Can the apprentice (Mike McDaniel) beat the teacher (Kyle Shanahan)? Is this a preview of a far more consequential game 10 weeks from now in the desert? Can San Francisco’s fearsome defense hang with Miami’s world-class speed?
But those are all subplots. The most pressing question ahead of Dolphins-Niners is pretty straightforward: Do the Dolphins have enough healthy bodies to compete with perhaps the NFC’s best team?
On Sunday evening, the answer seemed to be no. But the facts on the ground have since changed — and in a way that favors the team from South Florida.
Good Injury News for Dolphins vs. 49ers
Running back Raheem Mostert, who leads the Dolphins in rushing yards (543) and touchdowns (three), told reporters Wednesday that he expects to play after missing Miami’s Week 12 win over the Houston Texans with a knee injury.
And there’s a real chance the Dolphins will be without just one starting offensive tackle instead of both, which looked to be the case after the Texans game.
Right tackle Austin Jackson (ankle) is not expected to play Sunday. But left tackle Terron Armstead (pec) just might — against all odds.
“Terron Armstead continues to impress me as an individual, a professional and a teammate,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday. “I can tell you one thing that I’m certain of — If there’s a way that he can be on the field and play in December against a playoff team, he lives for that moment. And as long as there’s nothing keeping him from hurting his team or himself, he’ll be out there.
“But you can rest assured that he’ll do everything possible. And if he’s unable to go, it’ll be because it would put himself and his teammates in harm’s way.”
It’s hard to understate how big it would be for Armstead to play against the Niners and their excellent group of pass rushers in Nick Bosa, Charles Omenihu, and Samson Ebukam, who have 60 pressures between them.
Armstead is the Dolphins’ best lineman, and as Sunday proved, the Dolphins’ offense doesn’t really function without him.
The Dolphins gave up four sacks in 10 plays after he left the game. And the run game, which was ineffective without Mostert even before Armstead got hurt, certainly wasn’t clicking after he left.
“I can tell by the spirit that he thinks there’s a legitimate chance not to count him out, for sure,” McDaniel said of Armstead’s availability for Sunday. “I think he was kind of like everyone reading and writing about that question. He really, really wants to help lead this team, which we rely on. So he was a little nervous, I think, in the 24 hours after. But in double the time, he’s come back, a little pep in his step. So we’re all excited to see that.”
As for Mostert, McDaniel said the following when asked if he’s good to go vs. San Francisco: “I think so. If we had to go above and beyond, I think he could have played. And if we would have just completely been adhering to his hopes and desires, he might have played last week. It was too risky for what he means to the team. So he should be ready to go this week.”
The Dolphins need every good player they have to beat a Niners team that has won four straight to vault to the top of the NFC West Standings. Last week aside, San Francisco’s offense has matched its defense over the last month-plus. The Niners have outscored their opponents 127-84 since trading for running back Christian McCaffrey ahead of the deadline.
Sunday poses the toughest test for the Dolphins since their opening six-game stretch — games that were all against teams currently with winning records. McDaniel, who is 8-3 in his rookie season as a head coach, relishes the opportunity.
“What are you trying to do?” McDaniel said. “Are you trying to be the best down the stretch, the best version of yourself? Or are you trying to hope? So each and every game you’re building from does that mean you play as well collectively? No, of course it doesn’t. But are you continuing to learn and benefit from that and progressing as a team?
“… At some point in time, you’re going to have to play teams that are really good. You’re not going to be given anything and it’s gonna be in front of a live audience. And the stakes are gonna be all-in. You can’t get enough of these opportunities, which we’re very fortunate to have. You look at it as a tough road trip. I look like it was a necessary road trip. If you’re trying to do anything, these are only going to be good things. It will be hard for sure. But nothing that’s satisfying is ever easy.”
Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast
Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Dolphins Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Dolphins Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.