SANTA CLARA — After years of struggling to get pressure on the quarterback, the 49ers defensive front is getting a reputation for being a formidable force so far in 2019. Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and DeForest Buckner have helped fortify the unit that has amassed nine sacks in three games.
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens is preparing for that and much more as Cleveland visits Levi's Stadium this week for their Week 5 contest.
Browns QB Baker Mayfield has already been sacked 12 times in four games and thrown six interceptions. While the Browns offensive line has improved -- five of those sacks occurred in Week 1 and only one given up in Week 4 -- Kitchens knows what they have ahead of them.
“They play hard,” Kitchens said of the 49ers defensive front via conference call Wednesday. “They are very talented, they are very long, big guys that play with quickness and play hard. I don’t know how many first-rounders are up there, but there’s a lot of them up there and they’re up there for a reason.”
“I think they are very deep. They can rotate guys in and out. I think they are the best front we have faced this year.”
Along with their nine sacks, the 49ers defense has racked up five interceptions and five forced fumbles in three games. Their productivity already is a stark contrast to what they were able to do in 2018.
Kitchens also gave high praise to 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who he complimented for adapting and growing into Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system.
“I think he’s a very good quarterback,” Kitchens said. “He’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league. He’s been getting the ball out of his hands. I think they’ve given up one sack this year, two sacks maybe. I’m not sure. But one or two sacks and that’s it.
“He’s been making good decisions and seems like he has total confidence and control of the offense so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
This will not be the first time Kitchens has seen Garoppolo in person. They two met in the first week of the 2016 season, when Garoppolo started for the Patriots during Tom Brady's suspension. Kitchens was the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals at the time.
The Cardinals lost by two points after the Patriots were able to kick a go-ahead field goal in the final few minutes of the game. Kitchens remembers the game and Garoppolo’s play vividly.
“I remember that and I remember missing a field goal at the end of the game,” Kitchens said. “But remember him playing very well, and again having control of that offense, being confident in his decisions and making quick decisions getting the ball out of his hands. Sort of the same thing you’re seeing now.”
The undefeated 49ers face the Browns (2-2) under the bright lights at Levi's Stadium this week on "Monday Night Football."