49ers plant their flag of legitimacy, rout Browns on national stage


(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)


It wasn’t even close. Aside from an opening trick play, 20-yard pass from Odell Beckham Jr. to Jarvis Landry, the 49ers embarrassed the Cleveland Browns on just about every snap of Monday Night Football. It was pegged as a potential slugfest between two improved teams, both with ambitious goals after extended periods of terrible football.

The 49ers appear to be exiting their period of purgatory. The Browns? Not so much. Despite having top-tier talent on either side of the ball, they continue to underwhelm, and were put to task by a 49ers run game that was brutal and unrelenting.

The very, very (very) good

The pacing of Monday’s game can be summarized in the words of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh from this Friday. He was asked about the 49ers having gone three (and now four) games without allowing a rushing touchdown, and described his philosophy against stopping the run.

“I’ve always said, I’d rather have a team throw for 500 than run for 250,” Saleh said. “It’s more back breaking. I guess it’s something to be proud of.”

The Browns’ backs were broken on Monday. San Francisco ran past and through them on down after backbreaking down. And when they weren’t running the ball with a series of beautifully-designed counters and zone rushes, they utilized the expectations of the rush with a mix of pass plays—mostly short distance, but with a healthy mix of their Yankee concept staple (a play-action with one receiver running a mid-level crossing route and another clearing out the area with a deep route).

Any potential criticism for benching Jeff Wilson Jr. as the red zone stud (four touchdowns in two weeks) was immediately wiped out. Matt Breida had 11 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown, including this 83-yard bolt of disrespect in which he waved at his defender while trotting into the end zone. He also had three catches for 15 yards, one of which was another touchdown.

Tevin Coleman, whose return made Wilson expendable, was also fantastic. He accrued 97 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and looked far from bothered with any remaining soreness from his sprained ankle. As a whole, the team rushed for 275 yards.

The rest of the offense was almost faultless, and Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t tasked with doing anything spectacular. His 20-of-29 passing line came with 181 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which was distributed to George Kittle, for his first of the season.

Kittle was again the most consistent receiving threat for the 49ers, catching six passes for 70 yards. Marquise Goodwin and Kendrick Bourne were both solid targets for Garoppolo as well, while Dante Pettis had one catch and dropped a potential touchdown late on.

But, it was a game won by the 49ers’ defense. The pass rush was expected to be tremendous against the abysmal offensive line of the Browns, and that was exactly how it played out. Nick Bosa looked like an All-Pro pass rusher, picking up a pair of sacks (one a sack-fumble) and recovering a fumble forced by DeForest Buckner against Baker Mayfield.

The last time Mayfield and Bosa met, Mayfield had planted the Oklahoma flag on Ohio State turf, so Bosa returned the favor with one of his sack celebrations.

 

The bad

Thanks to the result, the disaster that was the 49ers’ special teams unit likely won’t be remembered by many folks. Don’t let that result distract from the fact that the special teams unit for the 49ers was abysmal. There were three missed field goals, a terrible punt snap and a bunch of bad decisions by Richie James Jr. on punt returns and kickoffs, either deciding to let the ball go when he shouldn’t have, or catching the ball when he shouldn’t (on a kickoff when the ball was destined for the sideline).

We may also soon be in store for the 49ers’ fourth long snapper of the season. It was recently-acquired long snapper Garrison Sanborn’s first game, which went horribly. The 49ers will get the suspended Kyle Nelson back in Week 7, so keep an eye for his return then.

The biggest concern for the 49ers is the healthy of fullback Kyle Juszczyk. He’s been pivotal in their schemes, both being used as a rushing and receiving weapon, as well as an all-encompassing, Swiss army knife of a blocker.

The only other poor performance to point out was Richard Sherman, who was taken advantage of on multiple occasions by Jarvis Landry, and once by Odell Beckham Jr., who embarrassingly fumbled and turned over a punt late on the fourth quarter. He looks like he’s having a bad time in Cleveland, and his turnover was the fourth of the game for the Browns—not a recipe for success, and crucially, capitalized on by the 49ers at every chance.

 

Win!

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