We are now a quarter of the way through the regular season, and most fans just about know where their team is at. Miami and Cincinnati will compete for Tua while Kansas City and New England battle for the AFC. New Orleans is a contender even without Drew Brees, whereas Dallas, Green Bay, and the Los Angeles Rams all have work to do in the next few weeks before they’re ready for deep playoff runs.
There are two teams, however, whose place in the league still remains uncertain. These two teams are set to square off this Monday night: the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.
Cleveland Browns at San Francisco 49ers: Game of the Week
No team entered this season with more expectations surrounding them than the Cleveland Browns. After going 1-31 through two seasons, the Browns managed to close last year 5-2 and made splashy offseason moves that some believed would propel them to Super Bowl contention. After three weeks and three lackluster games, it seemed those aspirations were a distant dream. And then, Week 4 happened, and the Browns made a statement with a 40-25 win against the Baltimore Ravens.
On the other hand, no team entered the 2018 season with more expectations surrounding them than the San Francisco 49ers. After all, they had just found their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback who learned under and seemed to emulate the elite play of Tom Brady. Alas, Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3, and the 49ers fielded one of the worst scoring defenses in the league. So far this season, however, the 49ers are fielding a top 5 offense and defense by yards/game and remain the only undefeated team in the NFC. The only concern is that they haven’t played against any truly good teams yet. Their opponents thus far have a total combined record of just 3-9 (.250).
The 49ers should be put to the test against a Browns team coming off of a decisive win against a good Ravens team. Similarly, the Browns will have the chance to prove that they have found their stride and truly have the potential to make a playoff push.
Browns Defense vs 49ers Offense
The Browns have the fourth most sacks in the league. The 49ers are without starting left tackle Joe Staley. The Browns pass rush will look to exploit this weakness. Despite their entire starting secondary being injured, the Browns’ pass defense is still holding up. Apparently, Pro Football Focus believes the Browns’ backup secondary is playing better than half the starting secondaries in the league.
On the flip side of things, the Browns’ rush defense is mediocre at best. Look for the 49ers to take advantage of this and establish their run game early so that Kyle Shanahan is able to call his favorite play action pass plays down the stretch. This will be especially important if the 49ers end up in a hole, as they will be forced to pass more often late in the game.
The 49ers’ offense has struggled with turnovers this season. Despite playing one less game than 30 other teams, the 49ers are tied for the second most interceptions so far this season. Even still, they have a turnover differential of -1. Ball security was a huge problem in their game against the Steelers. They must be less sloppy this week as turnovers against the Browns will likely bear more consequences.
49ers Defense vs Browns Offense
After sporting a bottom five scoring defense last season, the 49ers were able to strengthen their corps during the offseason with additions such as Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, and Kwon Alexander. The Browns’ offensive line is ranked 24th in the league in pass protection. Although the 49ers might be without Ford on Monday, the revamped front seven should still be able to take advantage of their shortcomings. Baker Mayfield was better about getting rid of the ball quickly against the Ravens. He will need to keep that up to keep his team afloat in San Francisco.
As of now, it seems that the 49ers might be without their number two cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Odell Beckham, the Browns’ number one receiver, was effectively shut down by the Ravens’ number one corner Marlon Humphrey last week. The Ravens were unable to cover the Browns’ number two receiver Jarvis Landry, however, allowing him to amass 167 yards. Without Witherspoon, a similar situation may unfold against the 49ers. The 49ers will likely assign OBJ to Richard Sherman. Landry is currently in the concussion protocol and therefore questionable to play Monday. Antonio Callaway just returned from suspension, however, and Ricky Seals-Jones has flashed potential to break out. Whoever the Browns’ number two ends up being, it will be interesting to watch how the 49ers fare in coverage against him.
Both the Browns and the 49ers are going into this game with a lot to prove. The Browns had high expectations surrounding them coming into the season, but whether or not they can live up to them is up in the air.
The 49ers are a team most quickly dismissed after Garoppolo’s injury last season and then all but forgot about coming into this season. The Packers, Cowboys, Saints, Rams, Vikings, Bears, and Seahawks all got considerable attention as playoff candidates from the NFC. And yet, the 49ers are the only team that remains undefeated. Still, they must prove themselves one more time before most of the NFL’s audience is ready to take them seriously.
Both teams have a lot of doubts surrounding them and a lot to prove going into this game. No matter what, this should be a great game. And if all goes well, the Cleveland Browns vs the San Francisco 49ers will be the game of the week.
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