This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the San Francisco 49ers. To help preview a few topics from the 49ers’ perspective, we reached out to Ryan Bainbridge from Niners Nation and exchanged five questions with him.
Chris: “I’ve been touting the 49ers as the best team in football, and I’ve loved their style of play ever since Kyle Shanahan became head coach. If there was any weakness with the 49ers this season, though, what would you say it is?”
Ryan: “I think most NFL fans have to agree that through five games there hasn’t been as complete a team as San Francisco. Shanahan has the offense running like a well oiled-machine. The defensive bend-don’t-break approach has barely been bent. But there are still some spots on the roster that I believe most 49ers fans would agree gives more cause for concern. To start, certain metrics indicate the offensive line has been below average, especially in pass-blocking. Pro Football Focus grades them as the 27th ranked unit in that aspect (49.4 grade) and ESPNs Pass-Block-Win-Rate grades them as the 19th ranked unit (53%).
First-year starter Colton McKivitz has had an up-and-down season at Right tackle but has generally performed well outside of his first week matchup with TJ Watt. I would argue the bigger disappointment so far has been the interior group of LG Aaron Banks (42.3 PFF PBLK grade), C Jake Brendel (38.8), and RG Spencer Burford (9.7 - yikes). Shanahan has done a nice job of scheming against teams with dominant edge rushers but defenses that can cause pressure up the middle worry us.
On defense, the cornerbacks outside of Charvarius Ward have been shaky. Deommodore Lenoir finished last season off with a strong campaign but still flashes inconsistency in man coverage where opposing receivers are able to create separation. Teams like to throw at him a lot (7th most targeted CB with at least 100 coverage snaps) and he’s allowed his fair share of easy completions. Coverage from the nickel players has been a bit worrisome as well, with Isaiah Oliver and Ambry Thomas each allowing 80% of passes thrown their way to be completed.”
Chris: “Brock Purdy’s remarkably efficient play has continued. Despite how efficient he is, no one seems to brand him as an elite quarterback. What are 49ers fans’ impressions of him? Is he the real deal, or just another quarterback who thrives because of Kyle Shanahan’s magic?”
Ryan: “It feels like I could write an entire book trying to answer this question and there will still be doubters. Purdy is different from any of the other quarterbacks we have seen in Shanahan’s system (in San Francisco). I think fans have fully embraced him in a similar way to when the team first traded for Jimmy G. But there are striking differences. Purdy is much better out of structure, (which doesn’t happen often!) and is confident against pressure. Garoppolo was not the reliable third down passer that Purdy is and I think in general both his teammates and San Francisco faithful believe in Purdy’s ability to bring this team back from a deficit. That sense of composure was never felt during the Jimmy G era. Does he thrive because of the offense he plays in? Absolutely. Do I think any quarterback could replicate his play in this same situation? No, I do not. I think he is a big upgrade over many quarterbacks in this league due to his decision-making, anticipation, and ability to create. We know he isn’t the most physically gifted quarterback in the league but his shortcomings are exaggerated by detractors and he is playing like a top 10 dude at the position this season.”
Chris: “Which player from the 49ers’ draft class, if any, has seen the most action this year?”
Ryan: “San Francisco’s first pick wasn’t until round three, where they selected Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown. This was more of a long-term choice as the 49ers starting safeties were returning from 2022. Brown has only seen the field for 27 snaps on defense so far. The 49ers did select the first kicker off the board, Michigan’s Jake Moody. Moody has been excellent, especially for a rookie. He has hit all 20 extra points and all 9 field goal attempts so far this season. In the seventh round, San Francisco grabbed another UM player in wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who has made some splash plays in limited action. On offense he caught a touchdown in the Giants game and on special teams he has made some excellent stops as a gunner on punt. ”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”
Ryan: “Despite the addition of Randy Gregory to the defensive line, keep your eye on DE Drake Jackson. With the injuries on Cleveland’s offensive line, the 49ers front four will likely have a big impact on the game. Every team knows that stopping Nick Bosa is priority number one, which leaves a lot of one-on-one opportunities for the opposite edge rusher. Jackson had a three sack performance in Pittsburgh week one but hasn’t been able to build from that momentum. He has been sharing playing time with Clelin Ferrell a bit, so he doesn’t get a ton of pass rushing opportunities. But the second-year pro from USC has a lot of juice and is third on the team with 12 total pressures this season. There’s a real possibility that this is Jackson’s job for the next few years so hoping he can capitalize on the Browns lackluster passing offense this Sunday.”
Chris: “The Browns are early underdogs against the 49ers on Sunday (Browns +7 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook). Who would you pick against the spread?”
Editor’s note: the line had shifted to +10 at the time of this publication.
Ryan: “I have to take the Niners. They’ve been winning by an average of almost 20 points per game and so the touchdown spread doesn’t worry me. I do think Cleveland’s defense will have the most success out of any of the early season opponents in stopping the San Francisco offense. Kyle Shanahan has historically struggled against DC Jim Schwartz wide nine scheme and he’s done a marvelous job of putting that defense in positions to dominate so far this year. That, along with the weather, may make this a low-scoring affair and therefore a closer contest. But I have a hard time believing the Browns offense will be able to gain much ground against the 49ers defense, especially with the possibility of Deshaun Watson being inactive due to the shoulder injury.”
Thanks again to Ryan for taking the time to answer my questions.