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NFL playoffs: 3 ways that the Browns can exploit Houston’s defense

Kevin Stefanski can do a few things on Saturday that’ll give the Texans’ defense a headache

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns head down to Texas on Saturday to play the Houston Texans in the first round of the 2024 NFL Playoffs.

Their first matchup back in Week 16 went completely in the Browns’ favor, and the team is hoping that this weekend’s rematch will result in more of the same. There’s a good chance that Cleveland will be heading into the game fairly healthy as well, especially at the wide receiver position which has been spotty over the final two weeks of the regular season for the Browns. Though Cedric Tillman is still in concussion protocol, both Amari Cooper and Elijah Moore should be good to go on Saturday. If Tillman is indeed ruled out, which is likely, then expect David Bell to handle a larger workload in the slot.

This “hungry” Cleveland Browns team looks to carry over its recent success into the playoffs this weekend. Though Houston’s defense has been very good during the regular season, there are a few schematic ways that Kevin Stefanski can take advantage of them.

Get the screen game going early

The Texans’ defense has been incredibly good at rushing the passer in 2023, and both of their star pass rushers should be healthy and active against Cleveland in this game. Jonathan Greenard and rookie sensation Will Anderson led the charge for a group that had the 3rd-highest pass-rush win rate (52%) in the NFL, 5th in total pressure rate (25.2%), and combined for 46 sacks in 17 games.

One of the most effective ways an offense can deal with an elite pass rush is with an effective screen game, which just so happens to be an area where the Browns already thrive. If Cleveland’s offensive tackles are having a rough time during the first couple of scripted drives, then Stefanski will undoubtedly start to work in some screen variations.

Attack the deep third of the field

Joe Flacco and Cleveland’s passing attack had an absolute field day in their first meeting with the Texans in Week 16. Amari Cooper set a franchise record with 265 receiving yards, and Flacco averaged a whopping 13.6 yards per completion on the day.

Regardless of the coverage or personnel, Houston had no chance against the Browns’ explosive passing attack. It seemed like every other completion was 15-20 yards downfield, and it would be wise for this offense to keep “going deep” until the Texans can effectively adjust. Once they do, it’ll open up more opportunities elsewhere for Stefanski to take advantage of.

Get the ball to David Njoku early and often

The Houston Texans are currently last in the NFL when it comes to effectively covering tight ends. They’re allowing the position to average 6.3 receptions and 60.2 receiving yards per game, as well as 9.6 yards per catch.

David Njoku is having a career year and has proven to be one of the best tight ends in the league this season, especially when it comes to gaining yards after the catch. Once the ball is in his hands, he's incredibly tough to bring down and usually requires multiple defenders to do so.

One of the main reasons why Houston has been so bad against tight ends is due to their young linebackers’ inability to cover the position effectively. Whether it’s blown assignments or missed tackles, tight ends are consistently able to run rampant on the Texans.

If Kevin Stefanski can continue to find ways to scheme him open this weekend, Njoku is going to end up having another monstrous game.

What are some of your “keys to the game” against Houston’s defense? Join fellow Browns fans in the comment section below.