4 ways the Texans can limit Browns’ Joe Flacco and Amari Cooper

The Houston Texans have a rematch in the postseason!

After winning the AFC South last weekend, they’ve secured a home playoff matchup against the Cleveland Browns (Saturday, 3:30 p.m CT). The two played as recently as Christmas Eve, during which the Browns absolutely battered the Texans, without C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson, Blake Cashman and others, in a 36-22 Week 16 victory.

The initial matchup leaves some interesting questions for Houston on defense. They can expect their offensive output to improve dramatically with Stroud back under center, but they’ll have to play better to stop a Cleveland offense who had 418 total yards during the game.

Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 368 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions while wide receiver Amari Cooper had the best day of his career with 11 receptions for 265 yards and two scores.

There are certainly changes from the last time they played and ones that should give Houston fans optimism things will be different. Here are four of those developments that may play a huge role:

Put pressure on Joe Flacco

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco feasted on a weak Houston secondary the first contest, in large part because he had all day to throw.

Without Will Anderson and Jonathan Greenard, the Texans sacked Joe Flacco zero times. It allowed Amari Cooper and others to get open downfield and also kept the offense in advantageous spots.

Houston is expected to have their full arsenal of defensive lineman outside of Jerry Hughes, including more snaps for Anderson and the return of Greenard. They were one of the league’s better units at pressuring the quarterback and will need to quickly find their groove against a vulnerable Browns offensive line.

The ability to pressure Flacco and make the savvy veteran uncomfortable will play a huge role in whether or not this outcome is any different from the last time.

Safeties Step Up

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

To say that the Texans safety performance was weak during Week 16 could be, well, an understatement. It was egregious and even included head coach DeMeco Ryans benching 2022 breakout safety Jalen Pitre.

Cooper had seven receptions for 214 yards and two touchdowns on vertical combinations. A unbelievable performance without even accounting for shorter routes. This was in large part due to failures to communicate in the secondary.

This time around, there’s hope things should be different. Pitre has had more time to work with Kareem Jackson, Adrian Amos and DeAndre Houston-Carson. Ideally, this allows for not only more reliable play in defensive sets but also more creative coverage combinations.

Pitre has had a bit of a sophomore slump this season, it could be the perfect time for him to put it all together in Houston’s most dire moment.

DeMeco Ryans take advantage of his second chess match

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Bob Levey/Getty Images

When the Texans hired DeMeco Ryans this past offseason, everyone knew that Houston was getting one of the sharpest minds in football. Now, that immense skillset will need to be on full display.

The Browns offense is extremely sound fundamentally but they’re likely the kind of team that Ryans will be excited to face again. They struggled to run the ball in the first matchup as both running backs Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt averaged under 2.0 yards per carry. If they can play that way again, they have a chance to perform far differently.

This isn’t a Cleveland offense that necessarily has any “Rule Breakers.” Joe Flacco is not a huge secondary creator outside of the pocket and there is no Tyreek Hill-level threat that forces defenses to play a certain way.

Don’t be surprised if Ryans has a different gameplan, especially with guys like Blake Cashman back in the fold to defend the middle of the field. Houston will have the opportunity to try bracketing Cooper with their defensive backs, placing Cashman on lethal tight end David Njoku, and sending more exotic blitzes than the first contest.

Without the explosive plays that killed them last contest, it could be different very quickly. The Browns offense certainly isn’t an easy out, but they’re also one Ryans may be excited to get another chance at.

Don't fear to lean on Derek Stingley

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Stingley remains nationally the Texans secret weapon on defense. Most of the public still has no idea just how good the second year cornerback has been, as evidenced by the Pro Bowl voting despite Stingley taking home the December/January AFC Defensive Player of the Month.

Ryans’ system calls for cornerbacks to predominantly play sides. However, don’t be surprised if the team opts to move Stingley around to counter Cooper if the game script calls for it.

The splits between his coverage and Steven Nelson’s weren’t significantly different per NGS, however the season numbers tell a story that Houston may favor their former No. 3 overall pick.

It would be a bold decision to stray from their season strategy, but don’t be surprised if the Texans explore every possible avenue to have one of their most talented defensive players make an impact on the game.

Story originally appeared on Texans Wire