Alex Smith

49ers to face shorthanded Cleveland Browns offense

So far in 2011, Pat Shurmur’s Cleveland Browns’ offense has been about as exciting to look at as their uniforms … uh oh, I think we have a tangent alert!

(Why are the Browns’ helmets orange, anyway? If you’re going to roll with plain, homely uniforms with orange helmets — and not even a good orange, either — why not just go all out and make the helmets brown instead? Yeah, yeah, I know: history and stuff.)

Anyway, back to the Browns’ offense, otherwise known as an assault to ocular nerves everywhere. If you actually watched their 6-3 win over Seattle last week on two 50-plus-yard field goals, you’re probably just now awakening from your coma.

Why and how are the Browns so sleep-inducing?

— Colt McCoy’s stats look pretty similar to the numbers Alex Smith has produced. He’s actually passed for almost 300 yards more than Smith in the same number of games (1,377 to 1,090) and has a similar TD/INT ratio (McCoy’s is 8/4, Smith’s is 8/2). The main differences between the two, and why McCoy’s rating is 75.4 compared to 95.2 for Smith, is completion percentage and yards per attempt. McCoy’s completed 56% of his passes, registering 5.5 yards per attempt (which is horrible). Smith’s the picture of accuracy compared to McCoy, completing 63.3% of his throws with a 6.9 Y/A.

— Only one of Cleveland’s running backs has been able to muster 4 yards per carry or more: Chris Ogbonnaya (3 rushes for 15 yards, yippee!).

— They’re one of only five teams to score fewer than 100 points so far (97, which equates to a robust 16.2 ppg).

And it’s only getting worse for the boys in brown (and orange)…

Last year Peyton Hillis gave hope to millions of white guys everywhere who fantasize about going through life with a head resembling a perfect cube and HGH coursing through their veins (just kidding!). Hillis even got the Madden cover after it was put to a fan vote, although to be fair Tim Tebow would probably get the Madden cover every season if the vote was made open to all players, regardless of how awful his throws look. (How long did it take for that game-tying TD pass against Miami to travel the 20 feet from Tebow’s left hand to Daniel Fells, 43 seconds?).

Hillis, who’s followed up his eye-opening 2010 season (1,654 all-purpose yards, 13 TD) with a measly 287 all-purpose yards, 2 TD and 3.5 ypc in four games this season, has an injured hamstring that kept him out last week against Seattle. After practicing yesterday and looking like he was ready to play against the 49ers (who eat running backs like great whites eat flounder), Hillis sat out practice today (Thursday).

That means the Browns offense probably runs through Montario Hardesty again. After he carried the ball 33 times for 95 yards against Seattle, Hardesty’s stamina can’t be questioned. However, his chances of scoring the first rushing TD against the Niners this year (Hardesty has no touchdowns in his short NFL career) look slim.

That’s not all. The Browns’ leading receiver in terms of yards, Mohamed Massaquoi (239 yards on 18 catches, 2 TD), is dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion (he missed a game last year after suffering a brain bruise, as well). Also feeling woozy: Benjamin Watson, the Browns’ starting TE who’s third on the team with 213 receiving yards. The chances that either one will play against on Sunday aren’t great since they haven’t practiced this week, meaning rookie WR Greg Little (25 receptions, 234 yards, 0 TD), Joshua Cribbs (15/192/1) and TE Evan Moore (14/136/2) are the main guys left for McCoy to throw to.

The Niners’ biggest enemy: Freddy P. Soft

Jim Harbaugh’s going to have to convince his team that playing the same way they have this season (focusing on field position over huge plays) is necessary against a team that looks so offensively impotent. Why? Because the Browns have a decent defense and have shown an ability to win close games (albeit against crappy opponents). Still, the Browns know nobody expects them to win this game, and they’d love to come in and stop the Harbaugh Express on their home turf.

The truth is the 49ers should win this game, and by a significant margin. If they keep Cribbs from returning a kick to the house, play the same stifling run defense they have all season and avoid miscommunications in the secondary, they should be able to impose their will on Cleveland.

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