Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer is back with his latest Points of the Game column. This week, Plummer hits on some of the key aspects to Sunday's game against the Browns.
Derek Anderson is a big guy who you can probably compare to Carson Palmer, another AFC North QB. He's big, strong, and has a big arm. One of the biggest benefits for Derek is that he has only been sacked 13 times and is playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the game. Derek got his first start late last season, leading his team to a win in overtime. He eventually unseated the starter and the rest is history. He has taken very good advantage of his situation.
Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards will be one of the better receivers the 49ers will face this year. He's been very productive with 15 touchdowns and is 6th in the NFL with 11 explosive plays, which is anything over 25 yards. The main thing the 49ers have to do is prevent him from beating them deep. That's his strong point and because of that, they tend to run a lot of vertical routes for him.
On a positive note for the defense, Edwards is also second in the league with 11 dropped passes. I think the 49ers match up very well with Braylon by putting Nate Clements on him.
I expect that tight end Kellen Winslow will be a tougher match up for the 49ers. Both Braylon and Kellen have made circus catches this year time after time. You see it at least once a game from each of them whether it's making a catch with one hand or just going over the top of everybody. They both have impeccable timing and have the ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point.
Kellen's yards after the catch are outstanding. He is third in the NFL in yards for tight ends, first in the NFL in terms of yards per catch for tight ends, and is first in the NFL for gains of 20 yards or more. So, explosive plays for Kellen are happening at a high rate.
The one formation that will present problems for the 49ers will be when they use two tight ends and split Kellen out as a wide receiver because that puts him out in space. He obviously has the speed of a receiver but with his size at 6'4", 250, he is bigger than most guys. So when the Browns line up Kellen, Braylon, and Joe Jurevicius at receiver, you will have Nate on Braylon, Walt Harris on Joe, and a linebacker with a safety over the top on Kellen.
Jamal Lewis is one of the biggest back the 49ers have faced this year. Even though he is a big guy, he has tremendous speed and breaks a ton of long runs. He's a guy who will run in between the tackles using the power running game, which is something the 49ers have done very well against the last few weeks. Even though this is his eighth season in the league, he still has plenty of speed to be able to go deep. Statistically he is similar to Frank Gore. Both are fifth in their respective conferences in terms of total yards and number of runs over 10 yards. With nine rushing touchdowns and two receiving, Jamal is having a great year. One of the reasons for that is because of the productivity of Braylon and Kellen, which loosens things up for him. A lot of teams have to play coverage with seven guys in the box and Jamal has been shredding teams because of that.
This year the Browns have allowed a third (18) of the sacks they allowed last year (54). That makes them third best in the league for fewest sacks allowed, and is obviously a huge improvement from a year ago.
A lot of people in this game will be making a comparison between their first pick in tackle Joe Thomas and the 49ers tackle Joe Staley because both are first round picks. It is a little unfair because one was a number three pick overall in Thomas and Staley was a number 28 pick overall. You are kind of comparing apples and oranges, but I would give the nod of run blocking to Thomas and pass blocking wise Joe Staley. Thomas is more of a mauler, a pound you type physical guy and isn't nearly as athletic as Staley.
Obviously it would be a silver lining to a dark cloud to have Shaun Hill in there this Sunday. The 49ers know what Shaun can do now after seeing him play the last 10 quarters, four of which were against one of the best pass defenses in the league. He could be a hot commodity this off-season and the 49ers need to get him resigned.
One of the good things for backup Chris Weinke if he starts would be that the Browns don't have a lot of tape on him other than the one hand off he had last week. Another good thing is that he will be facing one of the more porous pass defenses in the league. It is a team that plays very good zone coverage, but that struggles in man to man coverage.
If they come down with eight men in the box, you have to beat them whether it's Weinke, Alex Smith, or Shaun Hill and thus force teams to play coverage, not man to man with eight guys in the box. If you can't do that, Frank Gore, who has been very productive recently, will find himself in the same situation earlier in the season with a loaded box. Weinke will need to make some throws to keep that extra guy in the box. The 49ers will also need to spread out their formations and allow Frank some room to operate.
It's pretty amazing that Gore, who everyone has been saying has really struggled this year, is leading the team in receptions and has over 1,000 yards. There have only been five backs in 49ers history to have 1,000 yards rushing in back to back years. This will also be the first time someone has led the team in receiving and rushing in back to back years since Roger Craig in 1987 and 1988. That's what has been so interesting with Frank. It seems like it has been a bad year for him, but if he continues with his current production, he will have his name in the 49ers history books for a long time.
One of the things that has been noticeable over the last three games is that the offensive line has really established the line of scrimmage and has been dominating people up front. One of the reasons for that is because when you have a quarterback like Shaun Hill who is getting the ball out as quickly as he is, guys have to start playing honest. They can't just dismiss your passing game and play the run.
What you notice in games late in the season is some of the younger guys getting more opportunities. Although he's not a young guy, it would be great to see if Ashley Lelie can get something done. I would also like to see Michael Robinson a little more involved. Even though coaches had the ability to evaluate some guys in the preseason, those younger guys' playing time goes down significantly. Some coaching staffs want to get a look and see what guys can do against a possible playoff team, so you should see a little more of Tarrell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Jason Hill, as well as Ray McDonald who had his first sack last week.
I don't see the weather being too much of a factor because it will be around 38 degrees. It's always tough to play in cold weather though. All the hits that hurt in a normal game, hurt even more in a cold game because the hard plastic on your shoulder pads and helmet get even harder. There's always pain when you're playing in a game, but a sharp pain from a blow becomes acutely painful in a cold weather game. You would much rather have it snow then it be 40 degrees and raining because the rain soaks into your uniform and makes you heavier.
Even though the 49ers won't be going to the playoffs, a road game in late December against a team that could be playoff bound is a great test and a great way to find out more about this team as it heads into the off-season.