Browns Week 7 vs. 49ers: Summary Report and Player Game Ball

October 17, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Browns Reflections: A look back at the Browns victory over the 49ers

1 – Will Brown’s defense keep up this historic pace?

Andy – No

The easy answer to this question is no.  Of course, at some point, the Browns will have to come back down to earth on defense with injuries, and one must figure that opposing offenses will catch up at some point.   Add that there are still twelve more games to come, and the law of averages says that the Browns defense will start to have some bend.

My answer is yes, they can, and for a multitude of reasons.  One is the talent level in this club is everywhere.  Injuries will happen, but because the Browns have leaders throughout the lineup absorbing injuries compared to past seasons will be easier to handle.

Two, they have elite players with Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Za’Darius Smith, and others who have career seasons five games in like Grant Delpit, JOK, and Marvin Emerson. All six have a chance to make the Pro Bowl before the season is out.

Three, the dominance on the defense is not just in yards allowed, which they are at historic levels and currently number one in the league.  They are also number one in the league in third-down conversion percentage and first-downs allowed by a wide margin. 

Fourth, with the weather getting nasty in the wintertime in Cleveland, it will only help to keep defenses at bay.  The schedule also breaks favorably for the Browns with opponents like Cardinals, Broncos, Bears, and Texans upcoming. 

Five, the leadership of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has this side of the ball believing in their ability to dominate and suffocate the opposition.

The Dawg Pound is truly here in 2023.

Tony – No

Through five games, no team has allowed fewer yards in the NFL since 1971. Currently, the Browns are allowing 200.4 yards per game, and the next closest team is at 260, while they are posting the highest success rate since 2012. These numbers are nothing short of historical, and they passed what may be the most difficult test on their schedule.

Asking any unit to maintain this level of success is unfair, and some regression is likely to occur sometime this season. However, this unit is undoubtedly a Super Bowl-caliber defense, and it can truly propel this team a long way. It will be interesting to see how they continue to adjust as teams present different challenges, but holding the 49ers under 20 points is no easy feat.

This defense certainly has the talent to be historic, and the scheme plays to their strengths. Whether they are mentioned among the greatest defenses or not, they are dominant enough for the Browns to be competitive in every single game they play. The defense will continue to provide the team with extra opportunities to win and enable them to thrive in ugly wins, like the one on Sunday.

2 – Who is the best player on the defense currently?

Tony – Myles Garrett

Undoubtedly, Myles Garrett is the leader and the most talented player on this defense. While the talent around him has finally caught up to his level, he is the driving force that kick-starts this defense and helps execute the scheme to perfection. Even in a game where he didn’t record a sack, he registered two hurries and had a 21.1% pass-rush win rate. Going up against All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, that performance is nothing short of remarkable, setting up other players to make key plays.

This defense functions so well because it harmonizes seamlessly, but Garrett serves as the cornerstone. The secondary excels at playing man coverage, and the defensive line is great at generating pressure with just four players. This combination provides the Browns with the flexibility to be highly creative in how they utilize safeties to alter the types of man coverage they employ and present various defensive schemes.

Garrett is off to another outstanding start to the season, and this is undoubtedly his best opportunity to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. The talent surrounding him amplifies his impact, and he stands as the driving force behind the historic Browns’ defense.

Andy – Denzel Ward

It is Myles Garrett, but for this column’s interest, I will select Denzel Ward, who has a tremendous impact on the field. 

Clubs have been giving big kudos to the Browns secondary, and the group leader is Ward.  He has not allowed a receiver to go off in any game while matching up, and the opposing quarterbacks have expressed frustration with being unable to find receivers downfield.  Outside of one touchdown in the Steelers game, there have not been any other moments when a receiver has gotten loose for a big score.  He does not stick out in stats or PFF chats, but Ward has had a major impact on the season.

3 – If PJ Walker starts next week against the Colts, can he get another victory?

Andy – Yes

The obvious answer, they are not as strong on defense as the 49ers.  I wonder if the Browns will play as conservatively against Indianapolis as they did with San Francisco.  I can see Kevin Stefanski wanting to be more aggressive, figuring PJ Walker can make more plays with his arm.  That said, Walker has shown he can be turnover-prone, and it would be smart for the Browns to keep playing defensive first and field position.

If the Browns have the same mentality that they did against the 49ers, then I believe they can win with Walker.  If the Browns want to start playing aggressively against a lesser opponent, I can see some issues ahead.

Tony – Yes

The 49ers’ victory may allow the Browns to be comfortable giving Deshaun Watson another week to recover, particularly with how well the defense is performing. Watson’s return seems to be a day-to-day situation, and he is expected to start as soon as he’s completely pain-free. If he’s not ready this weekend, PJ Walker will get the start on the road against the Colts.

The Colts are grappling with quarterback injuries of their own, as rookie Anthony Richardson’s season is in jeopardy due to a shoulder issue. Veteran Gardner Minshew is set to start once again, and the Colts enter the game at 3-3. Even if Walker has to step in again, the Browns still have a very good chance to secure the win. They shouldn’t underestimate the Colts, even coming off the 49er’s win, but having another week with Walker in the lineup and a game under his belt should only benefit the offense’s progression if he’s needed.

There’s still a reasonable chance that Watson will be ready for Sunday, but only time will reveal how well his injury heals. In the event that Walker starts again, he can lead the team to victory by making timely plays and avoiding turnovers. Even in a game where he had some costly turnover-worthy plays, the Browns still managed to come out on top. They can achieve the same, especially if they minimize turnovers against a weaker Colts team.

4 – Is the running game fixed or a work in progress after the win this weekend?

Tony – Work in Progress

Early and late in this game, the Browns’ running game came through just enough to secure a narrow upset. For the first time this year, the Browns departed from their usual scheme and incorporated more inside-zone runs after the bye week. It wasn’t a consistently dominant performance, but they managed to do just enough to secure a victory.

It’s important not to overreact to one game and declare any issues fixed, but the running game certainly made positive strides. Gaining yards on the ground against that defense, particularly with limited support from the passing game, is impressive and not something that was expected, especially in the absence of Nick Chubb. The adjustments to the scheme made during the bye week appeared promising on the initial watch, but I’ll have a stronger opinion after watching the film.

Andy – Work in Progress

A work in progress.  That said, Kareem Hunt and Jerome Ford were wonderful on Sunday and made big plays.  The offensive line did a nice job with the running game as well, providing key blocks and making space for both running backs.

I believe that over a long season, the running game still needs to be improved, and I’m not sure that the current running back room will be able to go for 17.  The Browns should continue to look for one more back to help out.

Game Balls

Andy – Dustin Hopkins

Tony – Amari Cooper

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