The undefeated 49ers will enter the Cleveland Browns’ home stadium as heavy favorites on Sunday, but there is one statistic that looms large over San Francisco’s efforts to move to 6-0.
Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has dominated 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan over the years. In eight games between the two as head coaches or coordinators, Schwartz is 7-1.
Shanahan lost the first game 31-12 when he was the first-year offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans, and Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans in 2008. He won the second game later that season 13-12, but Schwartz took over. The last six meetings, most recently in 2020 when the 49ers lost 25-20 to the Philadelphia Eagles, where Schwartz was defensive coordinator.
“I definitely have a lot of respect for Kyle,” Schwartz said He told reporters in Cleveland Thursday. “I’ve been against it for a long time. … The greatest compliment to coaches is that they improve over time. I think what we stood for in 2008 was a little different in Houston than what he did in Washington and Cleveland.” Atlanta and what he’s doing in San Francisco.
“He does a good job of scheming for his players. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. You’re not out there trying to stop a play-calling player, you’re out there trying to stop his players.”
Shanahan’s offense in the Gulf is thriving. The 49ers have scored at least 30 points in eight straight regular-season games (dating back to last season) and rank third in yards per game (402.6) and second in points (33.4).
However, the Brown family is no slouch per se. In four games, Cleveland’s defense is allowing a total of 196.8 yards per game and just 15.0 points per contest.
Shanahan realizes the big challenge ahead of him.
“This game, for me, is our biggest challenge yet,” Shanahan said after practice on Wednesday. “I thought Dallas was going to get into this, too. But you look at this, and Cleveland’s defensive numbers jump. You pretty much see them being No. 1 or No. 2 in everything.”
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will reportedly not play due to a shoulder injury, giving the 49ers an advantage, but San Francisco’s offense against Cleveland’s defense will be the matchup to watch on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Schwartz said. “This is NFL football at its best. It’s a great offense and a good defense. We’ll be ready for it.”
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