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Browns vs. 49ers: NFL Week 5 Preview and Prediction

The Browns will play their third prime time game in five weeks.

NFL: DEC 13 49ers at Browns Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This Monday night, the Cleveland Browns take on the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.

Position-by-Position Evaluation


  • One of these days, I’ll learn how to spell “Garoppolo” without having to look it up. Jimmy Garoppolo has been with the 49ers since the mid-way point of the 2017 season, but due to a torn ACL suffered early on in 2018, he has only started 11 games with them. Despite not having the best touchdown to interception ratio, Garoppolo completes a lot of passes and has a 9-2 record. He plays smart and efficiently in Kyle Shanahan’s system, and PFF says that some of the interceptions he’s had weren’t his fault.
  • The entire offense did a complete 180 against the Baltimore Ravens last week, which is why I can’t single out Baker Mayfield and say, “his performance last week is the reason the offense clicked.” It truly was a collective effort — but for Mayfield’s part, he did a better job at staying within the pocket and not bailing to his right at every possible opportunity. The 49ers feature a tough defense, though — and having two weeks to prepare, will there be any tendencies they pick up on to rattle Cleveland’s second-year quarterback?

Running Back

  • The 49ers’ starting running back is Matt Breida, but backup Raheem Mostert sees just as much action. Both are off to very good starts to the season. Breida has 41 carries for 226 yards (5.5 YPC), while Mostert has 34 carries for 202 yards (5.9 YPC). Neither have a touchdown this year — instead, Jeff Wilson has been getting the goal line work. He has 18 carries for 52 yards (2.9 YPC) and 4 touchdowns. From a receiving perspective, Mostert is a threat, but the running backs don’t get targeted too often on the ground.
  • The Browns don’t have a split committee -- at least not until Kareem Hunt is eligible to play. For now, Nick Chubb dominates the workload with 78 carries for 398 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also has 14 receptions for 99 yards. Dontrell Hilliard was worked back into receiving action last week. The 49ers’ defense does a great job shutting down running backs from having an impact in the passing game.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • The 49ers’ top two receivers in terms of utilization are Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, but it is rookie Deebo Samuel who has had the biggest impact at wide receiver. Goodwin is averaging 20.8 yards per reception with 6 catches for 125 yards, while Pettis has just 5 catches for 27 yards. Targeting those guys will not be a significant part of the 49ers’ gameplan. Samuel has 11 catches for 147 yards, and our 49ers affiliate compared him to Anquan Boldin (Titans rookie A.J. Brown also drew those comparisons in Week 1 and had a big day).
  • The biggest threat by far at receiver for the 49ers is tight end George Kittle, who has 17 catches for 165 yards. He’s been kept out of the end zone this year, but was a dynamic receiver last year and has already become such a huge part of what San Francisco wants to accomplish on offense.
  • The Browns are expected to have their entire quartet of receivers available for Sunday’s game in Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Antonio Callaway. I can’t overstate how well Mayfield and Higgins work together, and it gives Cleveland some much more credible threats when they decide to deploy three- or four-receiver sets.
  • Ricky Seals-Jones had a big receiving day last week, and Cleveland actually had good contributions from all three of their tight ends. The problem is that this unit is still week-to-week in terms of reliability with David Njoku out. The good news is that if teams decide that they are more concerned with Cleveland’s receivers, Seals-Jones has answered the call in catching the ball.

Offensive Line

  • The 49ers’ starting offensive line includes LT Justin Skule, LG Laken Tomlinson, C Weston Richburg, RG Mike Person, and RT Mike McGlinchey. The big match-up to watch here is Skule at left tackle. He is a 6th round rookie who is filling in for veteran Joe Staley, who is out with a fibula injury. It’s one thing for Skule to do well against Bud Dupree two weeks ago, but it’s another for him to have to contest with Myles Garrett. The 49ers will have to scheme to help Skule.
  • The Browns’ offensive line turned in a good performance against the Ravens last week, and it’s exactly the one we should hope for each week. Mayfield was sacked on the first series, but wasn’t even hit the rest of the game. The blocking on pitch plays was excellent, with the linemen showing their athleticism out in space.

