The San Francisco 49ers had two weeks to prepare for the Cleveland Browns, who had to make the long trip out to the West Coast and it looked like it. The 49ers were ready for the Browns, particularly their defense and were able to exploit weaknesses, targeting specific players repeatedly to create explosive plays.
The Browns defense was put in some terrible positions by offensive turnovers, but they simply couldn't stop the 49ers running game. Their first play from scrimmage was an 83-yard touchdown run by Matt Breida and he wasn't touched. After that, they found creative ways to run the ball, but the defensive line, particularly inside struggled to hold their ground.
More disappointing was how often the Browns were beaten by alignment. Steve Wilks has been fantastic this year in terms of gameplans and getting players in position to play good defense. In this game, he was soundly beaten by Kyle Shanahan.
Specifically, the amount of times the 49ers would line up with inline tight ends with a defensive end head up on the tackle, giving up outside leverage. Whether it was a reach block or a down block from the tight end, the 49ers had all kinds of options and used them all at various points in the game.
As bad as the defense was at times, they did provide the Browns offense opportunities to get back into the game. They would move the ball, ending up in the red zone twice, only coming up with three points between them.
Baker Mayfield was dreadful and he's struggling when it comes to facing teams that can generate pressure without being forced to blitz him. In the three games he's faced teams able to get heavy pressure with four or five, dropping six or seven into coverage, namely the Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams and 49ers, he's developing awful habits.
He doesn't get rid of the ball on time. Some of this is due to the fact no one is open. Mayfield then tries to extend the play, often rolling to his right and allowing the pressure to track him down for the sack. In this game, he was sacked four times, but more problematic is the pair of fumbles he had, losing one early, which set up a 49ers scoring opportunity.
The offense then becomes stilted, too herky jerky. Some of the drives can move the ball well, but don't get capped off. Others are dead before they start. Regardless, the common thread last night was having so many of those drives end in turnovers, which is death to a team on the road.
It's impossible to know how much different the game turns out had Antonio Callaway caught the touchdown pass. Despite all of things that went against the Browns early, they had a chance to only be down 14-10 with the 49ers getting the ball for a drive at the end of the half. Maybe the Browns continue to struggle and the 49ers ultimately overpower them, but that was their opportunity to stabilize and reset the game.
As it is, the Browns offense never got better and the game was quickly out of reach early in the third quarter. And there are questions that need to be asked the offensive coaching staff that likely won't have satisfying answers.
The Browns are down David Njoku. Demetrius Harris has been ineffective to put it kindly. Pharaoh Brown was good against the Baltimore Ravens, but every other game has been a struggle. Ricky Seals-Jones is intriguing receiving threat, but can't block.
And yet, the Browns are not only continuing to often have two tight ends out there, they aren't just using them to help the offensive tackles block. On any number of occasions, the Browns had a tight end trying to single block Nick Bosa in the run and even passing game. And considering what Bosa did to Greg Robinson and Joel Bitonio on some choice plays, it's not a surprise how the tight ends did.
The Browns have who they have for the time being up front and if they can't count on them, they have to account for them. They do try to do things like screens and creative run concepts to help them, which is helpful and has proven to work. To seemingly understand the problem, work to deal with it and then also have situations where they have mediocre tight ends single blocking a defensive end like Bosa is two steps forward, one step back.
The schedule helps explain why the Browns lost this game, but it doesn't excuse how.