playing both harder and better for Singletary. There is a lot more focus on defense now, for whatever reason, and the defense has stepped it up to its highest level of the season the past two weeks, when the 49ers allowed three points to Buffalo and 14 to the Jets in victories.


Q: Patrick Willis was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007; what kind of season is he having?

CM:
He's having another big season, but he's having to work harder for it because everybody knows who he is now and what he can do. This defense is being built around Willis, and he is a wonderful linebacker who can do it all with range and sideline-to-sideline ability. He's becoming more of a playmaker now as his 86-yard interception return for a touchdown in Week 2 suggests. He's the team's runaway leader in tackles and, as the NFL's reigning tackle champion, he is in position to defend his crown if he comes up big over the final three weeks of the season. According to the NFL's official statistics, he's currently second in the league behind Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson.


Q: CB Nate Clements always seemed to come up with a pick when he was with Buffalo and facing the Dolphins; how has he been playing?

CM:
Not quite as well as last year, when he clearly was one of the team's top players and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Clements is a very good all-around cornerback – he can play the run and pass with equal effectiveness – but he has been burned for some big plays this year and hasn't been as consistent as last year. He didn't play last week after having surgery on a broken thumb sustained the week before. That ended Clements' streak of 116 consecutive starts. It was the first game he has missed in his NFL career.


Q: Who's the one player on defense the Dolphins need to worry about?

CM:
I guess it depends on who's doing the worrying. Up front, Miami's line has to be cognizant of where Justin Smith is at all times, because the 49ers like to move him around and he has a non-stop motor. He has been a big addition to the defense this year and has been playing quite well. I'd worry about Smith because he can do damage to your quarterback. You also have to be aware of where Willis and his partner at linebacker, Takeo Spikes, are at all times.


Q: Former Dolphins kicker Joe Nedney has made himself quite a career after leaving Miami; how much of a weapon is he for the 49ers?

CM:
Nedney's a great kicker. He doesn't get the recognition he deserves because he is playing on a team that hasn't done well since he arrived in 2005. He can routinely hit the 50-yard field goal – and deeper – and he has been one of the NFL's most accurate kickers since coming to San Francisco. He ranked second in team history entering the season with a career field-goal percentage of 87.8, and he has made 23 of 26 field goals this year, including a 50-yarder and a 53-yarder. The guy is money.


Q: How were the 49ers able to beat the Jets?

CM:
They took it right to them. And they passed all over them. That, along with putting good pressure on quarterback Brett Favre and playing well on the back end defensively, made it practically a non-contest. The only reason the Jets were still in the game entering the fourth quarter was because of mistakes and turnovers by the 49ers – recurring themes this season for San Francisco. Or, at least, earlier in this season. The 49ers held a 375-182 edge in total yards, a 39:49-20:11 advantage in time of possession and a 25-10 edge in first downs. The 24-14 final score wasn't really indicative of the 49ers' domination.


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