Monday Night Football will be a clash of two division leaders in the 2-2 Cleveland Browns and 3-0 San Francisco 49ers. Both teams have young talent abound and are looking to maintain the early-found momentum under the national spotlight.
The Browns are coming off a dominant performance versus division rival Baltimore Ravens, wherein the offense finally found its identity and the injury-riddled defense created turnovers at opportune times. The 49ers had a bye in Week 4 after wins versus the overachieving Tampa Bay Buccaneers, lowly Cincinnati Bengals, and Mason Rudolph-led Pittsburgh Steelers.
Let’s take a look at the three keys to a Browns victory in the Week 5 primetime match-up:
49ers head coach Microsoft Powerpoint, I mean Kyle Shanahan, is at the helm of one of the league’s most explosive rushing offenses through the first quarter of the season. With running back Tevin Coleman on the sidelines since a Week 1 ankle injury, the tandem of Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert have, rather quietly, been two of the top-producing/explosive backs in the league. Per Sharp Football, the 49ers currently currently rank first in explosive play ranking with 31 explosive plays out of 201 total plays (15%). 18 of those 31 plays have been via the running game for a total of 114 rushing yards1. Further, the 49ers have a 5.7% rushing success rate over average, as depicted in the below graphic (sourced from Sharp Football):
The Browns rushing defense has allowed 119.8 yards per game and 4.6 yards per attempt, which are both the 12th-most. Further, the rushing defense currently ranks 19th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (“DVOA”), per Football Outsiders. By slowing down the ground game, the Browns would force quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into passing situations with a lackluster wide receiver group currently lead by rookie Deebo Samuel, who has only recorded 11 receptions for 147 yards through three regular-season games.
An upright Baker Mayfield is a good Baker Mayfield. As noted in my weekly By the Numbers column, the second-year quarterback reduced his average time from snap to throw from 3.03 seconds in Weeks 1-3 (third-longest) to 2.44 seconds (second-fastest) in Week 4. As a result, the pressure a rate allowed by the Browns offensive line decreased from 32.5% in Weeks 1-3 to 3.2% in Week 4.
The Week 4 game plan will need to be replicated in Week 5, as the 49ers have one of the best pass rushes in the league, generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks on 33.3% of dropbacks (fifth-highest). In particular, rookie and Ohio State alum Nick Bosa currently ranks third in pressure rate (18.3%) and first in disruption rate (25.0%).
The superstar wide receiver was a pivotal presence in a non-usual way on Sunday versus the Ravens, with multiple key downfield blocks, while only accumulating two receptions for 20 yards. He is primed for a boom performance, as he will most likely match-up against former undrafted free agent Emmanuel Moseley, who has played less than 50 career regular-season snaps. Granted, the 49ers will most likely shade extra coverage to Beckham’s side of the field with free safety Tarvarious Moore, but Beckham should be able to exploit the match-up for exponential gain. Target him early and target him often.
Reality finally met expectations for the Browns in a 40-25 Week 4 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Now, armed with an offensive identity and the confidence to boot, the team has a chance to hand the 49ers their first loss on the season. Stop the run, get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly, and target the best wide receiver in the league and the Browns will be mining gold atop the AFC North and football world.