It’s almost that time. The road to Las Vegas for Super Bowl 58 starts on Saturday with Super Wild Card Weekend. Six matchups. Two on Saturday, three on Sunday, and one on Monday night.
We hope to witness cinema in those three weeks.
The Cleveland Browns will travel to Texas to take on the Houston Texans in a Week 16 rematch. Cleveland won that matchup easily but Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud didn’t play due to a concussion he suffered against the New York Jets. Stroud will be playing this time and he will be looking to make a statement this Saturday afternoon.
For the first time this season, Cleveland will be on NBC. The voices of Big Ten Saturday Night on NBC will call this game: Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge and Kathryn Tapper will be calling the game. Kickoff is at 4:30 pm.
How will C.J. Stroud look against one of the best defenses in the league?
If you followed Stroud during his time at Ohio State, you are already familiar with his game. His performance against the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff semifinal game in 2022 was one of the best performances we’ve seen from an Ohio State quarterback in quite some time.
Since Stroud was drafted by the Texans, he’s been sensational and there is no question that he is the slight favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, this Sunday he will be tested in one of the biggest games of his career so far. Stroud will be going up against the Browns, which has one of the best defenses in the league.
Cleveland ranks 1st in Defensive EPA/per play, 1st in Dropback EPA/per play and 1st in overall defense. The Browns will test Stroud in numerous ways.
#DawgPound The Browns have deployed Cover-1 at the 2nd-highest rate in the league (29.1%) with a corresponding 7th overall ranking in EPA allowed per dropback.— Cody Suek (@CodySuek) January 11, 2024
CJ Stroud is 26th in EPA per dropback vs. the coverage.
Cleveland has one of the best secondaries in the league, a formidable cornerback trio in Denzel Ward (who is questionable for the game), Martin Emerson and Greg Newsome and a reliable safety play despite Grant Delpit and Juan Thornhill missing games with safeties D’Anthony Bell and Ronnie Hickman rotating in.
For Stroud, he tends to struggle against teams that play a ton of man coverage, and Cleveland plays man coverage more times than not and Houston’s wide receivers struggle getting separation.
Look for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to mix up coverages to confuse the rookie quarterback and make life difficult for him.
How will both teams look in uncharted territory?
If you aren’t familiar with playoff football, playoff football is a different animal. It’s not the regular season, the environment and the intensity are different.
One game seasons.
It’s not a guarantee you will advance to the following week. Every drive, every possession matters.
Expect both teams to empty the tank, and play with a sense of urgency, passion and aggression. No one expected the Browns and the Texans to be in this situation but they are.
Both the Browns and Texans are scary in their own right, teams playing with house money and essentially nothing to lose at this point.
However, Cleveland has players with some playoff experience and a head coach who has experience coaching in the playoffs as the main guy. Houston is young, but they are hungry and determined. The Texans will receive a boost playing in front of their home crowd and it will be curious how they respond to the environment, considering that this is the first time since 2019 that they have returned to the postseason. Energy will be high, vibes will be high, we shall see how this plays out.
How will Cleveland look and respond in hostile territory?
Houston is by no means a tough place to play, but you can guarantee that the crowd will try to make things difficult for this Cleveland team. If there are two teams in this postseason that are battle-tested, it would be the Los Angeles Rams and the Browns.
Cleveland has dealt with a ton of adversity this season and it has made them a stronger team in terms of mental aspect. How many times have we seen this team claw their way back from improbable situations? How many times have we seen key guys go down with injuries for another guy to step in and fill in? It’s clear that the team has a vision and that they are locked in.
Amari Cooper said the team meeting Monday— the one that JOK said was the best he’s been a part of— featured only speakers who had been to a Super Bowl.— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) January 10, 2024
Joe Flacco and Rodney McLeod were among those who spoke.
It’s clear that the goal isn’t just to win a game or two.#Browns
JOK said Monday’s team meeting was the best he’s been a part of.— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) January 9, 2024
Said Joe Flacco’s message was about the fact that the emotions will go away and when they do, it’s about the simple things and the little details.
Said the message of intentionality really made its mark. #Browns
On Saturday, the team will approach this mindset with the idea that they need to take one game at a time and focus on what’s ahead of them. The AFC is wide open, there are teams that pose threats to the Browns but the team have this unwavering confidence that they have the potential to do special things.
It starts on Saturday.
One game at a time.
How will this team respond when things get dicey? Houston will score and make big plays (it’s common) but how will Cleveland respond when adversity strikes?
We will find out soon.