In recent seasons the 49ers have welcomed the bye week on their schedule as a time to regroup and somehow turn around a losing record in the second half of the season. Last season they limped to their bye week with a losing record of 2-6. The 49ers roared into the bye week this season with three straight come-from-behind road victories, a four-game winning streak and in first place in the NFC West with three game lead. The 49ers will host the Browns (3-3) at Candlestick Park on Sunday who are coming off a win against the Seahawks last week. The Browns only managed 6 points in the win even though they had 298 yards of offense. On defense is where the Browns are at their best. They are in the top five in yards allowed per game and will pressure Alex Smith all game. Here are five things to watch for in the game:
Colt McCoy and the offense
With RB Peyton Hillis doubtful to play because of a hamstring injury and QB Colt McCoy struggling this season the Browns will rely on backup RB Montario Hardesty to get the offense moving down field. Problem is the 49ers defense ranks second against the run in the NFL only allowing 74.7 yards per game. The 49ers D have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the last 28 games and have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. If the Browns want to have any type of offense they will to go through the air but even that is a tough task against the 49ers secondary that is first in the NFL with 29 pass deflections. The Browns offense will have to also contend with the 49ers front seven who are becoming one of the best in the NFL.
The 49ers and Browns have good defenses that will cause three-and-outs and turnovers. The Browns offense is a work in progress and the 49ers offense has showed it can score touchdowns when needed. Both teams will score touchdowns on offense but expect to see plenty of kickers Phil Dawson and David Akers. In the end the return game will determine the winner.
The Browns defense has become one of the best in the NFL by playing aggressive but is disciplined in doing so. They hide their formations and schemes well and have great technique in the secondary. The 49ers offense should be able to move down the field against the Browns but Alex Smith and the offense cannot turn the ball over. The Browns secondary is where they play the most aggressive and are not afraid to go after bad throws and turn them into interceptions.
Smith has proven that he all needed was a head coach that believed in him and who understands the position and offense to play well. Smith has improved his play the most by limiting turnovers with only two interceptions this season. He has also showed he can be counted on in the clutch to lead the offense down the field for the winning score. However if anyone is affected by the bye week and will lose momentum it is Smith. His confidence was riding high in the four-game winning streak before the bye week so Jim Harbaugh should call Smith’s number early in the game to gain the momentum back.
49ers middle linebackers
49ers middle linebackers NaVarro Bowman and Patrick Willis are starting to become the next best linebacker tandem in the NFL. Bowman is leading the 49ers with 56 tackles and had 13 against the Lions. Willis is playing like his Pro Bowl self notching 47 tackles and one forced fumble this season. The two middle linebackers are the backbone of the defense with Willis leading the way. Both are great tacklers with speed who can defend well against the run and can drop back in coverage with 10 combined pass deflections. Bowman and Willis will give McCoy and the Browns offense fits all game.