This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, and general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Going Against the Browns
- Much like the Browns’ last game before the bye, chances are, this week’s game against the 49ers is going to suck. The bye week was supposed to be a relief to get players more healthy, but QB Deshaun Watson is still out, and LG Joel Bitonio had his knee scoped and is out on Sunday. Getting the start is P.J. Walker. Walker won’t be making the same erratic plays that Dorian Thompson-Robinson did in his spot start, but Walker is, in my estimation, a below average backup.
- Cleveland is hosting the San Francisco 49ers, a team that ranks in the Top 5 on both sides of the ball. The 49ers are 5-0, and in my opinion, the best team in football. It would be one thing if the Browns’ pass protection and run blocking was top-notch this year, but both areas have been a bit of a disappointment. You also have to factor in the cumulative injuries the team has had on offense — Jack Conklin and Nick Chubb are two key losses too. To be without your starting quarterback, starting running back, and two starting offensive linemen makes it difficult to win.
The Path to Winning
- We’re expecting doom-and-gloom; 74% of Browns fans think Cleveland will get destroyed by the 49ers. It seems unfathomable that that would be a poll outcome because when the Browns were 2-1 after having dominated the Titans, the optimism was through the roof. For a moment, let’s get back to that optimism and find the potential path to victory for the Browns.
- It all starts with the defense. The Browns had a historic stretch for the first three weeks of the season defensively, and although Baltimore got the upper hand on them for a quarter, Cleveland’s defense is still the real deal. They are healthy, they have good pass rushers, and good coverage players. The tackling has been improved this season. Aside from the Cowboys last week (yes, the 49ers took care of them too...), San Francisco has faced defenses like the Steelers, Giants, and Cardinals, all of whom rank in the bottom fourth of the league defensively. Maybe Cleveland is the first team that gets them off their rhythm and forces a bunch of three-and-outs.
- There’s also the chess match between defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Historically, Schwartz’ defenses have gotten the upper hand:
Kyle Shanahan has faced Jim Schwartz 9 times. Shanahan is 1-8 in those matchups and his offense has scored over 20 points just once.— Jack Hammer (@JackHammer_NFL) October 11, 2023
As the Falcons OC in 2016 Shanahan’s offense averaged 33.9 points through the first 9 games.
In game 10 they faced the Eagles with Schwartz as…
- Could Cleveland get a little help from mother nature, like they did in Week 1 against the Bengals? Currently, forecasts call for rain in the late-afternoon, but maybe the rain arrives a little earlier in time for the game. Either way, wins could be a little bit of a factor too.
- Lastly, even though I think it was a poor job by Kevin Stefanski to not adjust the gameplan at all when he had to start DTR on short notice, that excuse goes out the window this week. Remember, this offense was pretty sharp with Jacoby Brissett last year. Maybe Stefanski will have a more focused gameplan that suits the running game, and the abilities of Walker. I wouldn’t expect that to lead the offense to a bunch of sustained drives, but if it’s a defensive battle, all you need is two solid drives during the game, mixed in with field position and good kicking.
- WR Cedric Tillman is also out this week, but the Browns should get C Ethan Pocic back. TE David Njoku is also expected to play through his burns again.
