The season is moving along far too quickly, we’re suddenly in Week 14 and the playoff race is the main focus rather than who got off to a fast start. Unfortunately for the Browns, they didn’t get off to a fast start and they are the only team who have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. This is all exacerbated by the infuriating story line surrounding this team, who is their QB? McCown can’t stay healthy, Manziel can’t prove he’s matured and Davis is ultimately a 3rd string QB. Manziel needs to capitalise on his chance this time round. The 49ers haven’t had a great season either though. The offseason departures were far too much to overcome, Kaepernick seems to have completely lost any talent he had – and is now on the injured reserve – and other injuries have hurt this team further. Weirdly though, Blaine Gabbert has gotten more out of this team than Kaepernick did and actually looks okay, so that’s something.
Keys to the Game:
Cleveland’s running game
The Browns have tried to preach how they are going to be a run-first team and utilise the play action in the passing game. They haven’t really done that. They are dead last in rushing yards per game (73.9) and are 26th in total yards per game (330.8). Now that Manziel is under center, it seems more important than ever that the running game gets going, allowing Manziel to utilize the play action and roll outs.
The 49ers spent a bunch of money on Torrey Smith and he showed them one of the reason why last week, but he hasn’t been utilised nearly enough. Anquan Boldin, though he’s been hampered by injuries, hasn’t had the season he would’ve wanted. What’s more, the Browns secondary hasn’t been that good this year and Joe Haden is still not practicing. The 49ers receivers have to take advantage of that and get going.
This may seem vague, but the Browns defense is so bad that it’s hard to pick out anything specific. They haven’t been able to stop the run or the pass. Some people may think they play with a bend don’t break mentality, but they do break, they allow the 2nd most points per game (28.9). The 49ers offense isn’t loaded with weapons and hasn’t been that good – they’re 32nd in total yards per game – so the Browns defense has to give Manziel and the offense a chance to stay in this game.
Match-up to watch
Gary Barnidge vs NaVorro Bowman
Gary Barnidge has come out of nowhere to be the Browns’ most productive and reliable players this season. The Browns have very little in the way of offensive weapons and Manziel definitely isn’t at the point that he will carry this team, so he needs to look and Barnidge early and often and get him the ball. He has moved the chains for the Browns endless times this year and has found the end zone 7 times. Equally, the 49ers have to try to shut Barnidge down and force the other Browns to get open and make plays, which they haven’t really been able to do, something San Fran will try to accomplish by matching him up with NaVorro Bowman. If he can take Barnidge away the Browns may just run out of options very quickly.
San Francisco 49ers
I shouldn’t, but I want the Browns to win for Johnny Manziel’s sake, but I just don’t see that happening. It’s not that the 49ers are a much better team, it’s that they are playing well at the moment and the Browns are really bad.