All week, the Browns have acknowledged the challenge awaiting them Sunday as they take on the 49ers at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The 49ers are 5-0 this season and have won games by margins of 23, 7, 18, 19 and 32 points. Their offense is filled with big playmakers such as WR Deebo Samuel, WR Brandon Aiyuk, TE George Kittle and RB Christian McCaffrey.
Aiyuk, who has played in four games this season, already has two games in which he had over 100 receiving yards. He is the 49ers' big-play receiver, averaging 18 yards per catch.
Samuel, Kittle and McCaffrey are considered some of the best at their positions. In the Top 100 NFL Players 2023 list, Kittle is ranked 19th, while McCaffrey is 35th and Samuel is 61st.
The offensive strategy implemented by 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan is highly challenging to defend against. They are ranked among the top rushing teams in the NFL, being top three in rushing TDs (11) and rushing yards (782).
"I have a lot of respect for Kyle (Shanahan), gone against him for a long time," DC Jim Schwartz said. "I think maybe 2007, 2008, when I was with the Titans, might have been the first time he was down in Houston. I think my greatest compliment to coaches is that they evolve over time."
The 49ers are also ranked as one of the top passing offenses in the NFL, with a 72.3 percent completion rate. They average 9.3 yards per catch and have a 48.2 percent catch rate on first downs. Their QB Brock Purdy plays a big role in their success, coming in with a 123.1 passer rating that leads the league. Purdy also has yet to throw an interception this season.
"Nobody's been able to stop them," S Grant Delpit said. "They don't turn the ball over a lot. They have a unique scheme on offense, and we run a similar defense to them that they run. So, they've seen it before. So, it's going to be a war. We're ready for it and we're going to prepare."
Check out photos of the team working to prepare for the San Francisco 49ers
Despite it being a tough battle to beat an undefeated team coming off a dominant performance against the Cowboys in Week 5, the Browns defense has the personnel to contain the high-powered 49ers offense. The Browns defense is speedy and tenacious in pursuit of the ball. They have allowed only 125 passing yards per game, with no other team surrendering fewer than 168 passing yards per game this season.
"I think we match up well," CB Denzel Ward said. "They're a dynamic offense and that will present a great challenge for us. But I think we're up for a challenge and looking forward to it, going against those guys and kind of seeing where we're at and trying to find a way to get a win."
The Browns boast a talented defense, anchored by their formidable defensive line featuring edge rusher Myles Garrett, who leads the league with 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. They also have two elite cornerbacks in Ward and Martin Emerson. Ward has a passer rating of 80.6, while Emerson has one of 49.2. They can match up man-to-man with Aiyuk and Samuel, a rarity for most defenses. Then the Browns have Delpit, who has the speed and tackle ability to keep an eye out for McCaffrey.
The Browns defense may be the 49ers toughest challenge yet. The 49ers took care of business against the Cowboys in Week 5, dominating against Dallas' defense and winning 42-10. The 49ers' motion offense proved too much for the Cowboys defense. The Browns know they are facing an offense that uses motion to distract the defense.
"About 80 percent of their snaps include some sort of shift or motion, including double shifts in motion," Schwartz said. "And I think on defense, we do a lot of things to try to change the picture for the quarterback after the snap."
To succeed against the 49ers, the Browns defense must effectively stop their running game and limit short passes. The 49ers offense after the first half has consistently been winning by a solid margin. Purdy and the offense have yet to be tested when their playbook isn't wide open. If the Browns can stop the run early, then in the second half, it could force Purdy to have to throw the ball more without using play action.
Purdy has benefitted from leads and the run game being a lethal weapon for the offense. Against the Cowboys, Purdy's second passing touchdown came from a trick play where Samuel and McCaffrey acted as runners and tossed it back to Purdy, who hit a wide-open Kittle. Purdy's third touchdown also came off a play action where he faked to McCaffrey and hit Kittle for the score. He threw his fourth touchdown to RB Kyle Juszczyk from the red zone in I-formation, faking a handoff to McCaffrey. Purdy finished the day with 17 completions for 252 yards in Week 5.
"He takes care of the ball, and he makes good decisions," Delpit said. "He finds his playmakers. They have plays drawn up for him. That's nice reads for him and he makes the read. So, he's been doing that so far. Hopefully we cause a little problem for him."