The Cleveland Browns (2-2) will be without QB Deshaun Watson due to a shoulder injury in Week 6, with PJ Walker getting the starting nod in a matchup against the undefeated San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (1 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
Can the Browns still give the 49ers a run for their money without Watson?
On the latest edition of “The NFL on FOX Podcast,” NFL analyst Greg Olsen opined that the Browns’ stout defense slowing down Brock Purdy & Co. — specifically on early downs — will be the key to keeping Cleveland in the game.
“You have to take them out of downs where the option to run or pass is the same, and that’s winning on first and second downs — forcing them into must-throws, forcing them into must-pass downs where they can’t use their action game, they can’t use their boot game, they can’t use all their misdirections runs,” Olsen said. “You have to force them into passing downs. Now, having said that, Brock Purdy [has] been fantastic on those downs, too. I don’t know if there is a clear path. I think you have to make things as difficult as possible for them, make them as one-dimensional as possible.
“Then you’re gonna have to have some things go your way. You got to get a couple sacks, you got to get a couple turnovers [and] you got to get a couple tipped passes that bounce the right way. I think that’s the formula if that is even a formula, but good teams don’t really have a formula to beat them: you’ve got to be creative.”
Cleveland’s defense is spearheaded by star defensive end Myles Garrett, who has 5.5 sacks through four games — 3.5 of them coming in a Week 3 win over the Tennessee Titans. Defensive backs Denzel Ward, Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill and linebackers Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah also contribute to what’s an elite defense. As a whole, the Browns have surrendered just 196.8 total yards (first in the NFL) and 15 points (third) per game this season.
Watson, who’s in his first full season under center for the Browns, has underwhelmed thus far in 2023. Across the three games that he has played, Watson has totaled just 678 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, two interceptions and an 87.8 passer rating, while completing 63.7% of his passes. He has also rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown.
On the other side, San Francisco has been a well-oiled machine across the board. The Niners are top three in the NFL in total yards (402.6), points (33.4), total yards surrendered (266.8) and points surrendered (13.6) per game. Cleveland’s defense is tasked with slowing down the likes of elite playmakers in Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
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