Browns/49ers Match-Ups For Keys To Victory Week 6

October 13, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Cleveland Browns vs. San Francisco 49ers Matchups to Watch:

1 – Browns QB (looks like PJ Walker) vs. Brock Purdy


(GULP) Well, this is way different from what was expected to begin the season.  Welcome aboard, PJ Walker, to the Browns quarterback room, as from the looks of it, Deshaun Watson will not be starting on Sunday.  It is almost as incredible that the Browns are starting Walker as it is to the rise of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.  Purdy is having a fantastic season with a 121.1 rating, the highest percentage by a quarterback in the history of the passing era in the NFL (stat via NBC Sports).

Back to our Browns and Walker, the good news is that Walker has seven starts and a record of 4-3 in those starts.  Walker just needs to be a game manager on Sunday, and hopefully, WR Amari Cooper can help make some plays in open space.

The 49ers clearly have the advantage with San Francisco’s rising star, and the Browns will need to have a great day from their talented defense.  Walker must also limit mistakes and no turnovers while controlling field position.


I’m not as high on Brock Purdy as many are, but he’s still a great processor of defenses with exceptional accuracy and decision-making. In the Kyle Shanahan offense, with an absurd number of playmakers the 49ers have, that’s more than enough to achieve the results you see with Purdy. He throws with great anticipation and has performed well under pressure.

PJ Walker has some NFL experience, and the coaching staff has spoken highly of him. Walker can make plays with his legs, and the Browns really just need him to play clean football to keep them competitive. If the offensive line can hold up better than it has in the past four games, Walker should be able to connect on some big plays downfield to open receivers.

Deshaun Watson still has a slight chance to play, but that doesn’t seem like the smart decision at this time. The advantage here is with the 49ers, but I like the switch to a more seasoned veteran instead of throwing a rookie fifth-rounder to the wolves of the Ravens and 49ers in his first two starts. Walker doesn’t have to outplay Purdy; he just needs to make smart plays to keep the Browns ahead of schedule.

2 – Browns OL vs. 49ers DL 


The 49ers’ defense has thrived up front in recent years, and this matchup is no exception. With Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and Javon Hargrave leading the charge, the Browns’ offensive line has a significant opportunity to prove they are still one of the league’s top units.

Joel Bitonio’s availability for Sunday is uncertain, which could make the challenge even tougher for the Browns up front. In games like these, the offensive line must perform well to create running lanes and protect the passer if the Browns want any chance of success. Ideally, the Browns would rely on the running game to open up the passing game, but the offensive line needs to execute effectively to get the running game going.

Sunday’s matchup poses a formidable test for the Browns’ offensive line, but a strong performance from them could build valuable momentum for the rest of the season. We’ve witnessed lesser-known Browns’ players step up on the offensive line in significant moments recently, so hopefully, we see more of the 2022 unit’s quality play against the 49ers.


The Browns offensive line has not been getting a lot of positive feedback lately, and with the 49ers’ great game at home against the Cowboys, this feels like another possible mismatch.   Add to the fact that the Browns talented LG Joel Bitonio is not practicing and looks like he might be out for this game; it does not help.  Add the struggles of Jedrick Wills at left tackle, and the left side of the offensive line for Cleveland is already looking bleak.

Browns must also find a way to contain DE Nick Bosa and not let him take the game over.  I would assume the Browns will bring in a tight end to help with the blocking to help protect Walker while creating running lanes, which has been an issue in 2023 for Cleveland. 

This match-up is frustrating. This should be an even match-up and/or a way for the Browns to make this game more competitive, and yet it feels like a disadvantage.  RG Wyatt Teller and rookie RT Dawand Jones must perform at an elite level to help even out the left-side-of-the-line weaknesses.

3 – Browns DL vs. 49ers OL


This unit has to lead the day: the Browns defensive line.  Leader Myles Garrett, along with Za’Darius Smith, must create havoc early and often to not just Brock Purdy but must slow down Christian McCaffrey..  All-Pro LT Trent Williams will be a hurdle in this game, but they must attack the offensive line in other areas.  Assuming Jim Schwartz will be moving around Garrett and Smith as he normally does against the opponent.

This one match up, even with Williams, that should be a favorable one if the Browns get aggressive, led by Smith and Garrett.


This unit draws strength from their leader, All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, who is undoubtedly a remarkable talent and arguably the best in the league at one of the most crucial positions. He will certainly pose a significant threat when it comes to protecting Purdy’s blindside. However, beyond Williams, this unit doesn’t boast any standout performers. They’ve performed well enough to secure wins in the Shanahan system, but there is a genuine opportunity to exploit their offensive line outside of Williams.

The Browns’ defensive line has been the primary catalyst for the transformation from 2022, as anticipated in Jim Schwartz’s defense. While targeting Williams is no small task, the Browns have the talent to apply pressure and create plays by outperforming other players along the front line. Ogbo Okoronkwo and Za’Darius Smith have excelled early in the season, and I expect Schwartz to continue using Myles Garrett creatively so that he doesn’t have to face Williams on every snap. It’s worth noting that Schwartz boasts an 8-1 career record against Shanahan, allowing more than 20 points only once. If history is any indicator, this game might turn into a low-scoring slugfest.

This matchup presents an advantage for the Browns over the 49ers, and it’s their best avenue to secure a win. Stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback are the two most effective ways the Browns can pull off an upset and hand the 49ers their first loss. As in most games, it all begins with the battle in the trenches on both offense and defense for the Browns.

4 – Browns running game vs. 49ers running game


In a scenario where Nick Chubb is healthy and the Browns’ offensive line is performing at its best, this would be a matchup between the two most formidable rushing attacks that don’t rely on a quarterback to run. Christian McCaffery is an exceptional talent at his position, known for his ability to break tackles and elude defenders. To succeed, the Browns must limit McCaffery’s effectiveness in the running game; otherwise, Shanahan will exploit opportunities to scheme his talented pass catchers wide open.

On the Browns’ side, their running game must outperform recent performances for them to have a chance at victory. Relying solely on Walker to carry the offense is an unrealistic expectation in this scenario, and points will be hard to come by if they can’t establish a successful ground game. As long as the offense protects the ball and keeps the game close, the Browns will be able to rely on the run game for a longer duration than they did against the Ravens, emphasizing the importance of their dominant offensive line.

The 49ers have excelled in running the ball under Shanahan’s guidance, and it’s not expected for the Browns to outperform them in the rushing department. However, the Browns must avoid letting the 49ers dictate the game with their rushing attack, and it’s imperative for the Browns’ run game to perform effectively in order to create opportunities in the passing game.


This is an area specifically with PJ Walker starting that the Browns need to find production.  GM Andrew Berry spoke about how Cleveland on offense will become a running back committee.  I agree with Berry, but this game is when they need to lean on the new number-one running back Jerome Ford.  Ford has not shown that he can handle the load of a 20-carry-plus game, but I believe they are going to need it from him on Sunday.  He is battling a knee injury but is hopeful to play on Sunday, and they are going to need him.  This is a game when the Browns need to get some veteran leadership from Kareem Hunt.  Hunt needs to bring this team a spark, and hopefully, he can get into a groove in this game, as his energy can rub off on the team and help brighten the mood.  It is also time for Pierre Strong to arrive and make a little noise. The Browns traded for him, time to produce.

The Niners will feature all-world Christian McCaffrey and he will be a load for the Browns defense, but so far the running game has not hurt the Browns in 2023.  San Francisco has leaned on their running game as Tony mentioned above to win games, Browns have to shut that down.

The Browns need to take advantage of their running game to keep the Niners off the field and keep the score in the lower numbers. 

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