Game Overview ::
By Hilow >>
- 49ers RB Elijah Mitchell got in his first limited session on Thursday after missing the previous two games (and Week 2) and being out on Wednesday, keeping the door cracked open for a potential return to action in Week 6.
- C Joel Bitonio, TE David Njoku, and QB Deshaun Watson have yet to practice for the Browns this week (as of Thursday) – current reports are that Watson is unlikely to play after also missing Week 4 (subsequent DNPs coming off of a bye week are not ideal).
- This game pits the two top defenses by points allowed per game and the first (Cleveland) and third (San Francisco) by yardage allowed per game this season.
- The Browns rank first in plays per game, largely induced by their suffocating defense, while the 49ers rank 18th in plays per game, largely suppressed by their elite offensive efficiency and splash play generation on offense.
- Fifth-round rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson drew the start for the Browns in Week 4 and is likely to do so again should Watson be unable to go (appears likely).
- Brandon Aiyuk leads all pass-catchers in fantasy points per route run against man coverage in 2023 and the Browns run man coverage at the league’s second-highest rate.
How San Francisco will try to Win ::
It’s been business as usual for the 49ers through the first five weeks. They are one of only two teams that remains undefeated (joining the Eagles), they lead the league in points allowed per game on defense at a tiny 13.6, and they rank second in the league in scoring at 33.4 points per game, behind only the otherworldly Dolphins. What’s not to like about this team right now? From an organizational standpoint, head coach Kyle Shanahan continues to operate one of the more forward-leaning offenses, one that is now coming into its own and has players capable of beating both man and zone coverage on the ground and through the air. The addition of Christian McCaffrey last season gave the 49ers four elite-level athletes to build around, joining wide receivers Deebo Samuel (the motion man) and Brandon Aiyuk (the man-beater) and tight end George Kittle (the most well-rounded tight end in the game). Jim Schwartz’s man-heavy defensive scheme is playing like a true top unit in the league, but this 49ers team has the pieces to exploit those aggressive tendencies, particularly considering opposing quarterback Deshaun Watson appears unlikely to play in Week 6 (failure of the Cleveland offense is likely to lead to shorter fields and increased time of possession for the 49ers).
McCaffrey has played 85 percent or more of the team’s offensive snaps in three of five games this season, one of which came with a healthy Elijah Mitchell. The two games where he failed to eclipse an 85 percent snap rate were a 30-12 drubbing of the Giants in Week 3 and the team’s recent 42-10 drubbing of the Cowboys in Week 5. In other words, McCaffrey has played in a true workhorse role in all but the most positive game environments this season, with an absurd 88 percent of the running back touches to come from players other than McCaffrey coming late in the third quarter or in the fourth quarter of blowout wins. It’s almost laughable looking at McCaffrey’s underlying metrics this season – he has 32 red zone opportunities through five games, 99 carries and 24 targets, a 70.8 percent route participation rate, and five breakaway runs. And yet, the dynamism of the 49ers offense has meant he has seen a stacked box on just 14.1 percent of his carries (26th in the league). He’s just that dude. The Browns have held opposing backs to a minuscule 3.2 yards per carry this season (tops in the league), so the matchup is not perfect, but he is that dude.
The Browns rank second in net yards allowed per pass attempt at 4.2, which is truly remarkable considering they rank first in yards allowed per carry as well. This defense is no joke. That said, the 49ers have no less than four players who perform at elite levels against man coverage, and the Browns find themselves in man coverage at the second-highest rate in the league (second only to the Cowboys, whom the 49ers just shredded in Week 5). Brandon Aiyuk has an absurd 29.2 percent targets per route run rate against man coverage and leads all receivers in fantasy points per route run against man coverage this season. We also all just saw what tight end George Kittle can do against man coverage, scoring three touchdowns on as many receptions in Week 5 against the Cowboys. The player most likely to see adverse effects from the matchup is Deebo Samuel, who ranks 55th in fantasy points per route run against man this season. Finally, McCaffrey should also remain heavily involved through the air but gets a tough matchup against an elite linebacking corps.