You can look at the Browns’ offensive performance against the Ravens in several ways. Here’s how I look at it: Nick Chubb is very good. The Ravens defense is the opposite of that, which is how you end up with nearly 200 yards rushing. Since Football Outsiders’ DVOA adjusts for strength of schedule, I’ll reference that stat. They have the Ravens as the fourth-worst run defense in the NFL. They have the San Francisco 49ers as the sixth-best in the league. Unlike Baltimore, the Niners will make you earn it. Only two teams in the NFL have allowed fewer explosive run plays than San Francisco.
We’ll go over plenty of matchups as Monday’s kickoff approaches. Today, we’ll start with the Browns running game against the 49ers front seven.
Keep on keeping on
Despite running for 193 yards against the Ravens, 88 of those came on one run; the Browns rushing attack has struggled this season. Using Football Outsiders adjusted line yards, which tells you how many yards on average the line is responsible for on average, Cleveland’s offensive line is ranked 21st. Here is how they stack up against the 49ers defensive line, along with their success rate over average, which examines team success rate against the NFL average.
The 49ers numbers are success rate based on the direction, not over average. Essentially, any run from the left guard and over has failed for opposing offenses. This helps paint a better picture of how the Browns have struggled to run the ball. The Raven’s athleticism upfront, specifically their linebackers, gave Cleveland fits. These are the second and third run plays of the game for the Browns, not me cherry-picking.
One area where the 49ers have been quite good at is their aggressive run fits. Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner have no problem sticking their nose in there and mixing it up against offensive linemen. The biggest reason for the 49ers’ success this season has been their athleticism, specifically at the second level. When you look at the Browns offensive line, they struggle to move laterally. It’ll be imperative for the 49ers defense to win on first and second down, allowing their front four to do what they do best, get after the quarterback.
Bangwagoneer put together an awesome piece that describes what personnel the Browns have leaned on in 2019. What he detailed showed that if the Browns have two or more tight ends on the field, they’ve been a predominant run team. His chart showed that 68% of the time the Browns had run the ball out of 12 personnel, and Cleveland is 67% out of 13 personnel. The 49ers will be in their base defense, which, depending on alignment, could have either safety as an extra defender in the box.
I do wonder if Cleveland’s head coach and play-caller Freddie Kitchens is setting up some tendency breakers here and will use play-action to fool the Niners.
The Browns love their three-wide receiver sets. Before the Ravens game, they were using 11 personnel, 84% of the time. That number dropped to 59% after Week 4. The way K’Waun Williams plays the run, I’d welcome 11 personnel if I’m the 49ers. You’d have no idea Williams was under 200 pounds the way he takes on offensive linemen and finds ways to slip blocks. He’s the perfect nickel run defender.
Nothing for Nick
Chubb’s success rate is only 36% this season, but a lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line. When there is a crease, Chubb makes you pay. The 49ers are lucky to have practiced against speedy running backs all summer. Chubb has the type of speed where you don’t realize how fast he is until it’s too late. He can fly. He’s also difficult to bring down. Chub has 92 touches on the season and has broken 20 tackles, per Football Outsiders.
Getting to the talented runner is one thing, bringing him to the ground is another thing.
The 49ers have done well in rallying to the ball. If they do miss a tackle, there is usually someone else there to make the play. You can live with the five and six-yard gains here and there, but if you let Chubb build some momentum, that’s all she wrote. The Niners will need to continue to fly around, and, most importantly, finish plays.
When you look at individual matchups, there isn’t one where the 49ers are at a disadvantage. Their interior run stoppers are impressive. D.J. Jones and Sheldon Day have done well eating up blocks so that the linebackers can flow freely. Jones doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to finish, either. It’s not as flashy as a sack, so I understand why these plays fly under the radar.
Watch this play. Not just Jones, but across the board. DeForest Buckner holds his ground against a double team, both linebackers attack the line of scrimmage, and Williams and Jaquiski Tartt do their job as well. Plays like this are why I believe the Niners will continue to have success throughout the season. This is not a timid bunch. They win on early downs, so they can get after you on third down. This unit is playing in unison. They’ll have to against Cleveland.