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Browns-49ers matchup of the day: Wednesday

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Posted Oct. 25, 2011 @ 4:25 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Browns-49ers game.

49ers wide receivers vs. Browns defensive backs

If ex-Browns WR Braylon Edwards (knee) can play Sunday, the 49ers' WR corps, which doesn't have a reception longer than 38 yards, will get some playmaking punch back in the lineup.

And this matchup, of course, will have some more intrigue.

The Browns' first-round pick in 2005, Edwards had an up-and-down career in Cleveland, playing like a legitimate go-to receiver at times (especially in 2007, when he caught 16 TD passes for a team that won 10 games) but frustrating with his inconsistency at others. The 6-3, 214-pound Edwards is in his first season with the 49ers, who signed him after the Jets elected to sign WRs Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason to complement No. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes.

Like Edwards, Michael Crabtree (20-209-0) and Ted Ginn Jr. (6-62-0) were top-10 draft picks, but it was Josh Morgan, a sixth-round pick in 2008, who was the Niners' top threat at wideout before he suffered a season-ending broken ankle in Week Five. With Morgan out, Crabtree was the primary receiving at wideout in the Week Six win at Detroit, catching nine passes for 77 yards (15 targets).

Crabtree (6-1, 209) is physical and has good speed. On a 38-yard reception at Philadelphia in Week Four, his impressive skill set shone. Crabtree's stop-and-go route beat star Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha, and a big hit from Eagles S Jarrad Page failed to bring him down after the catch.

Ginn has excellent speed but has made his biggest impact as a returner on the NFL level. Kyle Williams and Brett Swain are the Niners' other wideouts.

49ers QB Alex Smith (1,090 yards, eight TDs, two interceptions, 63.3 percent completions) is off to a strong start in new head coach Jim Harbaugh's offense, which certainly aids the receivers.

At 5-foot-11, CB Joe Haden is at a slight size disadvantage against Edwards and Crabtree, but he's athletic, physical and fast — one of the AFC's best cornerbacks. The Browns' other starter, Sheldon Brown, has had some problems with the deep ball. If the Niners try to stretch the field, perhaps it a long pass from Smith toward a wideout on Brown's side. However, when Seattle tested Brown deep, he picked off an underthrown pass intended for Seahawks WR Sidney Rice — his first pick of the season. Dimitri Patterson, who covers the slot, is having a solid campaign for Cleveland.

The Browns' starting safeties are Mike Adams (free), who has two interceptions; and T.J. Ward (strong), who might have had his best game of the season on Sunday. He recorded seven tackles, and he forced a fumble on a sack of QB Charlie Whitehurst that was recovered.

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