Defensive Line / Linebacker

  • The 49ers run a 4-2-5 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Dee Ford, DT D.J. Jones, DT DeForest Buckner, and DE Arik Armstead, with rookie DE Nick Bosa and DE Solomon Thomas as rotational players. It says something about the deep depth of this team when the former third overall pick and this year’s second overall pick are rotational players. Bosa was hurt in camp, but has been playing well and hitting his stride. This unit is going to give Cleveland’s line fits all day if the wrong gameplan is in place.
  • I mentioned it earlier, but this is Myles Garrett’s week to try to shine. He was held without a sack last week, and someone made a good point that he purposely did not go crazy with his pass rush, in an attempt to not watch Lamar Jackson just run by him. The 49ers don’t have a scrambling quarterback, but they do have a rookie left tackle. They also get rid of the ball quickly. Those are a lot of variables at play, but it’s a match-up Cleveland has to win.
  • The 49ers’ starting linebackers include Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander. Alexander used to miss a lot of tackles with the Buccaneers, but he’s been off to a tremendous start in 2019 and hasn’t missed a tackle. The depth of the 49ers’ defensive line, coupled with the solid play of Warner and Alexander, gives San Francisco the edge in the front seven (or rather, six).
  • Joe Schobert is having a stellar season for Cleveland’s defense, but the big player to watch this week should be Mack Wilson. Known for his coverage skills, it’ll be tough to guard George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk, but maybe Wilson’s athleticism when dropping back will catch the 49ers off guard.


  • The 49ers’ two starting cornerbacks are Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley, with K’Waun Williams covering the slot. This will be the Browns’ biggest potential advantage against the 49ers’ stout defense. Ahkello Witherspoon is usually one of their starters, but he is out due to injury, so Moseley, an undrafted rookie in 2018, will make his first career start. That’s a tough task against Cleveland’s talented receivers. Browns fans are familiar with Williams’ name, and he continues to be stellar from the slot:
  • San Francisco’s starting safeties are FS Tavarius Moore and SS Jaquiski Tartt — although with Jimmie Ward returning from injury, the 49ers must decide where they’ll incorporate him.
  • Cleveland is taking babysteps in terms of getting healthy in the defensive backfield. Morgan Burnett expects to return to the starting lineup this week, but both starting cornerbacks are out. With how well Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie have been playing, though, it shows how much of a luxury it truly was to be four-deep at cornerback.

Special Teams

  • Robbie Gould is the 49ers’ kicker. He is 6-of-8 on field goals and 10-of-10 on extra points. In his 15th season of the NFL, there is no doubt that Gould has the experience factor over Austin Seibert. After Seibert’s missed extra point to begin the season, he’s made everything else. Seibert is 7-of-7 on field goals and 8-of-9 on extra points.
  • Mitch Wishnowsky is the 49ers’ punter. He was a 4th round pick in 2019. His average is 45.1 yards, while his net average is 42.3 yards. Jamie Gillan ranks dead last in the NFL with an average of 41.6 yards per punt. To show you how stats are deceiving sometimes, Gillan was also named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. That’s because Cleveland keeps getting to near midfield, and Gillan is dropping his punts inside the 20 or forcing fair catches left and right.
  • Richie James is the 49ers’ kickoff and punt returner. He has 7 punt returns for 57 yards. The Browns haven’t been pleased with their kickoff return production, and there’s a chance that Antonio Callaway will take over return duties this week as part of his return.


Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.

Chris Pokorny: “Last year, there was a point where it looked like the Browns’ offensive line and playcalling would make it impossible to have an effective offense. But then, Freddie Kitchens improved things, and it got to a point where Mayfield was never getting sacked. It wasn’t because the line started playing like Pro Bowlers, but the system fell into place. That’s the hope I have after what Cleveland showed last week. The 49ers’ defense would create havoc if Cleveland played like they did in Weeks 1-2, but the Browns are evolving in this young season.

Shanahan will devise some efficient plays for his offense against Cleveland, but I don’t know how sustainable it will be. I think Cleveland will take a similar approach to last week in which they load the box to stop the run and force Garoppolo to beat him. Also, remember that the Arizona Cardinals were 3-13 last year (the team that Steve Wilks was the head coach of). Two of those wins were a sweep against the 49ers, showing that Wilks wasn’t phased by what Shanahan threw at him. His defense will be prepared, and so will the Browns’ playmakers on offense for Monday Night Football.” Browns 24, 49ers 17.

Matt Wood: “I’m glad to see some of y’all come around. The Browns are for real. The 49ers? Not sure. They played terrible against the Steelers yet still won. They have had two weeks to prep for the Browns.

But the Browns are better on paper. The 49ers don’t have the talent on the outside to hurt the Browns and I don’t think they can protect Jimmy G who like every QB sees a dip in production when pressured.

Browns play big on MNF and Odell shows off again. He goes for 150+ as the Browns pull away.” Browns 31, 49ers 23.

