On Monday, the Cleveland Browns’ play on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers. To help preview a few topics from the 49ers’ perspective, we reached out to Patrick Holloway from Niners Nation and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “At one point, Browns fans were talking a lot about acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots. He went to the NFC instead -- what is your assessment of his play since joining the 49ers, particularly during these first three games of 2019?”
Patrick: “There’s been a steady rise in Jimmy Garoppolo’s stock as the season went on. The biggest issue was he hasn’t played a lot of football. Adding to that he’s been injured in two of the three seasons he’s had to serve as a starter in some capacity. Also, his first two games in 2018 were a step back from what we saw in 2017
So add that along with the fact he might be a bit rusty from an ACL tear. His game against the Buccaneers wasn’t as bad as some would let you believe, but he did look ordinary. Since then, fans have been quite satisfied with him. He torched the Bengals and then he had a much better game against the Steelers than his stat line would indicate (stats lie, tape doesn’t). In fact, I’d call his game against the Steelers one of his best. He ran down the field and put the game away in a clutch moment reminiscent of Joe Montana. Of course, this is just two out of three games. Two of those defenses are decent, one of those teams (Cincinnati Bengals) is going to be fighting with Arizona and Miami for the first pick in 2020. He hasn’t faced a defense like the Browns in quite some time (the Jaguars comes to mind and that was all the way back in 2017). The Browns are good on both sides of the ball so if he assists in a night of turnovers, Cleveland will end this rather early.”
Chris: “The 49ers rank very well defensively in all of the major categories -- although they did face two AFC North teams that don’t have very good teams in the Bengals and Steelers. What would label as the 49ers’ biggest weakness on defense, if there is one?”
Patrick: “Right now their secondary, more specifically the cornerback position. This is because injuries have hit them all at once. Ahkello Witherspoon was playing lights out and is now down for a month (at least), Jason Verrett was recently placed on IR, and the 49ers have brought back Dontae Johnson for the umpteenth time. On one side, you have Richard Sherman who has returned from injury, but that second CB spot is definitely a question mark. While the 49ers could plug Jimmie Ward in since Ward seems to know every position on the defense, they might just keep Ward at free safety. Until Witherspoon gets healthy, the 49ers might have a random assortment of cornerbacks. That is, unless, Emmanuel Mosley plays lights out in his first start.”
Chris: “What is the strength and weakness of the 49ers’ offensive line?”
Patrick: “Finding weaknesses on this line is difficult because it’s been far better than anyone’s expected, I’ve been plenty happy with the product turned in. That said, if you take away their tendency to get touchdowns called back from holding penalties, which is a weakness (and IT BLOODY HAPPENS ALL THE TIME!!!!), I’d say their biggest weakness has been pass protection. Now don’t misunderstand me, that line has some of the lowest pressure percentages in the league, but Jimmy Garoppolo has taken some brutal shots. Not many quarterbacks would be efficient taking a pounding like that and getting up, somehow Jimmy G is. His release is one of the fastest in the NFL, which certainly helps; look at the difference when he was in vs. Nick Mullens/C.J. Beathard (Garoppolo’s backups) the line is night and day. The line needs to buy him just a few more seconds so he’s not going to get flattened after delivering a dart. Now to be fair, this was far more of an issue against Pittsburgh who blitzed the crap out of him, but it still seems (to me) something that needs to be toned down. Last thing we want is another injury. I’d say discipline has been the other thing (the penalties) but quarterback trumps all.
The strength though comes in the run game. That line has opened up lanes for Matt Brieda/Raheem Mostert and mauls defenders. Mike McGlinchey has had a bad game here or there, but he’s proven he’s one of the best run blockers in the league as a rookie. This is a team that is like a kid on Christmas when Kyle Shanahan calls a run play. ”
Chris: “Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel were the 49ers’ first two picks of the 2019 NFL Draft. Tell us about how they’ve played through these first three games (or the offseason, if appropriate).”
Patrick: “When healthy, Bosa has played like a veteran in their prime. He’s taken offensive tackle Joe Staley to school. The problem is, Bosa got injured early in training camp and has been playing through an ankle sprain. The funny thing is, despite the injury, Bosa has been one of the best defensive ends on the field and productive as a pass rusher. He wasn’t listed on the injury report this week, so it will be something to watch when he’s fully healthy and can do some things.
Samuel reminds me a lot of Anquan Boldin in his physicality with the catch. The Tampa Bay game had him taking a poor cornerback’s helmet off just for some context. Kyle Shanahan has called Samuel’s number quite a bit for a rookie and he’s becoming a mainstay in this offense. He won’t have the rookie season like Odell Beckham Jr. had with the Giants, but in four games he’s shown a lot of good stuff that indicates he can be a top-15 or top-10 receiver with development. He’s had one bad drop against Pittsburgh, a drop he’s probably still having nightmares over and that stupid fumble against Tampa Bay. Besides that, he’s been developing nicely as a rookie pass catcher and I do think as he gets further familiar with the NFL level, we’ll see more creative playcalling to get him in space. Plus, Samuel can pretty much do everything and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in some other creative ways beyond a wide out as time goes on.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but who could make a nice contribution for this week’s game.”
Patrick: “Offense: OT Justin Skule, he’s filling in for Joe Staley and he played quite well given his status as a rookie. His first game as a starter was in Week 3, but if that’s any indication, the 49ers may have found tremendous value with their sixth-round pick. He does need more development before he does a full 16-game season as a starter, but hopefully, in a year or two when Staley hangs it up, Skule can slip right in. That Cleveland line will be a great measurement test for him. I expect him to get beat a few times and give up plays, but as a rookie, I don’t expect him to be a stonewall tackle either. That line should give him some good experience on what he needs to do to get to the next level. He also could hold down the fort and keep the pressures low in his second start. If he does that, 49ers fans can breathe a sigh of relief that they may have found Staley’s replacement.
Defense: Fred Warner. I’m not too familiar with which players are not “well” known outside of San Francisco, but Warner has become one of the better defensive signal-callers in the league. The 49ers gave him the green dot (the helmet that puts him in contact with the defensive coaches) as a rookie and despite some inexperience issues, it paid off. Warner is a a buzzsaw on the field, attempting to rip the ball out on every play. He also has an eye for the play and manages to follow the ball like a robot, knowing where it is every down. Warner is on his way to being one of the league’s best at the position and given the Browns’ abilities to beat you in several different ways, he’ll have his hands full on Sunday.”
Thanks again to Patrick for taking the time to answer my questions.