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Harris Hits: Wild Card Round vs. Cleveland Browns


My alarm was set for 8:30 am on Sunday morning; that was going to be sleeping in for me. But, the clock hit 6:35 am, I'm wide awake and wanted nothing more than to watch 45-14 all over again. It was my third viewing in the last 24 hours. Marc Vandermeer and I talk all the time about games with names and I have a feeling that "45-14" will be this game's name forever. Let's dive into some Harris Hits from the afternoon/evening spent at NRG Stadium.

I want to start at the beginning, like week two, the first game of the DeMeco Ryans era against the Indianapolis Colts. There was such great vibes coming out of training camp with DeMeco, C.J. and a strong defensive performance against Baltimore. I just remember thinking "this is when it starts. We're ready!".  Three hours later, the Colts served up a double digit loss to the Texans and the noise started all over again.


Same 'ol Texans.

Going to be the worst team in the league.

31st or 32nd in everyone's power rankings.

When Marc and I congregated on Monday for our Texans Monday radio show, we tried to stay positive, but both of us just sat and looked at each other like "what do we do now?" Prior to the start of the regular season, I was convinced, TOTALLY convinced that we were so much better than we'd been in previous years but two games in I was like "what the heck are we watching?" That was how the home season started.

View the best photos from the Wild Card Round matchup between the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns.

Now, fast forward to Saturday night. I'm walking out of the Stadium and I see Texans fans everywhere. They're all wearing different jerseys. A white #7. A red #51. A blue #24. One dude I saw had on pressed Wranglers and some sort of ostrich or alligator boots and a white Dameon Pierce jersey on. I took it all in and chuckled at how things had changed from week two. They all had smiles. They were jovial. They were fans of the 11-7, AFC South Champion Houston Texans, winners of a home playoff game for the fifth time in the history of the franchise. There was H-Town Made pride in every step they took. This is the team that Texans fans have waited for, very similar to the 2011 team that took the NFL world by storm 12 years ago, led by a veteran linebacker known as Cap. I got in my car and sat there and just chuckled to myself.

45-14. Damn, how did that happen?

One thing hit me in week 18 watching games throughout the league, including the Browns-Bengals game. Cleveland was one of those teams that sat a number of starters in anticipation of this matchup with the Texans. The Browns sat a number of stars but couldn't sit everyone, of course. But, then I looked at their inactive list when I put together my Know Your Foe article and it looked similar to the Texans inactive list from the previous Texans-Browns  meeting. Then, it hit me - Cleveland played our week-18-if-we'd-clinched-the division roster. They won that game 36-22 and walked out feeling like they were the better overall team. Shoot, a few of their players said those very words.

However, they didn't account for C.J. Stroud. They didn't account for 80% healthy, at best, Will Anderson and Jonathan Greenard. They didn't account for a healthy Blake Cashman. They didn't factor in the Texans REGULAR roster and that was a mistake.

Stroud was in control from the first throw to the last. He threw to Devin Singletary on a swing screen to get his confidence on the first play and then he started dealing. He finished with a 157.2 rating. Threw three TDs. He's the youngest starting QB to win a playoff game in NFL history. My goodness! My favorite throw was the one to Dalton Schultz. Here's how I described that throw just before half in my Big Play Breakdown

After getting a stop on the Browns drive, the Texans got the ball back one final time in the first half. But, a holding penalty on first down and a JOK TFL set the Texans back to 2nd and 20 at the Browns 37-yard line. The Texans came out in 21 personnel, with FB Andrew Beck lined up out wide to the right and TE Dalton Schultz as an in-line Y-TE on the right side. On the left side, WR Nico Collins was out wide with WR John Metchie III in the slot. Beck motioned into a wing position next to Schultz prior to the snap. C.J. faked an outside zone to the left as Metchie III ran back across the formation into the right flat. C.J. then booted back out to his right with all day to throw. As I'm watching this from my sideline spot, I could see Schultz running vertically up the field. With C.J. booting to his right, I did expect Schultz to run the corner route to that side, but he planted his foot and went completely back the other way, running AWAY from Stroud to the left side. But, Cleveland's safeties expected him to run that corner route too and moved to the right side of the field. They were fooled. Stroud had all day and then lofted one to the WIDE open left side of the field. All it then took was for Schultz to run through the beautiful pass, snatch the rock and score a backbreaking 37-yard TD to make it 24-14 at the half.

Stroud's best throw was the one to Nico Collins heading into the North end zone in the first quarter. Nico was probably the third read, maybe the fourth, but as C.J. scanned the field, he eventually saw Collins down the field and let it go just as he was being hit (the only Browns QB hit of the game). Nico made one heck of an adjustment and the Texans were in business.

Speaking of Collins, he's taken his game to a different level in the last three games - 22 catches for 371 yards and two TD. His catch and run game has been a MASSIVE part of this offense. Against Indy, he set up Andrew Beck's touchdown in the first half on a 29-yard screen and, on Saturday, he scored the first of six Texans TDs on another tunnel screen, led by Laremy Tunsil. He nearly had another deep TD as he torched a Cleveland DB but C.J. just missed him for another long TD catch. It didn't matter as Nico did more than enough with the six catches (for 96 yards and a TD) he did have on Saturday afternoon.

