Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
There were many things I expected to see from the 2019 San Francisco 49ers, but an undefeated record going into Week 5 was not one of them.
Here we are in the brutish year 2019, and the possibility of the 49ers emerging unbeaten from a Monday Night Football battle against the Cleveland Browns is genuine.
Deep in my football core, I have a great loathing for the Cleveland Browns. I cannot tell you why or how it exists, only that the tendrils of my DNA know the Browns are the black hole of the NFL. Cleveland is where talent, success, and potential all dance on an event horizon for a fleeting moment before succumbing to the gravity of inferiority.
However, the Browns – much like the measles – cannot be ignored. At any moment, with the help of a vocal group of conspiracy theorists, they could regroup and beat the 49ers on Monday evening. Here are a few ways the 49ers can keep the disease at bay.
As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “Kill the body and the head will die.”
In both of the Browns’ wins, quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown for over 300 yards, with wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry being the big recipients of Mayfield’s yardage and targets.
This year, unlike in previous seasons, the 49ers’ defense can kill the body in a myriad of ways. What’s different, and frankly more effective, is the new pass rush. Oddly, there is a vocal minority floating around on social media who make thoughtless remarks about how pressures don’t mean anything.
Here is a cold, hard football fact: football starts and stops at the line of scrimmage. Find a defense that can bring constant pressure, and I’ll show you a team that generates more turnovers, more three-and-outs, and can grind out victories when needed.
Go back and watch tape from last season with an eye on how last year’s four-man rush generated pressure equivalent of a soft breeze through a French meadow. This year, with the addition of edge defenders Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, the 49ers can collapse a pocket at will, on each down, and using whatever stunt that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can muster.
The numbers alone prove what pressures can do for a team. Bosa currently has 17 total pressures of any kind. Compare that statistic to last year’s edge defender Cassius Marsh, who is sitting on a whopping three total pressures of any kind.
I want a quarterback like Baker Mayfield running around a pocket for 60 minutes. I want him sludging through a muddy pocket, with bodies flying around him, and making split-second decisions.
Mayfield will look for Beckham and Landry first and nobody else on the team second. He will force the football to either man into windows that do not exist. Mayfield wants to make those lunch recess-type throws, so that he’ll be on the evening highlight reel.
Vanity has its price and will prove to be Mayfield’s downfall against the 49ers’ defense.
The 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season, which should make for an exciting fight against Cleveland running back Nick Chubb. Through four games, Chubb is averaging one score and just under 100 yards per game. The 49ers’ defense needs to crush Cleveland’s ground game early, prohibiting Chubb from getting around the edge for a significant gain.
This is the first time in a while I’ve thought the 49ers’ defense could dominate the day, allowing the offense to put up three or four scores, and easily win the game.
Maybe it’s just my perspective, but the Browns are not a franchise that can rely on its defense to squeak out a victory. So far this season, there is no statistical category where the Browns’ defense stands out among its peers.
Monday night is a perfect time for head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to open the offensive onslaught with a no-huddle attack. Maybe I’m watching this year’s 49ers through a different set of eyes, but I have noticed Shanahan using a no-huddle offense more often and at various times in a game.
A series of zone runs, followed by two or three short passes, and topped off by Y-Leak would be an excellent way to make an opening statement. I’ve also enjoyed the running attack from Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. These two men have gone under the NFL’s radar as one of the better one-two combinations in football this season.
I don’t believe in statement games or must-win situations; these exist every Sunday in the fall. But a dominating performance from the 49ers on Monday evening would go a long way in keeping the naysayers on the fringes.
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