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NFL playoffs: What We Learned from Texans' blowout win over Browns on Super Wild Card Weekend

Houston Texans
2023 · 11-7-0
Cleveland Browns
2023 · 11-7-0

  1. C.J. Stroud sensational in Texans' romp over Browns. The Houston quarterback continued his electric rookie season, shining Saturday on the playoff stage. Stroud played marvelously, never rattled, had every answer pre- and post-snap, and diced up the NFL's No. 1 rated defense. The QB zipped darts confidently into tight spaces and dropped perfect bombs. Stroud's poise in the pocket is off the charts for a rookie. He never panicked on Saturday and made subtle moves to avoid rushers. Stroud finished 16 of 21 for 274 yards and three TDs for a near-perfect 157.2 passer rating. His stats would have been inflated had it not been for two third-quarter pick-sixes that kept him on the sideline for a long chunk of the second half. He was also pulled for backup Davis Mills late in the blowout. Offense coordinator Bobby Slowik called a masterful game, keeping the Browns off-balance, giving his rookie QB the answers, and setting up good yard-after-catch plays for his receivers. Houston gobbled up 356 yards before taking their foot off the pedal late, steamrolling a Cleveland D that had discombobulated opponents all season.
  2. Joe Flacco's magic runs out. The veteran QB entered the game 5-0 in his career in wild card games. The Texans put a big blemish on that record. Flacco played well early, splashing big plays, including a 47-yard dart to Harrison Bryant and a 45-yarder to David Njoku, in an early shootout. After Cleveland took a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter, things spiraled into a black hole. Trailing by 10 at halftime, Flacco threw back-to-back pick-sixes in the third quarter to end the Browns' chance at a comeback. The first INT was a brutal decision by the QB, who tried to get rid of the ball while getting hit and threw it right to corner Steven Nelson. It was one the veteran should have eaten. Flacco played very well since taking over under center for the injury-riddled Browns in November, but he threw at least one INT in every game. The turnovers doomed them on Saturday. With no run-game support, Falcco put the ball up 46 times, completing 34 for 307 yards with one TD, two INTs, while taking four sacks in the blowout. It worked in the regular season but wasn't a formula for the Browns to be successful in the playoffs.
  3. Texans D strikes back against the Browns. In the Week 16 games against Cleveland, Houston got ripped apart by Flacco, allowing 368 passing yards, including 265 to Amari Cooper. In the rematch, DeMeco Ryan's crew pressured the QB, forced game-changing turnovers, and smothered everything the Browns attempted from the second quarter on. Rookie Will Anderson generated a game-high seven pressures with a sack. Derek Barnett was sensational off the edge (six pressures, one sack). Linebacker Christian Harris flew around, earning a pick-six and a sack. The secondary flew around, smothering Cooper and the rest of the Browns wideouts. Unlike during the regular season, Ryans deployed Derek Stingley Jr. primarily on Cooper. Per Next Gen Stats, Stingley aligned on Cooper on 35 of 49 routes (71.4%). The stud corner allowed zero catches to Cooper on one target with an average separation of 0.7 yards. The Texans held the hobbled Cooper to four catches for 59 yards. It might go overlooked with the defensive touchdowns in a blowout, but Stingley's play was a massive difference in the Super Wild Card Weekend win.  
  4. Browns' defense once again struggles on the road. Jim Schwartz's defense entered Sunday attempting to silence the road struggles. The Browns allowed 29.6 PPG (T-last) and 331.3 total yards per game on the road in the regular season. They got blasted once again. The Browns gave up 356 total yards and an 8.1 yards per play to Houston. The defensive scores tilted the scoreboard in the second half, but the Texans were slicing through Clevland's D even before (10.6 yards per play on 27 plays in the first half). Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (nine tackles, four TFLs, three pressures) was the only defender who came to play. Myles Garrett was silenced, earning just two QB pressures. Cleveland earned zero sacks and nine total pressures. The secondary was ripped apart, allowing Texans receivers free paths, and struggled to tackle in space, giving up 176 yards after the catch. The Browns leaned on the defense all season to get them into the playoffs. Saturday, it collapsed.
  5. DeMeco Ryans leads Texans to first playoff win since 2019. The first-year head coach led a youth-laden team to the playoffs for the first time since 2019. Not only did they win, Ryan's club dominated. All the young players came to play: Stroud, Anderson, Nico Collins, Stingley, et al. When greenhorns play as loose and mistake-free ball as Ryans' club did Saturday, that's a credit to the coaching staff, top to bottom. Houston wasn't just happy to be in the tournament. They were ready to make some noise. They'll be making plenty for years to come. Next on the docket for Ryans: The Texans have never won multiple playoff games in a season. They'll get a shot to wipe out that stat in the Divisional Round next week.

Next Gen stat of the game: C.J. Stroud averaged a career-high +0.69 EPA per dropback in his postseason debut, the most by a rookie QB in a playoff game in the NGS era. Stroud completed 7 of 8 passes under pressure for 118 yards and was not sacked.

NFL Research: The Texans became the fourth team in NFL history to win a playoff game with a rookie head coach (DeMeco Ryans) & a rookie starting QB (C.J. Stroud), joining the 1945 Rams, 2008 Ravens & 2009 Jets.

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