San Francisco rolls into town at a perfect 5-0 on the season and with the No. 2-ranked offense in the NFL. The 49ers have scored 30 or more points in eight consecutive games dating back to last season and are winning this season by an average of 19.8 points per game.
Quarterback Brock Purdy is putting up ridiculous numbers - 72 percent completion percentage, nine touchdown passes, zero interceptions - and is currently on pace to record the second-best passing season since 2000 by expected points added per dropback, according to The Ringer.
Purdy is surrounded by a talented group of offensive weapons in running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and tight end George Kittle.
It will be a tall order for Cleveland’s offense to keep up with former third-string quarterback P.J. Walker getting the start, and with running back Nick Chubb, left guard Joel Bitonio and (most likely) tight end David Njoku all being out.
Cleveland’s hopes then rest on a defense that had its share of difficulties against the Baltimore Ravens in their last game. The fact that the Ravens took a bit of the swagger out of them should have the Browns defense ready to go on Sunday to show that the first three weeks of the season were not a fluke.
That effort starts with the defensive line, where defensive end Myles Garrett, Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked edge rusher, will be spending at least part of the day going up against San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams, also the top-ranked player at his position by Pro Football Focus.
It will be the first time the two players have met and Williams is aware of the problems that Garrett can create, as he told The Athletic:
“He doesn’t have a weakness. You can only speak of two or three players in the league across positions that don’t have a weakness. He’s definitely one of them. So running at him, running away from him, sliding him, chipping him. None of it seems to faze him at all.
“Knowing you can be perfect technically and still lose. There’s a lot of rushers in the league that you don’t worry about that with. If you’re good, then most likely the protection will be good. But with Garrett, you can be outstanding and he can still embarrass you.”
Garrett is not the only player that the 49ers have to worry about as Cleveland also has Za’Darius Smith at the other defensive end, along with Ogbo Okoronkwo.
Williams highlighted Smith (who has a pass-rush grade of 81.1 from PFF) as “a hell of a rusher” and Cleveland defensive line coach Ben Bloom also credited Smith’s value to the defense on Friday (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“The analytics part of football and evaluating effectiveness as a pass rusher. It’s not just about the sacks. You can make it about the sacks if you want, but I think we know, now the way that people study film and have access to film and the popularity of the game, you have a lot of educated people evaluating win percentage or pressure percentage and Z’s excelling in those areas, like, really excelling, and it’s really valued this much.
“Yeah, that sack thing, that’ll take care of itself. We’ve been able to affect the quarterback in certain games and helped our team win. And when you watch the film, he’s a huge part of why that happens.”
Numerous Browns fans are going to be hesitant to tune in on Sunday fearing a long afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
But given the way the defense has played this season, especially along the defensive line, the Browns may actually have a chance at rewarding those who do decide to check out the game.