Why SF 49ers Week 5 matchup against Dolphins is a must-win game

Patrick Willis #52 and Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers tackle Anthony Fasano #80 of the Miami Dolphins (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Patrick Willis #52 and Donte Whitner #31 of the San Francisco 49ers tackle Anthony Fasano #80 of the Miami Dolphins (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

If the SF 49ers want any chance at making the playoffs, winning on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins isn’t just an option it practically mandatory.

In the offseason, many people figured the SF 49ers would hold a winning record four weeks into the season. Unfortunately, they’re barely clinging to a 2-2 record and are inching closer to the toughest stretch of games they’ve possibly ever seen.

This is why Sunday afternoon’s battle with the Miami Dolphins is an absolute must-win contest.

You’ve seen all over social media how tight the NFC West is. All teams, including the SF 49ers, are within two games of the division leader Seattle Seahawks. The Niners sit in the basement of the toughest division due to their Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

However, with the new playoff structure, the Niners have to worry about more than just their division. There’s a chance one of the NFC divisions could have four representatives. Which, if the playoffs started today, would leave the SF 49ers on the outside looking in.

Now, let’s stop stressing about the playoffs for a moment. This matchup against the Dolphins is extremely important for several reasons within the organization. Jobs should be on the line if they lose.

It might be premature to hit the panic button, but losing three of the first five games to teams the 49ers are far superior to, is not acceptable.

We can cut some slack to certain players like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle, a couple of the receivers and running backs. On defense, many spots are safe due to them suffering from so many injuries.

SF 49ers offensive line struggles

But it’s time to start looking at the offensive line. They’ve had a terrible stretch of games and they got absolutely showed up by the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.

There was hope the addition of offensive lineman Trent Williams would help fill the void of Joe Staley and be a mentor to the likes of Mike McGlinchey and Dan Brunskill. With 13 sacks given up in four games, it’s not looking good.

It’s not common for trades to happen within the NFL, but general manager John Lynch should be working the phones to see who’s available and should be looking at the free-agent market as well.

Back in March and on social media seemingly every week, I made the case for the SF 49ers to sign former CFL and XFL offensive lineman Derek Dennis. He would be a great partner for Williams and can allow his quarterback time in the pocket.

With the recent success of former CFL players playing in big games (aka Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton), it’s time for Lynch to reach out for help and possibly look at replacing offensive line coach John Benton.

SF 49ers coaches on the hot seat

Along with the players, coaches need to take accountability for what’s on the field. The Dolphins rank near the bottom in many offensive categories, while the SF 49ers defense sits near the top.

This is a chance for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to redeem himself.

Again, it’s tough to have a strong defense when your top guys are out for the year and you’re rotating players in like it’s a merry-go-round. However, with a team like Miami, which doesn’t run the ball very well, Saleh will have to make the adjustments. Stats and numbers tell one side of the story, but the performance on the field tells the other.

Another coach who could see the door if things don’t improve is quarterbacks coach Shane Day. He’s been with the team for a couple of seasons and has been in this specific role since last year.

Obviously, Garoppolo had one of the best seasons in 2019. But in his game and a half this year he’s struggled a lot. Whether it be timing, confidence in himself and/or teammates, or whatever else is on his mind, this isn’t the same Garoppolo as last year.

But we also saw Nick Mullens struggled mightily. An argument could be made head coach Kyle Shanahan should’ve pulled him earlier, but here we are.

Though the pairing of Garoppolo and Mullens was never going to be the same as Joe Montana and Steve Young, great teams almost always have a solid No. 2 option.

It’s not an overreaction to say whoever is listed as the starter against Miami determines who wins the game. Even a somewhat rusty Garoppolo could dominate the Dolphins, but if Mullens is starting the chances of victory dwindle.

Day needs to get his quarterbacks (including C.J. Beathard) back in the right lane. The Dolphins are a perfect opponent for a struggling team. Even though Miami has played teams tough, especially the Seahawks, this is a game any of the SF 49ers quarterbacks can win.

And it starts with how they’re coached this week.

Former SF 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia gave some advice on how Garoppolo could improve after their first loss of the season. This isn’t about speculating on the coaching staff, but Garcia is a championship quarterback with an impressive resume. Could coaching for his first NFL team be on the horizon?

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If the SF 49ers head into the middle of the season at 2-3, it’s almost a guarantee they won’t see the playoffs. And after making the Super Bowl last year, the bar has been set high and they’ll need to reach it sooner than later.