Reading the keys: 49ers/Browns

Here's how the 49ers fared on Sunday in keys to the game identified by NinersDigest before San Francisco's 20-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Candlestick Park, running the Niners' winning streak to five consecutive games and giving them their first 6-1 start since 1998 while increasing their lead to four games in the NFC West.

Come out strong and don't get caught by the post-bye blahs
NFL teams were 3-9 coming out of their bye weeks so far this season and the 49ers had lost six consecutive games coming out of their bye week from 2004-2009 before snapping that skid last year. One of the biggest challenges facing the Niners this week against an overmatched opponent was to recapture the momentum they built during a four-game winning streak before the bye. Mission accomplished as the Niners forced a turnover on the game's second play from scrimmage, scored their first touchdown four plays later, led 7-0 just 2:16 into the game, then built that lead to 17-0 and never looked back.

Stuff the run and force Cleveland offense to go to the air
Like virtually every team before them, the Browns had negligible results attempting to run the football, managing just 25 yards rushing in the first half and only 66 for the game. Cleveland averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and had only five first downs rushing. Chris Ogbonnaya led the Browns with 37 yards on the ground as the Niners stretched their NFL-best string to 29 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

Joe Thomas vs. Justin Smith/Aldon Smith
Justin Smith pushed past Thomas on the game's second play from scrimmage and got a piece of quarterback Colt McCoy on the sack/strip that went to Ahmad Brooks on that play. Cleveland's Pro Bowl left tackle battled Smith to a draw the rest of the day, but the damage had been done and Smith did finish with four tackles and a quarterback hit. Aldon Smith recorded two tackles, one quarterback hit and a sack, but the sack didn't come against Thomas as Smith stunted to his left and looped inside to raise his sack total to 6.5 for the season.

Pound the rock with Frank Gore
The 49ers set the tempo of the game early with Gore pounding inside and slamming the edges of Cleveland's defensive line with his hard-charging bursts. Gore had 46 yards and one touchdown rushing in the first quarter, including a 24-yard run, and already had passed the 100-yard mark by halftime. The Niners stuck with Gore the entire game and he finished with a game-high 134 yards rushing on a season-high 31 carries – tying his career-high for carries set in 2006.

Pressure Colt McCoy into mistakes and a quick trigger
The Cleveland quarterback wilted under the pressure applied by the 49ers throughout the afternoon, fumbling four times while getting sacked four times and hit six other times. McCoy was forced to hurry his throws on multiple passes that fell incomplete in the first half, when he had just 69 yards passing. McCoy settled down in the second half and finished with decent passing numbers, but it wasn't enough to bring the Browns all the way back from a 17-0 hole.

Contain return specialist Josh Cribbs
The Niners did a solid job containing one of the NFL's most dangerous returners, allowing nothing more damaging than a 31-yard kickoff return and a 17-yard punt return. Cribbs – the NFL's career leader with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns to go with two punt returns for TDs – averaged 11.3 yards on three punt returns and 25.5 yards on his four kickoff returns. Cribbs actually hurt the 49ers more at wide receiver, where his 45-yard touchdown reception got the Browns within 17-10 with 6:17 left to play in the fourth quarter.

Protect the football and don't make critical mistakes
The 49ers committed no turnovers and had just five penalties. Two of the penalties were questionable calls on defenders Dashon Goldson and Justin Smith, who both appeared to make mean but clean hits and were flagged 15 yards anyway for unnecessary roughness and roughing the passer, respectively. Otherwise, the Niners made very few tactical or careless mistakes.

Exploit second-level defenders with Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker
It was a quiet day for both tight ends as Davis had three receptions for just 27 yards and Walker wasn't targeted for a pass the entire afternoon, ending his streak of at least one reception in every game this season. The 49ers looked elsewhere to find openings against Cleveland's second-level defenders.

Get some production through air vs. NFL's No. 1 passing defense
Alex Smith had another efficient afternoon against the top-ranked Browns, and it could have been a lot better had he connected on a few near-miss incompletions in the second half. Smith had a 41-yard pass and a touchdown throw to Michael Crabtree while spreading the ball around for 177 yards passing – including a 17-yard completion to wide-open offensive tackle Joe Staley and an 18-yard completion to wide-open nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who was in the game as a fullback. It was the first career reception for both players.

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