Skip to main content

Know Your Foe: Cleveland Browns | Wild Card Round


When the Cleveland Browns came to NRG Stadium three weeks ago, it was perhaps the darkest, and most disappointing, afternoon of the entire season as the Browns walloped the Texans 36-22 in a game that really didn't FEEL that close. In an extremely bright season for the Texans, that was the toughest day of the year, no question. Lo and behold, it's the Browns that will come to NRG Stadium on Saturday for a Wild Card playoff game, the first playoff game at NRG Stadium since the Texans beat the Buffalo Bills in overtime in 2019.

After the Christmas Eve game was over, I said that the Browns were the best team that the Texans had faced this year. However, the Texans team that took the field that day was not the one that knocked out Indianapolis last Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium. Let me just read to you the Texans inactive list for that first matchup back on Christmas Eve.

C.J. Stroud

Will Anderson Jr.

Blake Cashman

Teair Tart

Furthermore, DE Jonathan Greenard went out on the third play of the game as well. Now, how many of those guys play in this game remains to be seen, but all of them played last week against the Colts, minus Greenard. It may mean nothing, but it may mean something to have potentially three of the team's best seven players back for this matchup with QB Joe Flacco.

Does their presence alone guarantee a win? Not at all; let me be clear. However, their return does change the dynamic of this second matchup. There are so many other aspects to consider in this one and I'll do that with my Keys to the Game below. As such, let's get to Know the Texans' Wild Card Weekend opponent - The Cleveland Browns…again.

2023 Schedule (11-6)

Week 1 - W Cincinnati Bengals 24-3

Week 2 - L @ Pittsburgh Steelers 26-22

Week 3 - W Tennessee Titans 27-3

Week 4 - L Baltimore Ravens 28-3

Week 5 - BYE

Week 6 - W San Francisco 49ers 19-17

Week 7 - W @ Indianapolis Colts 39-38

Week 8 - L @ Seattle Seahawks 24-20

Week 9 - W Arizona Cardinals 27-0

Week 10 - W @ Baltimore Ravens 33-31

Week 11 - W Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10

Week 12 - L @ Denver Broncos 29-12

Week 13 - L @ Los Angeles Rams 36-19

Week 14 - W Jacksonville Jaguars 31-27

Week 15 - W Chicago Bears 20-17

Week 16 - W @ Houston Texans 36-22

Week 17 - W New York Jets 37-20

Week 18 - L @ Cincinnati Bengals 31-14

Browns (in 2023 regular season)

Rushing Yards Per game - 118.6 ypg (12th in the NFL)

Passing Yards Per game - 217.2 ypg (19th)

Total offense per game - 335.9 ypg (16th)

Turnovers lost - 37 (23 INT, 14 Fumbles lost)

Expected Browns starting offense for Wild Card Weekend


RB - Jerome Ford

WR - Amari Cooper


TE - David Njoku

TE - Harrison Bryant


LG - Joel Bitonio

C - Nick Harris

RG - Wyatt Teller

RT - James Hudson III

Other Key Offensive pieces


RB - Kareem Hunt

WR - David Bell





Italics - Rookie

ALL CAPS - New to team in 2023

Keys to winning v. the Browns Offense

  1. The 'ol Gunslinger is THRIVING - On the first play of the Week 16 matchup in Houston, Browns QB Joe Flacco announced his presence with authority. He saw quarters coverage and knew he was taking a shot to WR Amari Cooper. He hit that one for 53 yards and then proceeded to throw one DIME after another. The deep shot to Cooper to start the game. The deep shot to Cooper for the 75-yard touchdown. The throw to TE David Njoku for a touchdown. DIME. DIME. DIME. All of them, DIMES! He was as accurate as any QB the Texans had faced in 2023 and that's what the Texans have to account for in this matchup. If the Texans can get heat on Flacco, then maybe that can disrupt his accuracy. If the Texans coverage can be MUCH stickier, then maybe that'll allow them to make plays on those accurate throws. Those are two MASSIVE IFs, but that's really the way to disrupt this offense. The Texans couldn't do those things three weeks ago and that MUST change on Saturday.
  1. Coooooooop, again- Since Browns WR Amari Cooper lit up the Texans for 265 yards and two touchdowns on Christmas Eve, you and I have as many catches in NFL games as Cooper. Okay, technicality, sure, but that was the last game that Cooper played after dealing with an injury (heel). Now, the Jets game was just four days after that win over the Texans and the Browns didn't need to play him in week 18 as the AFC's 5th slot was sewn up heading into the matchup with the Bengals. So, Saturday will be his first game back since THAT game against the Texans. As Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans pointed out a few times since that game, Cooper made some of the best catches he's seen all year. He did, no doubt, but he also was able to get loose down the field with not a ton of interference, so to speak. He's a brilliant route runner and that got him separation throughout the game. It was the only time all year that he'd been targeted 15 times and we saw the result. As such, the Texans must send the message early that it's best to go elsewhere. Double him. Cut his underneath routes. Jam him to disrupt timing. Whatever can, and needs to, be done to slow Cooper MUST be done and we have 265 reasons why that's the case.
  1. Eliminate it…completely - It's been impressive to see the Browns offense transform itself throughout this season. At the outset, this was a Nick Chubb, run-first offense, complemented by QB Deshaun Watson's movement. For the past seven weeks or so, it's become a throw first offense, led by 38-year old Joe Flacco with the run game pitching in when it can. But, the best thing the Texans defense can do is make the Browns COMPLETELY one dimensional - just eliminate the run game completely and then show Flacco some different looks than the first meeting. It may not result in stopping the Browns offense altogether, but it may slow it down enough to keep it from exploding yet again. Keeping it from exploding should allow the Texans offense to make its own dent in the Browns D.

