March 4, 2024

After this game is over, I may ask myself why I watched, but it’s the Browns, I’ll always watch. This Sunday Cleveland hosts San Fransico at Cleveland Browns Stadium, 1:00 pm EST. The 49ers have the third-ranked offense averaging 403 yards a game, 246 passing, 156 yards rushing and 33.4 points. On defense, they’re ranked third allowing 267 yards a game, 203 yards passing, 64 yards rushing and 13.6 points. The Browns have the twentieth-ranked offense averaging 316 yards a game, 173 yards passing, 144 yards rushing and 19 points. Their defense is ranked first allowing 197 yards a game, 125 yards passing, 72 yards rushing and 15 points. On special teams, the 49ers are ranked 27th and the Browns are ranked sixth. San Fransico is number one in turnover ratio at plus seven and the Browns are 29th at minus seven. What am watching?

Browns Offense Vs. 49ers Defense. San Fransico is loaded on defense. They have the number-one scoring defense in the league. Their defensive line is deep and talented and features reigning defensive player of the year Nick Bosa and All-Pro Javon Hargrove. At linebacker, they have the best inside linebackers, Fred Warner and Oren Burks. Their secondary is solid with corners Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir and safeties Tashaun Gibson and Talanoa Hufanga. They lead the league in interceptions with eight. San Fransico plays a 4-3 and a 4-2-5 and is in the nickel 81% of the time. They are zone-heavy. Their weakness is in their nickel and dime defensive backs, Isaiah Oliver and Ambry Thomas. Oliver allows an 87% completion rate and Thomas allows an 80% completion rate. To run the ball, the Browns will need to use the short passing game to set up the run. Keep attacking the perimeters of the defense. Use the quick slant and screen passes to wide receivers Elijah Moore, Donavon Peoples-Jones and Amari Cooper. Find tight end David Njoku early and often. Hopefully softening up the zone defense in the first half will set up the down-the-field passing game in the second half. The Browns need to stay patient. Most importantly, no turnovers.

Browns Defense Vs. 49ers Offense. San Fransico is also loaded on offense. They’ve won their last fifteen regular season games and quarterback Brock Purdy has won his last ten regular season games. The 49ers have scored 30+ points in eight straight games and scored a touchdown on seven straight opening drives. Purdy has thrown no interceptions and in throws of ten yards or more has a perfect QBR (158.3). On throws of twenty yards or more, he has a QBR of 142.4. On tight window throws his QBR is 115.4. San Fransico is number one in the NFL playing multiple running backs on the field and using motion 82% of the time. They use both RB Christain McCaffrey and FB Kyle Juszczyk in the passing game very effectively. At the wide receiver position, they have Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, both are incredibly talented. At tight end, George Kittle has ten of Purdy’s 22 touchdown passes.

The only weakness is their offensive line. Left tackle Trent Williams is a future Hall of Famer, but the other four players are average at best. Their PFF rankings after five games are LG Aaron Banks (50.7), C Jake Brendel (61.7), RG Spencer Buford (49.5) and RT Colton McKivitz (58.8). I would line up Ogbo Okoronkwo opposite Wiliams and let Myles Garrett line up over the center and next to Za’Darius Smith. The Browns will need big games from Smith, JOK and Anthony Walker. In the secondary, keep playing man-to-man with three safeties. In a clean pocket, Purdy completes 82% of his passes, with pressure his completion rate drops to 50%. Pressure him and force him to hold on to the ball. Most importantly, force turnovers.

Finally, two points. Browns starting quarterback P.J. Walker has a 4-3 career record, all with Carolina. In games he threw twenty or more passes he’s 3-1 and was 3-0 at home. Point number two, 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan is 1-8 when coaching against a Jim Schwartz defense. In 2016 when Shanahan was OC of Atlanta, the Falcons averaged 33.8 points a game. In game 10 against the Eagles, Schwartz’s defense held Atlanta to 15 points.


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