Tom Moore: “The Browns have not had much luck on the West Coast over the years, but they are a respectable 8-6 all-time against the 49ers in San Francisco. Cleveland comes into the game off their first solid offensive performance of the season and, for the first time this year, should have their full complement of wide receivers available for the game. Much like last week against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns are facing a 49ers team that has built its 3-0 record on the backs of some of the worst teams in the league.

The Browns turned a corner last week and they look poised to keep the momentum going on Monday night.” Browns 24, 49ers 10.

Jon Stinchcomb: “The Browns that so many of us saw on paper with this talented of a roster heading into the season finally arrived last week. Now it is time to show that they can perform at that level consistently.” Browns 28, 49ers 20.

Ezweav: “We are doomed. We just experienced our most substantial divisional victory in ever, which allows us to get our hopes back up for the inevitable crushing. Enter the smarmy Kyle Shanahan and his suddenly reborn 49ers. He’s put together a 37 slide power point presentation for how to beat us and the team is buying in.

Sure we’re getting our complimentary receivers backs and Baker playing like he did last week combined with the awesomeness that is Nick Chubb spells trouble for any opposing defense, but it won’t matter. The Niners’ ten top-5 picks on the DL will be too much to handle, and we the loyal shall return to our normal state of disappointment” 49ers 45, Browns 13.

rufio: “The 49ers are good, but not as good as they appear right now. Kyle Shanahan still has one of the best offensive schemes in the NFL, which will cause a few issues despite a mostly steady performance by the Browns defense. Their outside receivers aren’t great, which will be good if we are once again missing our top cornerbacks, but the Shanahan scheme is very good at opening things for TEs and backs off of play action, a weakness of Wilks’ defense. However, Wilks has adjusted will to the zone running scheme that the 49ers run, and has seen it a lot as head coach of the Cardinals. Ultimately the Browns are able to stop the run and can win in pass rushing situations, so the San Francisco offense sputters.

Offensively, the Browns are finding out how to play. The 49ers defensive line are all monsters, but their DBs can’t cover our receivers. Chubb breaks a few chunk plays on the ground, and Baker continues to get the ball out quickly. Sherman talks a lot of trash and covers OBJ fairly well (gets away with holding) most of the game.

This game plays out largely like the Ravens game before it, with the Browns going up early and forcing a team that wants to run and use play action into becoming a drop-back passing team. Jimmy G makes a few plays but isn’t fully up to the task.” Browns 31, 49ers 24.

Josh Finney: “I’m a big [redacted] moron, and thought everyone was underselling the Ravens and overselling the Browns offense.

Was wrong as hell. Happy to eat crow.

This 49ers defense is very good, and enormously underrated. I’m sure lots of folks will say “well, they haven’t played anyone” but the talent is there.

Either Freddie’s offense will keep them on their heels, or this game is trouble. Shannahan will continue to get guys schemed open, and the Browns have had some wiiiiiiiiide open receiving talents in every game that they’ve played an NFL team. (Sorry, Jets)” 49ers 27, Browns 24.

Barry Shuck: “I apologize for my last week’s prediction that the Ravens would pummel the Browns. I assumed the home field advantage would come into play and that the Browns would take their home game later; plus while Cleveland’s defense is very good, their offense just could not find any rhythm whatsoever despite the talent. I was wrong, and am happy to be wrong. In fact, the exact opposite occurred.

The 49ers are a good football club. Last week the Browns went up against the league’s number one rushing team and this week they go up against the number two rushing team. On defense, the Niners are exceptional. They are fifth against the run and sixth defending the passing game. Mayfield and Company are not going to have an easy time but get Antonio Callaway back into the fold and Jarvis Landry will be available to play. The Browns defense is up to the task of an explosive 49er attack. Did you know that MLB Joe Schobert is fifth in the league in tackles while Myles Garrett is second in sacks? Have to go with the matchups.” 49ers 28, Browns 27.

BigTownBrown: “Monday Night Football has been good to the Browns this year, winning week 2 at the Jets. The Browns are 2-0 on the road and come this Tuesday they will be 3-0 on the road. The 49ers are not that good of a team, they are the worst of the undefeated teams. They have 3 wins by beating 2 teams with a combined win total of 1. Jimmy G throws ints like it’s his Job.

Matt Burrito can’t find the end zone, psh, neither can Mozart. Their only rushing touchdowns from a running back have came from Jameis Winston jr and he’s only got 4= The only person we need to keep an eye on is Jorge Kittle, OCBB’s guy from the Midwest #MidwestUp. Baker Mayfield is gonna toss 3 TD’s to OBJ and Myles Garrett is gonna have 3 sacks as the Browns cruze to a road victory.” Browns 38, 49ers 3.

Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.