- If Cleveland were to pull of a victory, there is a chance they could still be in a tie for first place in the AFC North. The season is still young, so this game is still very much important if Cleveland can squeak something out.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 10 point underdogs against the 49ers.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “My brain likes the possible ‘path to victory’ section that I wrote out, but if these teams played 100 times, I see that path being achievable about 25% of the time, which isn’t good enough. The offense won’t be able to do squat because the 49ers also have a really good defense. On the other side of the ball, Brock Purdy doesn’t turn the ball over and is more than a game manager — he excels with Shanahan, and the 49ers should be able to take this one easily if they remain patient.” 49ers 23, Browns 10
Thomas Moore: “No Deshaun Watson. No Nick Chubb. No Joel Bitonio. The 49ers, on the other hand, have a top defense and an offense that is clicking on all cylinders - plus a few more that normal people probably haven’t discovered yet. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan will likely still be keen to stick it to the Haslams for making him put up with quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2014.” 49ers 35, Browns 3
Barry Shuck: “Can’t see this one finishing with a happy ending. Deshaun or no Deshaun, it won’t change the outcome. Cleveland is paying their QB $230 million whereas the 49ers are paying Brock Purdy $870,000. Can we just fast-forward to the NFC Championship Game and place the Eagles and Niners in it and do away with all these other meaningless games? Browns have minimal offense and are ranked dead last in the league (71.5 rating) in passing whereas San Fran is ranked #1 (122.9). What used to be one of the best rushing teams is now ranked #15. San Fran? #3. The 49ers are producing a whooping 402.6 yards per game! But the Browns have the #1 defense against the pass so that matches up well. Cleveland has also allowed the fewest rushing yards (287 yards) and is ranked #1 there, too. Our defense plays its ass off each week while the offense is ranked third in giveaways with 10 and averaging four sacks allowed per game (ranked fourth most). At least Cleveland has a good punter!” 49ers 42, Browns 17
Jared Mueller: “It is almost impossible to pick the Cleveland Browns to beat the San Francisco 49ers this weekend. Whether Deshaun Watson plays or not, the Niners are the best team in the NFL through five weeks of the season. While there are a few things that work in Cleveland’s favor (cross-country travel, San Fran playing on Sunday Night and the chance of a letdown), the fact that the spread is currently at seven points indicates how bad things might get. If Watson is ruled out, the line will likely get into the double figures.
The Browns defense is good enough to keep the team in the game but, without Watson and Chubb, the offense just doesn’t have an engine to make it go.” 49ers 20, Browns 13
Curtiss Brown: “You would think that the Cleveland Browns are 1-4 by the way the fans and the local media have been acting, they aren’t. Anyway, everyone believes that the 49ers are some unstoppable force because of what they did to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. What people don’t understand is that Dallas doesn’t match up well with San Francisco. Cleveland does (in some areas). Quarterback Deshaun Watson is probably not gonna play, and there are some people who will have a problem with it but if he played and he ended up playing poorly or risking further injury then what? Lose-Lose on both sides. The offense has to play nearly perfect against this Niners defense. They are sound in every way and they rarely make mistakes. You can’t let Nicholas John Bosa (Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime analyst Richard Sherman has me saying this man’s full government name now), Fred Warner, or Arik Armstead wreak havoc.
Defensively, you can only hope to slow down this 49ers offense. Cleveland has the personnel and the coordinator to do that. Kyle Shanahan is 1-8 against Jim Schwartz and his offense scored over 20 points once (take that information as you may). Quarterback Brock Purdy has been great but there are moments this season that he has had some passes that should’ve been picked off, his turnover worthy throw percentage is high (you should take note of that). 49ers running game was bottled up last week but Christian McCaffrey found ways to be effective. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk has been solid and we all know what tight end George Kittle can do. Slow them down, force Brock to make a mistake and you are have a chance to win this game.
The Browns have the A-team for Fox calling this game but at what cost? I don’t believe this game will be a blowout, but the spread for this game has gone to 8.5. I could see the game getting out of hand but at the same time I see the Niners having a potential letdown due to travel and playing in an emotional Sunday night game but this game will be close than what people think. Niners win but barely (and fans will find a way to complain).” 49ers 27, Browns 20
Ezweav: “There’s a chance, right? I would say so. I fully well recognize how good this 49er squad is, but ours is pretty good too, even if we’re missing our most important pieces on offense. It would be a slog no doubt, but having P.J. Walker in as opposed to DTR should at least lead to some sustained drives, helping out the defense. Still, too big a hill to climb to get a victory, but we should be pesky.” 49ers 23, Browns 18
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.