The Cleveland Browns face their most complete team of the young 2023 season when they welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Cleveland Browns Stadium in Week 6. The 49ers enter the cross-country contest with an unblemished record of 5-0. Kyle Shanahan has his team looking like the cream of the crop in the entire league, outscoring their opponents by a combined jaw-dropping 99 points.
Cleveland enters this game coming off of a bye but shrouded in uncertainty. The cloud that hangs over the team is the availability of their franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. At this point, it's impossible to speak in absolutes when discussing Watson’s ongoing shoulder issue. If he is good to go, and truly be at as close to 100 percent as possible, then it would change the perception of this matchup.
But without any solid information to act on, it's best not to assume anything; one way or another. However, what we do know is San Francisco is a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the NFC and the Browns will absolutely have their hands full regardless of who their quarterback is.
Here are three matchups that could prove to be pivotal for the Browns in week six
Matchup No. 3: Denzel Ward vs Brandon Aiyuk
When you view the 49ers offensive roster, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is not one of the names that jumps out at you. With weapons like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle it's easy for a player like Aiyuk to fly under the radar. But if you sit down and watch the 49ers tape, Aiyuk is the straw that stirs the drink in the 49ers passing game.
While Samuel is their most well-known receiver, his game is predicated on doing the dirty work and getting the majority of his yards after the catch. Aiyuk is the 49ers dynamic downfield threat, and he is quietly becoming one of the better-contested catch players in the league.
Through four games Aiyuk has caught 21 of 27 targets for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Of Aiyuk’s 21 receptions, 20 of them have gone for first downs. But as slippery as Aiyuk is this is a good matchup for Denzel Ward.
From a skill set perspective, this is the type of receiver that Ward can utilize his mirror technique right off the line of scrimmage. It will be a battle all afternoon, but if Ward can effectively blanket Aiyuk and take him away as an option for Purdy, the San Francisco offense will become more one-dimensional.
However, if Aiyuk is able to get loose the flood gates may open for the 49ers.