Image Credit: Bay Area News Group
For the first time since 1998, the San Francisco 49ers are off to a 3-0 start and much of that success can be attributed to the defense. A revamped pass rush has turned a previously picked-on secondary into a ball-hawking group taking advantage of nearly every mistake opposing quarterbacks make. When the Cleveland Browns travel across the country for Monday Night Football, they bring with them the best offense the 49ers will have faced so far this season. How does defensive coordinator Robert Saleh counter Freddie Kitchens’ attack?
Who Replaces Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett?
Cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Jason Verrett will both miss MNF with injuries. Verrett landed on injured reserve after only two snaps in a 49ers uniform. It is very possible that those two will be the only ones the fans see from Verrett during his time in the Bay Area. Witherspoon, however, has been the surprise player of the season as he stepped up across from Richard Sherman to be one of the secondary’s best performers. In a bid to fill his shoes, the 49ers recently signed CB Dontae Johnson for a third stint in the red and gold. Saleh will lean on Johnson and preseason standout Emmanuel Moseley to help keep Browns wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in check.
Keep Baker Mayfield Uncomfortable
For all the fanfare former first-overall pick quarterback Baker Mayfield entered his sophomore season with, he has been remarkably average. Mayfield currently leads the NFL with six interceptions as opposed to only four touchdown passes but is coming off his best performance of the season last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers’ defensive line will have to continue their dominance and force Mayfield into more mistakes on Monday night. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa tormented Pittsburgh Steelers QB Mason Rudolph in Week 3 while going up against an All-Pro left tackle and should be up to the task on handling a vastly inferior Cleveland OL.
Limit the Home Run Plays
Last week in their win over the Ravens, the Browns’ running back Nick Chubb took a handoff 88 yards all the way to the end zone. In Week 3, the Steelers were only able to score touchdowns on a pair of long passes. This combination does not bode well for a secondary reeling from injuries and a young defense eager to prove itself. The 49ers must remain disciplined in order to not allow massive chunk plays that can alter the course of the game and which have been their Achilles heel for years.
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