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Browns, Texans Winners & Losers: Cleveland taken to the wood shed 45-14 - Brownies & Frownies

Everything ends when it should, just why so ugly

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns had the luck of the seeding in the AFC playoffs in the sense that the AFC South Division winner would appear to be the weakest team. In the end, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost a three-game division lead and eventually lost the crown to the Houston Texans.

Cleveland and Houston played each other in Week 16 in Houston. The Browns dominated the Texans who then tried to climb back into the game but eventually lost 36-22. QB Joe Flacco threw for 368 yards with three TD passes along with two picks. WR Amari Cooper had a terrific game with 265 yards and two scores.

But the playoffs are a different animal. It is literally one-and-done. This game essentially had nothing to do with the previous Browns win. Since that victory, Cleveland has lost several key players and has a long list of starters on the IR list. In fact, there just may be the makings of an All-Star team on the Browns’ IR.

Being in the playoffs is special and only 14 or 32 clubs get to experience it. In the end, Cleveland did not play well on both sides of the ball and was embarrassed 45-14 as both the offense and defense played poorly.

So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?


BROWNIES

LB JOK -Absolute demon in the first half with several tackles for loss. Seven tackles in the first half alone with three tackles for loss. Early in the first quarter he saw the run and filled the gap before stopping RB Devin Singletary for a loss. With 8:52 left in the first half, JOK combined with Myles Garrett to nail RB Dameon Pierce for a loss. On the very next play, JOK read the screen and filled the open gap to tackle Singletary for yet another loss that forced a third-and-13. Six minutes later, JOK came up the middle and met Singletary as he was getting the handoff. Early in the third quarter, WR Nico Collins attempted a jet sweep to which JOK took the correct angle and planted Collins for a loss. Led all Browns defenders with nine total tackles and four tackles for loss.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

RB Kareem Hunt - Not a lot of carries, but is a touchdown machine. On the shuttle pass for a touchdown in the second quarter, LG Michael Dunn took his man Maliek Collins to the left while RG Wyatt Teller pushed Kurt Hinish to the rightside as C Ethan Pocic took on the linebacker Blake Cashman at the second level. Hunt was hit by S Kareem Jackson at the two but busted the attempted tackle for the score. Had a great run up the middle in the fourth quarter for seven that he almost broke. The first touchdown he showed patience as LG Joel Bitonio pulled and Hunt simply followed his block of LB Denzel Perryman. Had eight rushes for 26 yards and added five catches for nine yards with Cleveland’s only points in the game with two touchdowns.

TE David Njoku - Was very productive although the majority of his action was in the first half. Had a nice gain early in the game and set the standard for QB Joe Flacco’s targets. Late in the second quarter, he gained a crucial first down to move the sticks. With 10:37 left in the third quarter, he caught a Flacco pass at the 22-yard line and then was tackled at the 33. Seven minutes later, he nabbed a pass in the short middle zone for 16 yards. He did drop a fourth-and-three late in the game. Led all Browns receivers with 11 targets, and seven receptions for 93 yards.


FROWNIES

Back-to-back pick sixes - The first interception the Browns had a nice drive going. Njoku was open in the left flats for a short gain, but RT James Hudson allowed DE Derek Barnett a free run at QB Joe Flacco who was hit as he threw and the ball sailed into the waiting arms of Steven Nelson who came off his coverage of David Bell and then took it 82 yards to the house. On the following Cleveland possession, on a fourth-and-three, Flacco telegraphed his pass to which LB Christian Harris jumped the pass and took that throw to the house as well. Those 14 defensive points basically deflated the Browns, and essentially the game was over.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

RT James Hudson - On the very last play of the 2023 season, it was Hudson missing the block of Barnett once again and being a spectator for yet another Texans sack. With 25 ticks left in the third quarter, Hudson whiffed on DE Jonathan Greenard who planted Flacco for the sack. The Texans applied constant pressure in the passing game as Hudson was the biggest sieve all game. The first pick-six was Hudson’s man Barnett hitting Flacco as he was trying to throw the deep ball.

S Ronnie Hickman - Made several critical mistakes in the first half. On the touchdown catch and run by TE Brevin Jordan, Hickman had the angle but failed to fight through the block of WR Xavier Hutchinson as Jordan ran past him. With 8:49 left in the second quarter, Collins ran right past Hickman for a certain TD but luckily the pass was overthrown. With just over two minutes left in the half, Hickman had a critical pass interference call on a third-and-four with an obvious jersey pull on an overthrown pass. On Houston’s next possession, the touchdown pass to Schultz was in Hickman’s area but sadly #33 was nowhere in the frame and scored to make it 24-14.

Not doubling #12 - WR Nico Collins killed the Browns’ defense in the first half, yet, every time he went out for a pass he was single-covered. What? For one, nobody covered him closely anyway, but to leave one man to deal with him was ludicrous. Collins had 86 yards with a touchdown and a 21.5-yard average in the first half alone. Short routes, long post patterns, and jet sweeps did not matter as Collins had plenty of room to catch the ball and then head upfield. Had 96 yards for the game and should have had another TD with the overthrown pass.

Fourth down plays - Not only were the Browns 1-5 on fourth downs, but horrible things occurred. Flacco did get a first down on a QB sneak, but it was downhill after that. The second pick-six was on a fourth-and-two. On the next possession facing a fourth-and-six, RG Wyatt Teller blocked nobody and the linebacker Harris had a straight shot for the sack. Njoku dropped a fourth-and-three while Hudson whiffed on the block of Barnett for a 4-6 for yet another sack on the Browns’ final play of this season.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland’s offense second half - The Browns were just down 10 at the half. Houston got the ball first after halftime and after five plays punted. Then the Cleveland offense drove down to the Texans’ 34-yard line looking for points. The 82-yard pick-six ended that. Then the next pick six. It was like the offense just shut down for the remainder of the contest. Second-half possessions for the offense: Pick-six, pick-six, downs, downs, downs. Total offense in the second half was 155 passing yards and a paltry 56 rushing yards for a grand total of 184 yards, 0-4 on fourth downs, 4-8 on third down conversions, and zero points.

Browns first two drives - Cleveland did not establish any offensive rhythm early on as they had drives of four and three plays to begin the game that included two downs for loss yardage. The Texans had a good pass rush early on which became a theme for the contest as they finished with four sacks, seven QB hits, and 11 tackles for loss.

Goose egg - All of these celebrated Browns pass rushers, yet zero sacks.

Pass defense - Wait, wasn’t Cleveland the best pass defense in the league? The Texans torched them for huge gains all game. This effort made a rookie QB look like a seasoned Pro Bowler who finished with three touchdown passes and a 157.2 QB rating. Horrible outing.


Milk Bones – Friends come and go but enemies accumulate

CB M.J. Emerson - When the tight end Jordan was heading downfield, