We have been waiting for this moment for four long years. The Houston Texans are hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2020 when they defeated the Buffalo Bills. It would arguably be the high water mark of the Bill O’Brien era as they would go to Kansas City. You know what happened next. Officially the Texans are the higher seed, but in what is an annual quirk, the lower seed comes in with the better record and is favored in the game.
We have been running this feature all season, but this one is bound to be a little different for a couple of reasons. For one, it is literally win or go home. Secondly, these two teams played on Christmas Eve. Still, those were two different teams then as the Texans were beat up beyond recognition.
This time around, we will focus on all of the players with 80 or above grades according to PFF and who have gotten enough snaps to qualify. The Texans have only one Pro Bowl starter and he isn’t among the group of guys here. Young teams and young players have to pay their dues before they get recognized. The Cleveland Browns have plenty of familiar names and faces on their list.
The Browns Stand Out Players
DE Myles Garrett— 93.6 (first)
S Ronnie Hickman— 86.5 (sixth)
DE Za’Darius Smith— 82.6 (18th)
DT Maurice Hurst— 81.0 (15th)
WR Amari Cooper— 80.3 (20th)
Just like last time, there is no mystery about where the strength of the Browns team lies. Joe Flacco has been solid in relief of [That Effing Guy], but this team is built around its defense. I don’t know if Myles Garrett will win the defensive player of the year award, but he is the highest rated defensive end and the highest rated defender in football according to PFF. He and the rest of the defensive line dominated the game in December. Amari Cooper is not an absolute elite receiver like some of the other big games, but he sure as hell played like one on that day.
The Texans Stand Out Players
WR Nico Collins— 91.0 (fifth)
DE Derek Barnett— 86.2 (13th)
LB Blake Cashman— 83.7 (5th)
QB C.J. Stroud— 82.8 (14th)
DE Will Anderson— 81.8 (20th)
CB Derek Stingley— 81.8 (10th)
Coming into the season we talked about how Will Anderson, C.J. Stroud, and Derek Stingley would have to live up to their advanced draft position in order for this team to do well. They all did and the team did well. Additionally, Collins and Cashman developed into really good players. PFF might be ambitious on both of their parts, but they were definitely at least on the cusp of being Pro Bowl players. Barnett just might be one of those lightening in a bottle kind of situations. He has played at a high level before though, so this is just a case of DeMeco Ryans coaxing the most he can.
How will the Browns offense attack the Texans?
Keep in mind that even though teams play the same team during the course of the season, it is never quite the same team. Will Anderson wasn’t active for that game and he led all rookies with 44 pressures on the season. If Jonathan Greenard can go this will be a completely different game for the Browns offensively. I’d also expect Ryans to throw the kitchen sink at Amari Cooper unlike what happened last time. Ryans likes to keeps his corners on the same side of the field, but he may have to revise that strategy if Cooper is healthy and effective. The Texans showed last week that they can still be had on the ground, so I’d expect the Browns to give that a try at least early in the game.
How will the Browns defense attack the Texans?
Just like on defense, this is a completely different Texans team. Case Keenum couldn’t throw the ball beyond 20 yards and Davis Mills played mostly in garbage time. C.J. Stroud can throw it anywhere on the field physically and that will open things up a bit for the Texans passing game. I probably wrote this last time, but the Texans’ running game must do enough to keep the defensive line honest. If he has time to attack them down the field he just might connect on one or two.
How will the Texans offense attack the Browns?
The Browns had the best pass defense in the NFL by a wide margin and that showed up on Christmas Eve. Granted, Case Keenum can’t throw certain routes, but he didn’t get time to do that anyway. Stroud will have more success because he is more gifted physically, but he will need to make quicker decisions. As much as we might love the 75 yard bomb to Nico Collins, that route might not be there. He must take what he is given and remain patient. He can hope the defense doesn’t give up 36 points again because if that happens it will likely mean lights out.
How will the Texans defense attack the Browns?
As crazy as this sounds, you have to dare Joe Flacco to beat you. Playoff games are about making the biggest percentage bet and hoping for the best. If the Texans allow the Browns to run the ball like the Colts did they will have no chance. Flacco might very well beat them and if he does you simply tip your cap and pack your bags. Still, he has been very ordinary for much of his career and even in that game he showed he will make a mistake or two. You just have to capitalize on it when he does.