The undefeated 49ers will roll into Cleveland Browns Stadium as heavy favorites Sunday, but one stat looms over San Francisco’s effort to move to 6-0.
Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has dominated 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan over the years. In eight matchups between the two as head coaches or coordinators, Schwartz is 7-1.
Shanahan lost the first matchup 31-12 when he was a first-year offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans and Schwartz was the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator in 2008. He won the second clash later that season 13-12, but Schwartz has taken the last six meetings, most recently in 2020 when the 49ers lost 25-20 to the Philadelphia Eagles, where Schwartz was defensive coordinator.
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"I certainly have a lot of respect for Kyle," Schwartz told reporters in Cleveland on Thursday. "I’ve been going against him for a long time. … My greatest compliment to coaches is that they evolve over time. And I think what we defended back in 2008 was a little bit different in Houston than what he did in Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta and what he’s doing in San Francisco.
"He does a good job of scheming for his players. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. You’re not out there trying to stop a play-caller, you’re out there trying to stop his players."
Shanahan's offense in the Bay is thriving. The 49ers have scored at least 30 points in eight straight regular-season games (dating back to last season) and rank third in yards per game (402.6) and second in points (33.4).
The Browns, however, are no slouches themselves. In four games, Cleveland's defense is allowing a league-best 196.8 total yards per game and just 15.0 points per contest.
San Francisco 49ers
Shanahan is aware of the big challenge ahead.
“This game, to me, is the biggest challenge we’ve had so far,” Shanahan said after practice Wednesday. “I thought that was going to be Dallas, too, going into it. But you look at this, and (Cleveland's) defensive numbers just jump out. You see very much that they’re No. 1 or No. 2 in everything."
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly won't play due to a shoulder injury, giving the 49ers an edge, but San Francisco's offense against Cleveland's defense will be the matchup to watch Sunday afternoon.
"It's going to be a great matchup," Schwartz said. "This is NFL football at its finest. This is an outstanding offense, a good defense. We’ll be ready for it."