Browns DEFENSE (in 2023 regular season)

Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 105.5 ypg (11th in the NFL)

Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 164.7 ypg (1st)

Total offense Allowed per game - 270.2 ypg (1st)

Turnovers generated - 28 (18 INT, 10 Fumble recoveries - Browns are -9 in TO margin)

Expected Browns starting defense for Wild Card Weekend

DE - Myles Garrett




LB - Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

LB - Sione Takitaki

LB - Tony Fields II

CB - Denzel Ward


S - Juan Thornhill 

CB - Martin Emerson Jr.

Nickel -  Greg Newsome

Other Key Defensive pieces

DE - Alex Wright


DT - Jordan Elliott


S - D'Anthony Bell



Italics - Rookie

ALL CAPS - New to team in 2023

Keys to winning v. the Browns' Defense

  1. Finding his matchup- In the first matchup, Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett didn't wreck the game as many surmised he might. He didn't really have to, unfortunately, as the Browns had control of the game from jump. But, in this matchup, I have a feeling that Browns DC Jim Schwartz will do something a little different with Garrett. Schwartz didn't move Garrett around the formation as I've seen Schwartz do with Garrett throughout the 2023 season due to the fact that he didn't have to in that win over the Texans. There's no holding back in this one, though, so I expect Schwartz to find Garrett his best matchup throughout the game. That could come from the inside where Colts DT DeForest Buckner had success last Saturday night. Mind you, he didn't wreck the game but he CERTAINLY made an impact. Garrett can do the same from inside, outside, up high, down low and all over the place, honestly. The Texans have so much to worry about with the Browns front, but Garrett is Public Enemy #1 this week, no matter where he lines up.
  1. No JOKe - Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is even better than I thought he was coming out of college. It's as if the Browns read my 2021 scouting report and decided they were the one team that could maximize his value.

"The old school tweener, the hybrid (JOK) can be ULTRA important to a defense only if a team understands how to deploy the weapon. JO-K should play a hybrid linebacker/nickel position because he plays the run as well as he does out in space and can cover inside. He's the type of player I want to have on the field against 11 personnel, especially if that tight end is a decent blocker. If teams want to stay run/pass balanced out of 11 personnel, they need to have that type of tight end and, as a result, a defense has to have a player that can cover that tight end but not give up anything in run defense. That's what JO-K can do for a defense. I think it would be difficult to ask him to play inside the box at a stack position full-time because trying to navigate chaos and trash at his feet is difficult, especially so at 215 lb. But, if he can be a Will in base/a nickel in sub and do what he did at Notre Dame, he's going to be wildly successful."

The Browns have completely maximized what JOK can do…unfortunately, and how he fits within this defensive scheme. In the first game, he was even more impressive than I had seen on film and the Texans must find a way to get a hat on him in the run game, in particular. 

  1. Attack from play one - I don't ultimately expect the Texans to take a page out of their own book from last week or the Browns' book in week 16 and go deep on the first play of the game. But, BUT, I do think that the Texans have to attack this outstanding Browns defense. It's the number one unit in the league. It doesn't softshoe anything. So, how do you beat the big, bad bully? Hit it right in the mouth and let it know that you're going to be attacking, and on them, all day. Relentless pressure in both the run and pass game. Changing tempos to keep them from dictating the game. Attack mindset throughout the game. Again, I don't think C.J. to Nico on play one for 75 yards is going to happen but I do think that the Texans' offense must take what it wants in this game. There's a fine line, to be sure, between being reckless/stupid and being aggressive but attacking is what this Texans offense does best. So…do it and do it WELL.

Related Content