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Going into Sunday afternoon, the Cleveland Browns were missing their starting QB against the juggernaut that is the San Francisco 49ers. The odds of them keeping it close, let alone winning, were slim to start the game.

Then the Browns defense got involved.

The Browns pulled off a monumental upset of the 49ers, winning 19-17 in what effectively was the worst game of 49ers’ QB Brock Purdy’s career. Purdy threw for 125 yards, one touchdown and an interception, posting an EPA per play of -0.25. Overall, the 49ers offense was stuck in the mud, not being able to get anything going in both the run or passing game, a true testament to how well the Browns defense played.

When defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was hired in the offseason, it signaled a change in the philosophy of the Browns defense, and on Sunday it came to fruition in a dominant showing:

The 49ers offense was stuck in neutral for most of the game against Cleveland.

Let’s start up front. The Browns’ new defensive front manhandled the 49ers on Sunday, and it wasn’t anything new schematically that they did, or anything different. The Browns new defense is much more downhill and aggressive in scheme and style, and routinely reset the line of scrimmage in the game on Sunday. This was super effective against all of the zone runs the 49ers ran, because it forced the Niners’ backs to make their cuts a lot earlier than they wanted to, and they would flow right into a free running linebacker or safety at the second level. DT Jordan Elliott played phenomenally on Sunday, and his routine creation of a new line of scrimmage threw the Niners’ run game into disarray.

The Niners tried to run a Windback concept here, but Elliott steps across the LG’s face and creates penetration, throwing the WR into a wonky path and letting his backers flow free. He doesn’t get the TFL, but he causes it.

Browns DT Jordan Elliott(#96) played amazing yesterday. Consistently created push in the run game and forced cutbacks and just caused overall chaos in the Niners run game

— JP Acosta (Pug Dederson Stan Acct) (@acosta32_jp) October 16, 2023

However, the Niners’ run game couldn’t find the solutions to the problems the Browns attacking style posed through their gap scheme runs either. This is due to Cleveland just causing chaos in their run game. On this rep of HH Counter, Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (who had a great game on Sunday) blitzes through the weakside A-gap. This becomes a problem for the Niners because DT Dalvin Tomlinson holds up the right guard, who is supposed to be moving towards that gap. EDGE Alex Wright causes a pileup when he takes on the pulling TE George Kittle, and that forces FB Kyle Juszczyk to slow up on his pull, allowing S Grant Delpit to come from the second level and stop the run for a short gain.

So many moving parts, and only one guy gets credited with the tackle, but great team defense against the run.

The Browns’ second level defenders and safeties played an amazing game defending the run. They were unafraid to stick their nose in the backfield and come up and hit, something that just wasn’t there last year. Schwartz has this team playing with a different caliber of aggression, one more fitting of a team with the caliber of athletes that the Browns have.

In the passing game, the Browns didn’t change much from their MO the entire season, and that’s more of a testament to them than anything. Facing a team like the 49ers, opposing defenses tend to go away from what got them to the dance, instead of leaning on your calling cards. The Browns play a lot of man coverage, and a lot of Cover 3, but didn’t come off of that in their game against the 49ers. They trusted their group of DBs to get the job done, and for the most part, they succeeded. Of course, it’s easier when WR Deebo Samuel is out the game, but the Browns DBs played amazing football on Sunday, with sticky coverage across the board.

According to Next Gen Stats, no 49ers receiver had an average yards of separation over the NFL standard of 2.94 on Sunday. Nothing was open downfield, and windows closed quickly.

Then, when you combine this with a front that’s forcing you to waste pass catching options in the protection, they can just tee off on you whenever you make a mistake. Purdy threw one interception on Sunday, but it was emblematic of what the Browns try to do. They have the guys to play man, so they’re going to stick in it and force you to beat them.

Purdy was late and behind on this throw, and the Browns made him pay.

On the Purdy INT: Niners try and motion out McCaffrey like they’ve done most of this year in the passing game. JOK runs out with him, but goes all the way out so he has outside leverage. Browns run Cover 1 with a weakside robber to help JOK, Purdy’s throw is behind

— JP Acosta (Pug Dederson Stan Acct) (@acosta32_jp) October 16, 2023

The Browns went into Sunday as the top ranked defense by EPA per play (per Sumer Sports) and in DVOA, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. In a loaded AFC, and without their starting QB, the Browns made the biggest statement of the weekend, one that could have implications in the AFC playoff race.

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