The San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns square off this Sunday and I took a few minutes to chat with Chris Pokorny over at Dawgs By Nature. Given the nature of the NFL schedule, we don't do a whole lot of interaction with AFC blogs, so it is always nice to get back in touch with them.
The Browns are 3-3 and a difficult team to figure out. They've beaten two horrible teams in the Colts and Dolphins and grabbed their third win against a very inconsistent Seahawks squad. Their losses came against a solid Bengals squad, a then decent Titans team and the up and down Raiders. I'm honestly not sure what to make of Cleveland at this point. Thus, it is all the more helpful to chat with our Browns blogger. Thanks again to Chris for giving us his two cents.
Niners Nation: Joe Haden has brought up a mix of opinions in the DBN FanPost at NN. What are your thoughts on Haden this season considering both his play and the quality of opponents?
Dawgs By Nature: First, a cornerback should not be judged solely based on the opponents he lines up against (although if opposing fans want to make that argument, they can't throw away the opponents Haden lined up against last season). The consistency shown by Haden on any given Sunday is what matters most to me. Haden is definitely one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, whether that involves his ability to come up to make an open field tackle, have blanket coverage for an entire game, or defend passes in key third-down situations. Teams typically tend to shy away from throwing Haden's way much like teams don't want to mess with Revis Island.
NN: The 49ers rush defense has been as good as anybody this season. With all the question marks surrounding Peyton Hillis' availability, how do you see the Browns attacking the 49ers rush defense?
DBN: I believe the 49ers' run defense is the best run defense in the NFL, and that presents a hurdle for the Browns. Cleveland's running game has not been very good this year, and the passing game is always questionable at best. Montario Hardesty faced a pretty good run defense in Seattle last week, and while I was impressed with how he still looked fresh after the number of carries he received, there were too many instances where he got nothing more than a yard or two. If Cleveland is tied in the game or winning, the Browns will probably still remain committed to running the ball, even if it consistently sets up third-and-6 passing situations.
NN: What does Colt McCoy bring to the table for the Browns? Where does he fit into the Browns 3-3 record to date? Is he a long term answer for the Browns?
DBN: First off, it is definitely a breath of fresh air to see a front office and coaching staff that is committed to letting McCoy be "the guy" for an entire season. This might be the first time the Browns haven't had some form of a quarterback controversy since returning to the league in 1999. He looked very good in the preseason and I think the bar was set pretty high for him, but his performances during the regular season haven't been good. For a guy who is known for his accuracy, he has missed way too many open throws.
Cleveland has only scored three total points in the first quarter this year, and six total points in the third quarter this year. This usually coincides with McCoy being inaccurate to start the game, and throwing an interception in the third quarter after a drive started to look good. In defense of McCoy, he is basically playing with two rookie guards, neither
of whom has been very good. Without a good running game or receivers who can make yardage after the catch, he has a lot on his plate. It would have been ideal to overcome that adversity though, because if McCoy starts making defenses pay for bringing free blitzers or loading the box against the run, other things will open up.
NN: Aside from Joe Haden, who should the 49ers be worried about on the Browns defense and why?
DBN: That would be left defensive end Jabaal Sheard, a second-round draft pick from this past April. He is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks and has forced 2 fumbles, but he seems to be consistently getting pressure on the quarterback and has drawn very high approval ratings from Pro Football Focus. Also, middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is having a career year. For a guy who was never known for having high-impact plays, he is starting to rack up sacks, recover fumbles, and tackle running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage. All of this production for Jackson comes after he basically missed the past two seasons with injuries.
NN: How has Josh Cribbs performed this year across the board? He seems to be getting plenty of wide receiver snaps, but he is most well known for his return abilities. How much of Cribbs should the 49ers expect to see on Sunday?
DBN: Cribbs had some awesome returns in Week 1 against the Bengals, but ever since then, he really hasn't done anything too impressive on kick or punt returns. The new kickoff rule is a pain, but he's had quite a few opportunities to return kicks still. I think this can be attributed to a loss of key special teams players in the offseason, and the departure of Brad Seely, who Cleveland fans loved. Cribbs has been vocal about wanting to be a gunner on punts and play on kickoff coverage though, so you might seem him trying to take out Ted Ginn Jr. this Sunday. As a receiver, Cribbs does the best job on our team of catching passes at the line of scrimmage and gaining yards after the catch (wide receiver screens). We don't seem to run those plays that often though.
NN: Can you tell us a bit about Pat Shurmur and his coaching staff? One of the 49ers strengths is their coaching staff and how well they prepare. What are folks saying about the Shurmur staff?
DBN: It's hard to get a read about preparation. We haven't seen much of our special teams coach, but there have been some huge blunders the past two games (given up a kickoff return for a TD, should've given up a punt return for a TD, two blocked field goals against us, no spark on returns). Then, the only other coaches we here from are Shurmur and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. Jauron doesn't necessarily get super creative with scheming and such, but it seems like the personnel we have this year is much more talented than what this team has had in the past.
Shurmur handles the offensive coordinator duties as well as the head coaching duties, and it seems like he has had a difficult time getting the West Coast Offense running in full gear. I think it's a situation where he believes in the philosophy of it, but he's still learning important details such as when to call certain plays and what personnel should be used. The struggles on offense have led to some unfavorable opinions of Shurmur (since he was brought here to help the offense), but like McCoy, I think we need to let things sink in over the course of the entire season.