The television networks have been all-in with the Browns this year. The game against the San Francisco 49ers marked the third primetime contest in which Cleveland was featured despite it being only Week 5. There was no way the schedule-makers could have predicted a 3-0 Niners club against the 2-2 Browns much less both were current division leaders.
Everyone had expected that the Browns offense would be the pinnacle of the club, but so far the defense is who has shined each game. The 49ers were ranked Top-6 in both offense and defense before kickoff. Plus, San Francisco was the league’s number two rushing team coming into the game.
So, how did the Browns do? They played horrible on every imaginable scenario. And just when it seemed the offense had finally started to connect and be the production juggernaut they were predicted as such. However, any team cannot win games if they turn the ball over and don’t/can’t/won’t tackle.
Punter Jamie Gillan – If tickets are bought to see a punter perform, nobody went home disappointed with the Browns rookie. With an anemic offense, you need someone who can turn field position into a positive. With seven punts, the Scottish Hammer had an incredible 56.7 average with four kicks inside the 20 and boomed a 71-yarder. Do we smell his second AFC Special Teams Player-of-the-Week award?
Cornerback Tavierre Thomas – In the second quarter, Niners punt returner Richie James had found a seam on the rightside and then darted across the center with all green in front of him after a 32-yard scamper. Thomas nailed James just as he attempted his cut and saved a touchdown. On San Francisco’s second drive in the third quarter, the 49ers drive stalled and lined up for a field goal. Thomas came off the end and blocked the kick with a backwards swat.
Defensive end Myles Garrett – Although the pass rush was almost non-existent for most of the game, Garrett had a solid outing including a timely sack. His constant presence in the backfield was the only pass rush for most of the evening.
Defensive Stops – While the 49ers scored 31 points and missed several other opportunities to add to their tally, the defense did step up numerous times and kept the game from getting completing out-of-hand. After Baker Mayfield’s fumble in the first half, the defense stopped a crucial third down which forced a missed field goal and no added points. In the second quarter and a great punt return by James which set the Niners up at the Browns’ 38 yard line, the defense responded with a sack plus a tipped incompletion which resulted in another missed field goal and again no added points. After OBJ set up the 49ers at the Browns own 29-yard line, the result was a key third down stop and San Fran only added three points.
Offensive tackle Greg Robinson – All night long, Robinson had no answer for 49er defensive end Nick Bosa. In the first half alone, Bosa (#97) was constantly in the backfield and had a sack, several missed sacks and two tackles for loss. On certain plays, tight end Demetrius Harris or Pharaoh Brown was placed to help Robinson, but Bosa had the moves and usually ended up on the inside instead of being taken deep to the outside of the pocket. It would have made a lot of sense to keep a tight end over on that side to help Robinson all game since he struggled so much, but most plays he was on his own. Bosa is not an elite NFL pass rusher, but this week he should be named the NFC Defensive Player-of-the-Week and ought to text Robinson with a thank you.
Run Defense – The Browns could not contain #22 Matt Breida who had 88 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. Breida ended the game with 114 yards but was benched for most of the second half to make way for backup Tevin Coleman who finished with 97 yards. Most of the yardage was gained on the Browns’ defensive right side.
Wide receiver Antonio Callaway – Despite having zero catches in the first half, his drop of a sure touchdown with 1:43 left in the first half resulted in a tipped ball and a 41-yard return the other way. The pass from Mayfield was just a tab low, but the replay showed Callaway had both hands on the ball but did not actually grip it. That would have made the score 14-10 after an excellent drive by the offense. That one play may have changed the entire complexion of the game.
Offensive Play Calling – The game began with an incredible sight and opened up the game to great possibilities. Then, nothing happened. Jarvis Landry was all over the place in the first half and then nothing. OBJ is this supposedly elite receiver and had just as many drops as pass completions (2). When the Browns finally got into the red zone, the Niners stacked the box with eight players yet off-tackle runs were called and stuffed. Often, two receivers would be in the same place which brought more defenders into their space. A grand total of nine passes were completed all game and only one pass was thrown for more than 25 yards. Game computes were 222 total offensive yards. Does Freddie Kitchens realize all another team has to do is get a pair of binoculars and someone who reads lips and they can have every single offensive play?
