KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. PDT
SITE: Candlestick Park in San Francisco
SURFACE: Natural grass
RECORDS: 49ers 5-1, 1-0 in NFC West, 4-1 in NFC, 1-0 vs. AFC North; Browns, 3-3, 0-1 in AFC North, 2-3 in AFC, 1-0 vs. NFC West
LAST WEEK: 49ers were on their bye week; Browns defeated Seattle Seahawks 6-3
NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: No. 27 in total offense, No. 11 in total defense. Browns: No. 23 in total offense, No. 4 in total defense.
TV: CBS (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts)
SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Browns lead series, 11-6. Browns are currently on a three-game win streak. The 49ers were a crumbling empire when the teams met in 2003 in unseasonably warm autumnal afternoon at Candlestick. The Browns grinded to a 13-12 win with former 49er-turned-Brown executive Carmen Policy reveling in victory. The Browns have had little success in the expansion era, but the 49ers are one team they have handled. The teams have played twice in the expansion era, and Cleveland won both times.
KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers QB Alex Smith has a 95.2 passer rating because he's taking care of the ball while working against a lot of man coverage downfield. Cleveland's front seven and SS T.J. Ward will be charged with containing RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, who run behind an array of run-heavy formations featuring extra tight ends and linemen. The Browns did an excellent job last week of finally sticking with the ground game even with big gains difficult to come by. RB Monterio Hardesty also overcame early-season drops to provide versatility, and Peyton Hillis (hamstring) appears on track to return. Browns QB Colt McCoy sports a 5.5-yard average per attempt in part because the offensive line is struggling to pick up blitzes.
FAST FACTS: Browns president Mike Holmgren got his NFL start with the 49ers in 1986 as their quarterbacks coach. ... Smith has a pass rating of 128.9 against the blitz this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 and 1 -- The 49ers are first in the league with seven punt returns of 20 yards or more and first in the league in kickoff return average with 30.9 yards per return. 4th -- Overall ranking for Cleveland's defense. The Ravens are first, the Bengals are second and the Steelers are third, giving the AFC North all of the top spots.
QUOTES TO NOTE
Coach (Jim) Harbaugh would have to talk to me, get my mind right. I'd have to talk to a psychologist because feeling the ground shake, that's not going to work too well for me." – Niners nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois, who's from Florida, on earthquakes.
"We know that teams are going to come in and try to pressure Colt (McCoy) because he's young. We all know that, and we also know that we have to get to our spots and be available for him." – Browns wide receiver Greg Little, on the pressure opponents are putting on Cleveland's quarterback.
49ERS GAME PLAN: Niners coach Jim Harbaugh is impressed with the Browns active secondary and Harbaugh likes to run the ball, so guess what the offensive strategy might be in this one? Browns coach Pat Shurmur also favors protecting his young QB Colt McCoy with plenty of runs.
BROWNS GAME PLAN: Colt McCoy has been hit so often this season – 38 times – that Shurmur might take the safe route and go with max-protect by using Alex Smith and Benjamin Watson as tight ends and sending out only two receivers on patterns, most likely Greg Little and Joshua Cribbs. Whether Shurmur can do that against the 49ers depends how quickly Watson recovers from a concussion that knocked him out of the Seattle game. Watson would be a good fit in such a plan if he is healthy because he has the best hands among the tight ends and can turn into a receiver if the line has the pass rush blocked.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
49ers P Andy Lee, who is coached by Brad Seely, the Browns coach from last year vs. Joshua Cribbs, one of the best returners in the league.
49ers rookie OLB Aldon Smith, who is an up and coming pass rusher vs. Browns LT Joe Thomas, who is maybe the best left tackle in the league.
Browns kick coverage unit vs. 49ers KR Ted Ginn Jr. Special teams have been horrendous for the Browns the past two weeks. Cleveland gave up a 101-yard kick return for a touchdown by Oakland's Jacoby Ford on Oct. 16. Last week, the Seahawks scored on a punt return, but the touchdown was nullified by a questionable block-in-the-back penalty. Ginn is averaging 31.8 yards a return.
Browns QB Colt McCoy vs. 49ers defensive backs McCoy's accuracy will have to be sharper than ever Sunday. The 49ers have broken up 49 passes, putting them first in the league in that category. They have given up nine passing touchdowns, though, so they are not invincible.
Inside the camps
Keeping Colt McCoy on his feet Sunday in San Francisco and the rest of the season has become a priority for the Browns.
