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Browns' defense eager to take down Texans star rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud

Jan. 10—Myles Garrett and the rest of the Browns' defense will be prepared to take on Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud on Jan. 13 in a wild card playoff game in Houston. They were ready to face him when they met the Texans on Dec. 24 in the regular season, but a concussion forced Stroud to miss the game.

"Obviously a rookie, but he has command that goes beyond the usual scope of a rookie," Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Jan. 10. "He's decisive with the ball, an accurate passer, buys some time, makes big plays down the field.

"We're going to have to play tight coverage. We're going to have to stay after him in the pass rush and we're going to have to limit run after the catch because he does a good job of giving his guys opportunities to run after the catch."

Case Keenum started for the Texans in the Christmas Eve game. The Browns were cruising, 36-7, until the Texans scored two touchdowns on the Browns' backups in the fourth quarter.

The early preparation for Stroud will benefit the Browns when they meet the Texans in the wild card game, and if they play defense the way they have all season, they should be able to control Stroud and advance to the next round of the playoffs.

—The Browns led the NFL in total defense, allowing an average of 270.2 yards a game. The Kansas City Chiefs were second and allowed 289.8 yards a game.

—The Browns were first in pass defense, allowing a scant 164.7 yards a game. The Jets were a close second, allowing 168.4 yards a game.

—The Browns allowed the fewest first downs (253), were first in third-down efficiency (opponents converted just 29.1 percent of their third down opportunities) and first in fourth-down efficiency on defense (6/115 for 40 percent).

Here's another one: The Browns forced opponents to punt 112 times. That is the third most in league history (the 1984 L.A. Raiders forced 117) and the most since the 1999 Ravens forced 115 punts. The Raiders and Ravens set their marks in 16-game seasons.

"That sort of goes hand in hand with our third-down percentage," Schwartz said. "Our job is to win in scoring and try to get the ball back for the offense.

"After a slow start on (takeaways), I thought we did a pretty good job. "We were in that top five area. When you win on third down and force punts, you've done a good job."

The Browns finished the season with 18 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. The total tied for fifth in the league in takeaways.

The Browns turned the ball over a league-most 37 times — 23 interceptions and 14 lost fumbles.

The turnover battle is always key to any game, but it will be especially important when facing the Texans because Stroud, the former Ohio State Buckeye selected second in the 2023 draft (the Panthers selected Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick) has thrown 23 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. The Texans, in fact, turned the ball over a league fewest 14 times.

This is the first time since the AFL and NFL merged in 1970 that the team with the most turnovers and team with the fewest have will meet in a playoff game.

"He's a very accurate passer, puts the ball on the money, can make all the throws on the field, gets the ball to his playmakers, goes through his progression," Browns cornerback Denzel Ward said. "He's been having a really good year and is going to bring a challenge to us that I think we're up for. We just have to do our assignment and hopefully we can force some turnovers."

The Browns could have one key addition to the defense that did not play in the game with the Texans last month. Starting safety Grant Delpit, who was on injured reserve with a groin injury, was designated for return on Jan. 10. Delpit could be activated if practice goes well for him.