What to watch for in Browns-49ers on 'MNF'

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  • By Jelani Scott NFL.com
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Coming off a bye week, the San Francisco 49ers (3-0), one of only three teams ranked in the top-10 in offense and defense, enter Week 5 leading its division for the first time since 2012.

The Cleveland Browns (2-2) are fresh off a huge 40-25 win over the Ravens, their best showing of the season. After a dreadful Week 1, Cleveland has started to turn things around, thanks in part to a 12th-ranked defense that's allowed just 16.0 points per game in the weeks since.

Cleveland's offense has yet to explode, but it could be on the verge of breaking out after a dominant Week 4. If it's able to do that, would there really be any better time for it than Monday Night Football?

Here are four things to watch for in Monday's showdown between two of the NFL's brightest young teams:

Will Mayfield flourish or be flustered against the 49ers' pass rush?


Mayfield's numbers in the Browns' last prime-time outing -- a 20-13 Week 3 road loss to the Rams -- were average (18-of-36, 195 yards, TD, INT), and you can bet almost anything he'll be looking to avenge that night. In order to do that, Mayfield will have to find a consistent rhythm, one that does not match the seesawing levels of success he's had so far.

Mayfield currently possesses the longest active streak of games with at least one touchdown pass (17), but also has the longest streak with an interception (5), per NFL Research. In fact, Mayfield has thrown exactly one TD pass through the first four games, and has tallied six picks (tied for second-most in the NFL).

His 1,147 passing yards and 286.8 YPG average, good enough for eighth- and seventh-best in the NFL, respectively, has kept him among the best statistically, but an area that will allow him to push his way higher up that list is his quick decision-making.

According to Next Gen Stats, Mayfield has seen less pressures and enjoyed a higher completion percentage (74.1), TD-to-INT ratio (3-2) and passer rating (99.1) when he's had 2.5 seconds or less to throw, compared to having 2.5-plus seconds (48.8 rate, 1-4 ratio, 62.3 passer rating).

The Niners pass rush, led by rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, has pressured 33.3 percent of QB dropbacks, the fifth-best in the league. Already a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Bosa has pressured QBs a league-best 18.3 percent of pass rushes.

When it boils down to it, Cleveland's success will likely come down to Mayfield's trigger being quicker than the Niners' ability to get off the ball.

Garoppolo and Co.'s big opportunity in first prime-time game


Quick: Which QB has the second-longest game streak throwing at least one TD (10) or pick (3)? That would be Jimmy Garoppolo.

Week 5 will be Garoppolo's first primetime game since Week 1 of 2016 as a member of the Patriots. On that night, he earned his first win in his first start in place of a suspended Tom Brady; fast forward three years and Garoppolo has helped the 49ers to their first 3-0 start since 1998.

While his 739 passing yards (58-of-84) and 246.3 YPG haven't set the world ablaze, he ranks in the top-10 in completion percentage (69.0) and has five TDs and four picks. He's also averaging 8.8 yards per pass, tying his career-high.

His weapons have proven reliable, too; rookie receiver Deebo Samuel has emerged as the team's top wideout with 11 catches (11) and 147 receiving yards (147). Tight end George Kittle, one of NFL's best TEs, leads the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (165).

You could argue the competition hasn't been stellar -- their opponents have a combined 3-12 record -- but he's still beaten who's on the schedule. Against a still-emerging Browns defense, "MNF" will bring Garoppolo his first formidable test.

Should Browns operate through Nick Chubb over their star-studded receivers?


Chubb is breathing rare air after his 20-carry, 165-yard, 3-TD day versus Baltimore.

His 398 rushing yards -- the fourth-most in the NFL -- through the first four games make him the only Browns running back not named Jim Brown to register such numbers in that stretch.

Not only is the second-year back already being mentioned with legends, he's also mixing it up with legends in the making. His 1,353 rushing yards since Week 4 of 2018 are the second-most in the league behind Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (1,484).

In 2019, Chubb has tallied the most rushes of 10 yards or more (11) and is tied for the second-most carries (78). He's also tied for the third-most rushing TDs with four, proving he can be a true workhorse.

Chubb has been on a tear, but he'll have his work cut out for him against a San Francisco frontline that hasn't surrendered a rushing TD or allowed any RB to eclipse 75 or more yards.

This game has elements that should (in theory) help Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The best friends have yet to come up big in the same week (Landry's career-high 167 yards dwarfed OBJ's career-low 20 in Baltimore), but they're too talented to not be heavily featured.

Given that Mayfield's passer rating with Landry (51.1) and OBJ (70.6) already ranks in the top-5 worst among QB-pass catcher duos, though, this could be a make-or-break game.

Can San Francisco's O-line contain Myles Garrett?


Garoppolo has tasted turf just twice, but DE Myles Garrett is 1B on the short list of premier pass rushers.

Garrett has already totaled six sacks, making him the only player with six-plus sacks in each of the last three years.

To make life more challenging, the Niners will start rookie left tackle Justin Skule in place of long-time starter Joe Staley (broken fibula) for the second consecutive week.

As much of a force as Garrett is, he's not the only one getting to QBs; Cleveland has 14 sacks on the year.

The 49ers' offensive line deserves credit for its stellar job, but stopping Garrett will be tough. It just has to make sure that doesn't open the door for DE Olivier Vernon or defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to make a play.

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