McCoy has been sacked 13 times this season, an average of just over two sacks a game, but he has been hit 38 times. Each time he stands up, adjusts his pads and either walks back to the huddle or to the sideline depending on the situation. He limped off with a knee injury in the third quarter Sunday but did not miss an offensive snap.
McCoy was knocked down 12 times in Oakland, then was sacked five times in last week's 6-3 victory over the Seahawks.
"I got hit a few times," McCoy said. "I was able to run a couple times and get out of the pocket, but for the most part I thought we had some pretty good protection."
The offensive line's transformation has been as big as switching to the West Coast offense. The only starting linemen back from last year are left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack.
Jason Pinkston had to replace injured Eric Steinbach (back) at left guard, and now right guard Shawn Lauvao is day-to-day with a bruised knee. John Greco will start against the 49ers if Lauvao cannot play. Lauvao started one game last year.
Right tackle was a rotation of Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks until Tony Pashos recovered from an ankle injury. Pashos started the last three games.
"When you look around the league, in terms of quarterbacks getting hit, there are quarterbacks getting hit quite a bit," coach Pat Shurmur said. "(McCoy) has avoided some sacks. I try to make sure I call keeps and nakeds to make sure I get him on the run, and every once in a while he'll take (a hit) there."
Already this season, Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell was knocked out with a broken collarbone -- by the Browns -- and Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. Colts quarterback Kerry Collins was put on injured reserve Tuesday with post-concussion symptoms.
Tarvaris Jackson of the Seahawks missed the game against the Browns with a pectoral injury, and Sam Bradford of the Rams missed the game against the Cowboys on Sunday because of a high ankle sprain. The Rams (54), Seahawks (50) and Dolphins (48) have all allowed more quarterback hits than McCoy has endured. The 38 hits on McCoy are sixth most in the league.
Browns leading receiver Greg Little said more than the offensive line has to come through. Receivers have to stay alert to break off into their "hot" routes when an opponent blitzes. The Raiders and Seahawks spent the day blitzing. The Browns can expect the same from the 49ers on Sunday.
Another way to take heat off McCoy would be to run the ball efficiently, but the Browns can't do that when they play from behind as they did against Oakland and Tennessee. McCoy is averaging 42 passes a game. The Packers (7-0) are averaging 34 passes a game.
If the 49ers are going to extend their winning streak to four games against the Browns, they will likely do it with their running game. The Browns are ranked second versus the pass, but only 19th against the rush. They've already given up more than 100 yards rushing to Tennessee's Chris Johnson and Cincinnati's Cedric Benson.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have averaged 193.3 yards rushing during their three-game winning streak, and running back Frank Gore has the extra incentive of becoming the 49ers' second all-time leading rusher with a 110-yard game. Gore would surpass the team's workhorse running back during the glory years, Roger Craig.
Craig, now in private business, befriended Gore and often sends him texts. In fact, Gore did not know he had won the Fed Ex Ground Player of the Week after the Lions game until Craig informed him. Craig said he'll be in attendance at Candlestick this Sunday.
"I hope he gets there," Craig said. "Because if he gets 110 yards, that means we're winning."
Gore and the 49ers expect an offensive slog against the Browns.
"When you watch film on the Browns they are very disciplined against the run," Gore said. "It's going to be a good test for us. I feel as long as we go out there and do what we're supposed to do, I think we'll be fine in the running game."
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman doesn't anticipate any quick strikes against the Browns' active secondary.
"They are the kind of defense that if you're going to score, do it in 12 plays," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "They try to put the pressure back on you to execute."
--- RB Peyton Hillis' balky hamstring had him back on the sideline Thursday, casting doubt over his availability for Sunday's game. Hillis completed a full practice Wednesday and said he was ready for a heavy workload against the 49ers. But coach Pat Shurmur said later that Hillis was "a little sore."
--- Second-year running back Montario Hardesty started and rushed for 95 yards on 33 carries last week in a 6-3 win over the Seahawks.
--- WR Braylon Edwards (knee) practiced in a limited fashion throughout the week and is listed as questionable to play against the Browns. Harbaugh said Edwards' status will be a game-time decision.
--- C Jonathan Goodwin sustained a concussion in the Lions game. He has worn a black jersey in the last two practices, which dictates that he's not supposed to be hit.
--- G Adam Snyder would likely move to center if Goodwin can't play, and Chilo Rachal would replace Snyder at right guard.