8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: 49ers -3.5, Over/Under: 47
Young teams on the rise look to strut their stuff on Monday Night Football as the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers play host to the Cleveland Browns from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. After an underachieving start to 2019 in which they spent largely taking it on the proverbial chin from a plethora of pundits around the country, the Browns (2-2, 1st in AFC North) responded in a manner befitting the team that many thought they could be. Indeed, traveling to Baltimore is no easy task, particularly for Cleveland, who heading into Sunday’s meeting with their Division Rival had lost thirty of their forty all-time meetings, but after their convincing 40-25 victory find themselves in First Place for the first time in a season after Week Four since 2013. This was a performance in which Freddie Kitchens’ charges railed against their detractors, with the first-year Head Coach calling one helluva game after a week’s worth of criticism from the media. His troops manhandled the Ravens’ piling up 530 total Yards of Offense on Twenty-Two First Downs, including 193 Rushing Yards and Four Touchdowns on Twenty-Nine Carries, and another 342 Yards through the air. Big plays were the key to this win, with the visiting side amassing ten plays of sixteen or more yards, many of which came from Tailback Nick Chubb (78 CAR, 398 YDS, 5.1 Y/C, 4 TD). The Sophomore erupted for 165 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Twenty Carries, including a 14-Yard Touchdown midway through the Third Quarter, followed by a game-sealing 88-Yard Touchdown in the final stanza to put the affair out of reach. Brash Sophomore Quarterback, Baker Mayfield (59.0%, 1,147 YDS, 7.03 NY/A, 4 TD, 6 INT, 40.2 QBR), played well, throwing for 342 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception on 20-of-30 Passing, a week after falling considerably short in a primetime loss to the Rams. With the hosts blanketing Odell Beckham Jr. (21 REC, 308 YDS, 14.7 Y/R, 1 TD), who managed just Two Receptions for Twenty Yards, Mayfield searched elsewhere connecting often with Jarvis Landry (18 REC, 328 YDS, 18.2 Y/R, 0 TD), who led the way with 167 Yards on Eight Catches. The much-maligned Offensive Line also stood up well, preserving their Quarterback against what has long-been a nasty Ravens’ Defense, relinquishing just One Sack after serving up eleven in the previous three games. Defensively, Cleveland kept the explosive Lamar Jackson in check, despite a number of Starters out with injuries, with the former Heisman completing 24-of-34 Passes for 247 Yards, Three Touchdowns, and Two Interceptions, sacking him on four occasions. And how’s this for a performance? The Browns, who are thus far the most penalized team in the league, were only flagged six times for a loss of Forty-One Yards, their lowest total in four games. Kitchens and the Coaching Staff will look upon this showing as a solid building block for a young team that will likely spend much of the season trying to live up to the outrageous hype heaped upon them during the Offseason, but with more games like Sunday’s, the end product could really be something to see. In order to get there, Mayfield is going to have to recapture the form he exhibited during the Second Half of his rookie campaign, for he has been rather erratic behind a sieve-like Offensive Line; his Completion Percentage (59.0%) is a considerable drop-off from last year’s (63.8%), while both his Interception (4.3%) and Sack Percentage (7.9%) have skyrocketed. The Penalties are another issue altogether, for through four games they’ve drawn Forty-One Flags for a loss of 368 Yards, which are both easily the most in the league. A lot of this can be chalked up to discipline, which is definitely something that they’re going to have clean up moving forward. With all that said, it’s hard to find a team with more blue chip talent dispersed across their roster; the aforementioned Mayfield, Beckham, Landry, and Chubb, are playmakers on Offense, while Defensive End, Myles Garrett (13 TKL, 5 TFL, 8 QBH, 6.0 SK, 1 FF), appears to be on the verge of major breakthrough in his third season, compiling Six Sacks thus far.
Meanwhile, there are just three unbeatens left in the NFL, and by far and away the most surprising of them is the 49ers (3-0, 1st in NFC West), who come into tonight’s affair well-rested following their Bye Week. After two dismal seasons in which they managed to win just ten games, San Francisco is experiencing what can only be described as a renaissance in what is a crucial year for many important figures within the organization. First and foremost, it’s put up or shut time for the pairing of General Manager, John Lynch, and Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan, who have together presided over the team’s struggles. Lynch has been largely derided for his moves in terms of personnel, particularly the NFL Draft, while Shanahan has yet to get the most out of the players that he’s been supplied with. Needless to say, these guys need a big win, or perhaps a series of them. And then there’s Jimmy Garoppolo (69.0%, 739 YDS, 8.40 NY/A, 5 TD, 4 INT, 52.4 QBR), whom the club moved heaven and earth to acquire two seasons ago, with the hope that he’ll finally be the solution to their longstanding Quarterback Crisis. However, while he’s been successful when he’s been on the field, Garoppolo has found it difficult to stay on it; his 2018 campaign was ended prematurely following a torn ACL suffered in Week Three. A poor Preseason didn’t help his cause either, as pressure continued to build on him to deliver by the bay, for the club carried an option in his contract to cut ties with the 28-Year Old following this season with little penalty. Taking all that into consideration, this 3-0 start is the best thing that could have happened to the Niners, who have certainly benefitted from a soft schedule in the early stages of 2019. In the Season Opener, they hit the road to Tampa Bay, where thanks to three Pick-Sixes walked away with a 31-17 victory over the mistake-prone Buccaneers. Then in Week Two, absolutely demolished the rudderless Cincinnati Bengals in a 41-17 beatdown in the Queen City. Shanahan’s Offense was relentless, accumulating 571 Total Yards on Twenty-Seven First Downs, including 312 Yards through the air and another 259 Yards on the ground. When we last saw them, they bested the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Home Opener, 24-20, overcoming a sloppy performance in which they committed Five Turnovers. Make no mistake about it, San Francisco benefitted greatly from the fact that their opponent was making their first start without their Starting Quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, with the young Mason Rudolph getting the nod in his stead. Even with all the Turnovers, the hosts managed to churn out 436 Total Yards, including 168 Rushing Yards on a whopping Forty Carries. The underrated tandem of Raheem Mostert (32 CAR, 202 YDS, 5.9 Y/C, 0 TD) and Matt Breida (41 CAR, 226 YDS, 5.5 Y/C, 0 TD) picked up Seventy-Nine and Sixty-Eight Yards respectively, while Garoppolo patiently spread the football to eight different targets, completing 23-of-32 Passes for 277 Yards, a Touchdown and a pair of Interceptions. In Year Three of the Shanahan Administration, the Offense is really taking off, averaging 32.0 Points (3rd Overall) on 426.7 Total Yards (4th Overall), including 251.7 Yards through the air (17th Overall) on 8.48 Net Yards per Attempt (3rd Overall), and another 175.0 Yards on the ground (2nd Overall) on 4.6 Yards per Carry (12th Overall), while converting 48.5% of their Third Downs (6th Overall). For his efforts, Garoppolo looks to be settling in, completing a career-high 69.0% of his Attempts and averaging 8.40 Net Yards per Attempt. Yes, the Interceptions are worrisome (4), but it doesn’t change the fact that since arriving in San Francisco back in late 2017, he’s gone 9-2 as their Starting Quarterback. The next few outings should provide a more accurate summation as to what this team is really capable of, as the Browns are clearly talented enough to compete with anyone, while the reigning NFC Champion Rams will serve as the ultimate litmus test for these young Niners.