Turnovers – Nothing kills a drive (or a team) like handing the ball over to the other team. The Browns were not good at a lot of things Monday Night, but in this category they were outstanding. The defense did rise up on several occasions and eliminated more scoring, but Cleveland just gave the ball up all night long. On the first quarter interception by Richard Sherman, Mayfield had OBJ open for a touchdown if he had put some more air on it, but tight end Demetrius Harris whiffed on Bosa who was in Mayfield’s face as he threw it sooner than he wanted. The Callaway tip for the interception was just mindless play. OBJ’s punt fumble was baffling that a player would hold the ball out with one hand like that with a zillion defenders closing. Mayfield’s fumble was the result of right guard Eric Kush stumbling against defensive end Arik Armstead who made Mayfield react and move into DeForest Buckner and then lost to ball to which Bosa recovered.
Run Defense – The 49ers came into this game as the number two rushing team in the NFL and certainly added to their ranking. The Browns just did not have any answers of how to stop the run. The Niners offensive line did pretty much what they wanted with Cleveland’s front four which placed the running back into the second level often. At the half, San Francisco had 185 rushing yards and finished the game with 275 yards on the ground.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon – On three long runs including an end around, it was to Vernon’s side which he provided zero containment. The edge simply was just wide open, then up the field for big gains. On the Niners first play from scrimmage, Matt Breida went off the hole between Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. On the 49ers second drive in the the third quarter (which resulted in the blocked field goal), backup running back Tevin Coleman ran a sweep around Vernon’s end who was being blocked by 5’11”, 214 pound wide receiver Deebo Samuel. The play went around the corner for 15 yards. Vernon completed the game with only two tackles and no pressure on the quarterback.
Poor Tackling – The trend for the Browns appears to be as follows: stick your arm out which should make the man fall down, or grab the ballcarrier with one or both hands at his waist without any worries regarding his legs. Jermaine Whitehead, Chris Smith, T.J. Carrie, Eric Murray, Damarious Randall, Sheldon Richardson, Mack Wilson, and Olivier Vernon were all experts at “waisting” would-be runners.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. – In pregame warmups, OBJ oohs and aahs the crowd with his spectacular one-handed grabs while in the game he drops balls with two hands. Against better defenses like the 49ers, he has pedestrian numbers with minimal impact. The fumbled punt was a head-scratchier. Yes, he was trying to pull a Barry Sanders bottled up and then eventually find an opening towards the opposite field before running for the long touchdown. But when more and more players show up, basic fundamentals are that you place the ball between your palm and elbow, and then cradle it against your body for protection. The last thing you do is hold it in one hand and flail your arms out inviting it to be swatted. Which is what happened.
Milk Bones - not good, yet not so bad
Safety Damarious Randall – On Breida’s opening touchdown run, once he got through the defensive line and the Browns’ linebackers had been taken away from the play, Randall was the only player left. He had eight yards to deal with the runner, but once Breida made one head gesture to the center of the field, Randall took it. Then Breida darted to the sideline and by that time the angle was gone. Textbook learning opp for defensive players that they should look at a player’s waist and not his head or legs (the waist never goes anywhere). Then in the third quarter with the Niners at the Browns 22, tight end George Kittle simply runs a post route into the center where Randall should have kept watch but resulted on an easy score. Randall did have a fine game in run support and ended with eight tackles and swatted away two passes.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield – He had his good moments and his terrible plays. Two fumbles (one lost), two interceptions, and was harassed for most of the game as evidenced by being sacked four times which could have been doubled except for his feet. Eight completions in an NFL game? When the pocket protection holds up he is on target. But usually he has to make hurried decisions which result in low throws, and erratic passes which are overthrown or just off-target.
Safety Morgan Burnett – The 49ers stuck to their ground game and rarely passed. Burnett had great coverage and supported the run game in several moments. The Browns defense played very well against the pass in the first half with a mere 36 passing yards.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry – In the first half, Landry was most of the offense for the Browns. He became the forgotten man in the second half and finished with 75 yards on four catches. At the half, it appeared Landry would have a breakout game.
Pass Rush – Big question: where was the pass rush? Where was the constant pressure on the quarterback? Is the 49ers offensive line that elite? Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had all day to throw on most passing downs. With the Browns two sacks, each was attributed to great coverage and the pocket eventually collapsed.
Penalties Way Down – There were seven penalties called with six accepted. Here’s a treat.