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Five 49ers to watch against the Browns

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Five players to keep an eye on when the 49ers return to a Week 4 bye to face the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

After a Week 4 bye, the San Francisco 49ers are making the final preparations for their primetime matchup against the Cleveland Browns on Monday night. The undefeated 49ers are the favorites at Levi’s Stadium, facing an up-and-down Browns team coming off of an impressive win over the Baltimore Ravens. A win for the 49ers means remaining atop the NFC West for another week, creating even bigger implications for their Week 6 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

Here are five players to watch when the 49ers battle the Browns on Monday:

CB Emmanuel Moseley

The 49ers lost starting cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to an ankle sprain against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kyle Shanahan said Witherspoon’s expected to miss “at least a month.” Enter Emmanuel Moseley. The former undrafted free agent closed out the game against the Steelers after free-agent addition Jason Verrett struggled, giving up two big plays immediately after replacing Witherspoon. Moseley is expected to be the starter come Monday, where he’ll face the toughest test of his career in guarding receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The Browns will target Moseley often.

WR Dante Pettis

Pettis was mostly irrelevant through the first two weeks of the season, catching one pass for seven yards in that span. Rookie wideout Deebo Samuel was starting and excelling in Pettis’ place. It was another disappointing revelation for the former second-round pick who struggled throughout the offseason. But Pettis wasn’t going gently. He earned the start against the Steelers and totaled four catches for 20 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute left in the game. You could see the emotion in Pettis’ celebration afterward. Does he start again against the Browns? Does Pettis continue his ascension toward what many felt would be the 49ers’ leading wideout?

DL Nick Bosa

It’s time to finish for Nick. The 49ers’ No. 2 overall pick has spent plenty of time in the backfield through three weeks but has struggled to close the deal. Per Pro Football Focus, Bosa’s gotten into the backfield 17 times but totaled just two sacks and four quarterback hits. Official NFL stats only credit Bosa with one sack, who’s admitted to struggles finishing sacks while recovering from an offseason high-ankle sprain. Bosa and fellow pass rusher Dee Ford will play a key role in pressuring Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who’s shown a tendency to take risks and make mistakes when hurried. A strong pass rush will do wonders to relieve some of the pressure on the secondary.

OL Justin Skule

Skule is making his second start of his rookie career at left tackle in replacement of 13-year veteran Joe Staley. The 49ers’ sixth-round pick wasn’t perfect against an impressive Pittsburgh front in Week 3, but he was far from a liability. The 49ers will be depending on Skule every week to protect quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s blindside. He faces another steep test on Monday, lining up opposite Cleveland stud Myles Garrett. The former No. 1 overall pick is one of the league’s best pass rushers, totaling 13.5 sacks in 2018. Garrett’s already got to the quarterback six times this season. Skule will have his hands full.

DL Arik Armstead

Armstead might be the 49ers’ best defensive lineman through three weeks. The former first-rounder has amassed nine tackles, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and two sacks in the 49ers’ three games. Armstead’s currently playing out his fifth-year option and is slated for free agency after the season. The better Armstead plays, the more pressure he applies on the 49ers to find a way to retain his services, even with DeForest Buckner eligible for an extension. Armstead’s prowess against the run will play a significant role in containing Browns running back Nick Chubb, who totaled 20 carries for 165 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Ravens.