If there's a hotter Texan than Stroud and Nico, it's got to be linebacker Christian Harris. In the three biggest games of the year (the last three), he has 25 tackles, four passes defensed, 2.0 sacks, 4.0 TFL and SOARING confidence. He left the game for a bit against the Browns due to an injury but went right back into the game at the exact right time. His pick six set NRG Stadium OFF for the second straight defensive drive and it was a play in which Harris read Flacco's eyes the entire way. What I loved even more about it was that DeMeco Ryans pointed out a similar play against Tennessee in week 17. Coach noted that they've been working with Christian on that same route all season long. Against the Titans, he knocked down that fourth down play at the goal line. Against the Browns, he picked it off and HOUSED it. What a game he had - eight tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 TFL and one coffin sealing pick six.

On that pick six, the overhead video that I saw showed the reaction of players as Harris sprinted for the end zone. On that view, I could see Derek Stingley Jr. jumping around and celebrating as his Baton Rouge pal headed for the end zone. Put it this way, he looked like I do many times celebrating plays on the sideline. It was one of my favorite moments on the day.

That was the second pick six on the day. I can't say that I remember a Texans game with multiple pick sixes and it was the first time since 2008 any NFL team had multiple pick sixes in a playoff game (Seattle Seahawks). The first pick six was courtesy of Steven Nelson. Well, he was the recipient but it was DE Derek Barnett that made the play. He torched RT James Hudson around the edge and had Joe Flacco wrapped up around the waist. As he slung Flacco around, the Browns QB tried to throw it away…tried, being the key word. As the ball hung in the air, I could see Nelson out of the corner of my eye and I knew it was a definite pick. Then, the Texans defense turned into an offensive blocking unit. Des King cut off Browns TE David Njoku. Blake Cashman buried Browns OG Wyatt Teller. Derek Stingley Jr. sprinted all the way from the other side of the field to block Browns RB Jerome Ford. Nelson just hauled you-know-what 82 yards untouched into the end zone with the first pick six in the playoffs since J.J. Watt's famous pick six in 2011.

Go back and watch that pick six and watch the bench ERUPT! Seeing offensive players jump off the bench to run down the field to celebrate that pick six was awesome. Just freakin' awesome.

What a season Devin 'Motor' Singletary has put together. He's been flat out awesome in every facet. He didn't get a ton on the ground, but he knifed through the Browns defense for a pair of great runs. The first came on the first TD drive on a counter flip play that was blocked beautifully. The second was his TD run, which was equally as impressive. It was a power play to the right and he saw a cutback lane all the way to the left. He darted underneath JOK and sprinted into the end zone with a little leap over the goal line. The last playoff game he played at NRG Stadium gave me a heart attack because he was brilliant for the Bills that day. He's been brilliant for the Texans since he's taken over as the #1 RB in this offense and he loves being in Houston.

This game changed because Will Anderson Jr and Jonathan Greenard were able to play alongside Derek Barnett and Myjai Sanders. But, the interior DUDES duded out as well against the Browns stout interior. Kurt Hinish had a sack. Maliek Collins had a TFL and a QB hit. Khalil Davis had a TFL. It was a masterful performance for the defense, especially after the 12 minute mark in the second quarter. The Texans gave up a shovel pass TD to Kareem Hunt at 12:33 of the second quarter and then not one more point the rest of the game. The pressure the Texans got on Joe Flacco was immense, especially once the run game had been completely eliminated from the Browns' playbook. The pressure the Browns COULDN'T get on C.J. Stroud was the story on the other side of the ball.

I posted on Sunday morning a Laremy Tunsil appreciation tweet. He's been banged up all season long and went out of the game on Saturday due to a knee issue. However, he returned and put on a show. Put it this way, the Browns had ONE QB hit. ONE. Potential DPOY Myles Garrett had three tackles. That's it. Za'Darius Smith had the one QB hit in the game after terrorizing Texans QBs in week 16. Tunsil and company just didn't allow anyone to breathe in the same air space as Stroud. It was awesome to watch. Tunsil was a technician - feet, hips, hands, levers all working in concert to shut down Garrett one rep after the next. Loved every single one of his reps all game long. RT George Fant didn't play in that first meeting and he was great on the right side against Smith and others. These two tackles just shut it down on the edge.

What was also awesome to watch was Brevin Jordan run. RUN LIKE THE WIND, BREV! The play that Brevin scored on was one of two offensive plays that worked against the Jets in week 14. But, this time, Brevin got a head of steam, blew through a shoddy tackle attempt by Browns DB Martin Emerson Jr and then started hauling a--. No one caught him. 76 yards later and the Texans took back the lead 17-14. The Texans tight ends combined for two TDs with both Schultz and Jordan scoring in a game for the first time all season.

It was an afternoon we'll all remember and it's on to, well, we don't quite know yet. We do know it's Baltimore or Kansas City but wherever it is, it's another week of football with one of the most fun groups I've been around in my ten years on the sideline. Now, it's time to be Playoff Road Warriors! Let's GO!!

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