No need to waste any time with the introduction, you already know what time it is. Fresh off a bye week, the Cleveland Browns welcome the undefeated San Francisco 49ers this Sunday. The 49ers are the first NFC West team that the Browns will play this season, as they will travel to Seattle to take on the Seattle Seahawks in a few weeks.
The 49ers are clearly the best team in the NFL right now, and all it took was a Sunday night beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys to prove that to everyone. The team is talented, on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, this is a top 5 unit. At this point, everyone is familiar with quarterback Brock Purdy. Purdy has continued to get better each and every week and many believe that he has entered the MVP conversation. Running back Christian McCaffrey is also in the conversation for the MVP as well and he’s currently the best running back in the NFL with the injury to Nick Chubb. Wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are all threats when they get the ball in their hands and tight end George Kittle is a top 5 tight end in this league.
Defensively, like the Browns, this Niners defense is stacked. Defensive end and current defensive player of the Year Nick Bosa got paid this offseason and he’s continuing to be a problem. Defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave have been stout, and linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are the best linebacker duo in the league. In the secondary, cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenior aren’t to be underestimated, and safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson (Cleveland Browns legend) work well together.
Here are the 4 players to watch for in this crucial matchup:
QB Brock Purdy
Let’s start with the quarterback. As far as where Purdy was drafted, none of that matters right now. As someone who has been skeptical of the late-round QB, I will give him credit he has been playing well so far for the 49ers.
Is it the Shanahan scheme that is making him look this good? Probably (Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is an example), but I wouldn’t go so far as to put him in the MVP conversation. Purdy currently ranks in the top half in most statistical categories this season.
- 1st in EPA/per play
- 1st in EPA+CPOE composite
- 2nd in completion percentage
- 1st in QBR
Brock Purdy on 10+ yard throws | 2023:— PFF (@PFF) October 9, 2023
▪️ 79.1% completion percentage (1st)
▪️ 704 passing yards
▪️ 7 TDs/0 INTs
▪️ 158.3 PERFECT passer rating pic.twitter.com/6iwoKJfXRH
Purdy throws with good accuracy and anticipation, and he has good mobility. He doesn’t have elite-tier arm strength but he has a nice touch when it comes to throwing the ball and he can place it where his receivers can get it. Cleveland’s defense will be tested by Purdy and the group should not underestimate him. He’s not Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow, but he’s capable of picking apart a defense as well as getting hot at the right time. Look for Cleveland to find ways to make Purdy uncomfortable (something Dallas failed to do)
RB Christian McCaffrey
With Nicholas Jamal Chubb being out for the rest of the season, Christian McCaffrey now owns the title of the best running back in the NFL (until Nick Chubb comes back). CMC has been revitalized since being traded to the San Francisco 49ers last season from the Carolina Panthers. The issue for CMC has always been his health, but he’s healthy and he’s playing at an MVP level.
He’s a threat on the ground and he’s a threat in the passing game. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has found numerous ways to get CMC involved, one play he’s lined up in the backfield, then the next play he’s lined up in the slot. He’s a versatile weapon with quickness and home-running ability, he might not be the best pure runner of the football but he can make you pay. CMC was held in check by Dallas on Sunday, he averaged 2.7 yards per carry so there are ways to slow him down. Cleveland’s run defense will be tested once again, and CMC is someone Cleveland has to limit in the running & passing game.
WR Brandon Aiyuk
The Niners have talented wide receivers but I chose to highlight Brandon Aiyuk instead of Deebo Samuel.
Since Week 1, Aiyuk has been a stud for the 49ers this season. Last year, Aiyuk had one of the best seasons of his career, as he had a career-high in receiving yards and touchdowns. His route running is smooth when he comes in and out of his break, his yards-after-catch ability is something that shouldn’t be ignored, and he has the ability to break a game open. Aiyuk is the second-best wide receiver on the team but he has been playing like he’s the best:
Brandon Aiyuk going full crazy legs when breaking on his route pic.twitter.com/NSpHaMCpTQ— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 9, 2023
Cleveland has mostly limited the explosive plays from wide receivers this season but Aiyuk is a different breed. Crossing routes are frequently used in this offense, and it is imperative that the Browns limit Aiyuk and his ability to stretch the field and get behind the defense. The secondary has held up before but this is another test for them to pass.
LB Fred Warner
The Niners defense boasts a ton of talent, defensive end Nick Bosa is one of those stars but let’s talk about linebacker Fred Warner. Warner is the best linebacker in the league right now and it’s not close. Warner’s ability to go sideline to sideline with his speed, his aggressive playstyle and his size is what makes him great. He’s also great in pass coverage, he plays linebacker but covers like a defensive back which is unheard of.
He’s the leader of that Niners defense, the heart and soul of it and when he’s on it seems as if the entire uni feeds off it and they play even better.
Cleveland will need to have their eyes on 54 on all times. He’s capable of changing the trajectory of a game and he is someone that Browns fans should watch closely on a stacked 49ers defense.
What Niners players are you most interested in watching this weekend?