*Editor’s note* - The 49ers play the Browns today. We’ve updated the intro.
The San Francisco 49ers are on the road against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, as they face one of the best defenses in the NFL coached by Jim Schwartz.
Meanwhile, the Browns coming into today off a bye week, but they won’t have their starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, or left guard Joel Bitonio.
Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as 10-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 36 points.
Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Sunday.
On paper, the Browns don’t seem like the biggest challenge, especially without top quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Nick Chubb, and left guard Joel Bitonio, but the Browns boast the league’s best statistical defense, and the film matches the numbers.
The Browns currently allow just 196.8 total yards per game (1st in NFL), 125 passing yards per game (1st in NFL), 3.8 yards per play (1st in NFL), 26.5 pass attempts per game (1st in NFL), and 15 points per game (1st in NFL).
The drastic improvements came following a number of offseason additions along the defensive line, including edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson to complement star Myles Garrett.
In addition, the Browns hired defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, whose scheme has flourished with his new team.
Offensively, the Browns put up 24, 22, and 27 points in their three games prior to Week 5, but struggled significantly without Watson, scoring just three points last weekend.
Cleveland will turn to backup quarterback P.J. Walker over rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson in Week 6 in hopes of a change offensively.
How should the 49ers approach the Browns in Week 6?
Keys to the Game
Ride the defense: I’m a major proponent of aggressiveness when the situation calls for it in football games, as it provides confidence for a team, while maximizing opportunities for an offense or defense.
However, for the 49ers in Week 6, I’m actually leaning the other way.
Instead, I believe San Francisco should ride the defense in Week 6, looking to be more conservative and place pressure against Walker and the Browns' offense in hopes of generating good field position, which in return propels the offense.
San Francisco’s offense is elite, but against a team with as good of a defense as the Browns, playing the field position game and riding the defense may be the best way to a safe victory.
Turnovers: Turnovers are always a point of emphasis, but they’ll be even more crucial in Sunday’s matchup between the 49ers and the Browns.
It’s no secret that the Browns have a strong defense, arguably the league’s best, but they rank just 28th in forcing turnovers with four takeaways through the first five games.
On the other hand, the 49ers have forced nine turnovers through five games, including three against the Cowboys and Dak Prescott last weekend.
The 49ers can’t beat themselves this weekend, and it starts with the turnover and penalty battle.
If the Browns break precedent and can start forcing some of their own, they can play the time of possession game, and look to bridge the score gap.
Run game: With P.J. Walker under center, the Browns will almost undoubtedly look to help out their quarterback with the run game.
Cleveland ranks fifth in the NFL with 143.8 rushing yards per game, averaging 4.4 yards per attempt.
That was a major proponent of their early success, even after Nick Chubb’s injury, but the Browns struggled in that aspect last weekend, rushing for just 93 yards on 25 attempts.
If the Browns can start the run game up with some more success, there may be some offensive opportunities, but the 49ers’ defense has been stout, allowing just 64.2 ground yards per game on 3.7 yards per attempt.
In what could be a grind-out game on the ground, this battle may play a big role in how the Week 6 game turns out.