Up next: No secret what Browns must do vs. SF

It is no secret what the Browns have to do Sunday to beat the 49ers in San Francisco: They need a balanced attack on offense because they are not proficient enough passing the ball to do so successfully without a running game, and they can't succeed as a smash-mouth football team if the Niners don't have to respect quarterback Colt McCoy.

The key to the offense might be running back Montario Hardesty. He began 2011 as a change-of-pace back after missing all of 2010 with a knee injury, but circumstances changed to make him more of a focal point.

Hardesty started against the Dolphins on Sept. 25 because Peyton Hillis missed the game with strep throat. Hardesty started against the Seahawks last week because Hillis was sidelined with a hamstring injury. The same injury forced Hillis out early Oct. 16 at Oakland.

Hardesty rushed 33 times for 95 yards and caught two passes for 27 yards Sunday in the Browns' 6-3 victory over the Seahawks, a win that evened Cleveland record at 3-3 and lifted first-place San Francisco's lead to three games over the second-place Seattle in the NFC West.

The running back has to be able to catch the ball in coach Pat Shurmur's version of the West Coast offense. Inexplicably, Hardesty dropped four passes against the Titans on Oct. 2 and then dropped the first two thrown his way against the Raiders.

A pass from McCoy whistled through Hardesty's hands while the offense was practicing without the defense on the Friday before the Seattle game.

Shurmur had seen enough. Hardesty was yanked, and Chris Ogbonnaya, signed Oct. 18 off the Houston practice squad, was in. Hardesty went to the back of a group of players, dropped to the turf and then did a set of pushups to punish himself for dropping the pass.

When he finished, he knelt and watched for about five more plays and then was back in with the first offense.

"He dropped the ball, and we don't want him to drop the ball," Shurmur said. "We work on catching. You get what you emphasize, and we've worked on him catching the ball. That's what's going on."

Hardesty will start against the 49ers if Hillis still cannot go. He said the dropped passes became a mental problem in Oakland. He had trouble picking up the blitz against the Raiders but did a better job of that last week against Seattle.

"I made a living playing football as a back who could do everything – run, catch, block – do all the things you have to do to be on the field," Hardesty said. "I can't let (a dropped pass) stay on my mind. I have to move on to the next play. My main thing (is) I've been coming in early and getting extra work at it and not thinking about it as much. I would just naturally do it."

LINEUP WATCH: Linebacker Scott Fujita was inactive due to a concussion against the Seahawks. Kaluka Maiava started at weak-side linebacker and Chris Gocong switched to the strong side. Gocong sacked Charlie Whitehurst on the Seahawks' first possession.

UNDER THE RADAR: Running back Chris Ogbonnaya, signed Tuesday off the Houston practice squad, led the Browns during the Seattle game with five catches. He also had three carries for 15 yards.

Player notes

--- K Phil Dawson kicked field goals of 52 and 53 yards that were the difference against the Seahawks, but he also had two field-goal tries blocked during the game.

--- Rookie WR Greg Little caught five passes against the Seahawks, giving him a team-high 25 receptions on the season.

--- CB Sheldon Brown intercepted a pass by Seattle's Charlie Whitehurst in the third quarter.

--- Safety T.J. Ward had a strip sack of Seahawks QB Whitehurst in the second quarter.

--- For the first time this season, someone other than LB D'Qwell Jackson led the Browns in tackles. Ward had six tackles. Jackson had five.

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