Mike McDaniel wanted a day before the narrative shifted from the Miami Dolphins’ Sunday win over the Houston Texans to the week ahead and facing his former team, the San Francisco 49ers.
OK, a day has passed.
Looking ahead, McDaniel will face his longtime mentor, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, and the team in San Francisco, where McDaniel spent the past five seasons as an offensive assistant, rising to the offensive coordinator role in 2021 before landing Miami’s head coaching gig.
“I promise you that next week will not be about me,” McDaniel said after the 30-15 win Sunday. “I refuse for that to happen. This is about the Miami Dolphins and trying to string another win together.”
Rest assured, the media will make it about McDaniel.
Sure, the Dolphins (8-3) seeking a sixth straight win and facing another division leader in the 49ers (7-4), who sit atop the NFC West, brings enough juice on its own merit. However, the major storyline for the week ahead will still surround McDaniel. In his first year as a head coach, he looks to defeat his former team — along with Niners-turned-Dolphins running backs Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert. That is, if Mostert can play, considering he sat out Sunday’s win over the Texans with a knee injury.
McDaniel’s coaching stock rose quickly in recent years in San Francisco. He only needed one year as offensive coordinator to become a head coach. From 2018-20, he was run-game coordinator for the 49ers, and in 2017, Shanahan’s first leading the 49ers, McDaniel held the title of run game specialist. McDaniel’s run games ranked No. 2 in the NFL in 2019, when the 49ers reached the Super Bowl and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, and seventh in 2021, as San Francisco reached an NFC Championship Game.
McDaniel and Shanahan were on the same coaching staff for 14 seasons total.
Before Shanahan brought McDaniel with him to San Francisco, Shanahan hired him on various staffs when Shanahan was offensive coordinator. In 2015 and 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons, McDaniel was an offensive assistant. On the 2014 Cleveland Browns, McDaniel was wide receivers coach. In Washington, McDaniel was wide receivers coach in 2013 and offensive assistant the two years prior while Kyle’s father, Mike Shanahan, was head coach. McDaniel was also an offensive assistant early in his career in Houston, from 2006-08, as Shanahan originally rose to his first offensive coordinator title in 2008 after a season each as wide receivers coach and then quarterbacks coach.
Whose familiarity with the other will win out on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium?
But beyond the McDaniel-Shanahan storyline, the game at the 49ers will be about McDaniel for another reason.
It’s about what he can devise offensively, against a stout San Francisco defense coming off a shutout of the New Orleans Saints, with Dolphins star left tackle Terron Armstead set to miss time.
The Dolphins’ offense, dominant in the first half against Houston and for just about all of the previous three wins over the Browns, Bears and Lions, was shut out in the second half against the Texans with Armstead out of the lineup due to a pectoral strain.
Of course, Miami had established a 30-point halftime lead and could afford to take its foot off the gas pedal, but once it was Brandon Shell on the left side for Armstead with Austin Jackson, in his first start since Week 1, sticking at right tackle, Houston scrapped together five sacks and four on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the limited action he saw while Armstead was out.
The protection, which had been strong throughout the winning streak, will be cruicial against the fierce 49ers pass rush led by former St. Thomas Aquinas star Nick Bosa’s 11 ½ sacks.
Armstead’s strain, as reported by NFL Network Sunday night, is not as bad as a tear, but it should be enough to keep Armstead out at least against the 49ers and likely a bit longer.
The Dolphins will also be monitoring the status of Jackson, who left late in Sunday’s game with an ankle injury after a two-month recovery from a high-ankle sprain.
It starts getting tough again for Miami as the calendar shifts from November to December, beginning a six-game stretch against teams that have a combined record of 38-29 (.567), with four on the road. Over the winning streak, the Dolphins faced five teams that now have a combined record of 15-39-1 (.344), with three of those at home.
This story will be updated.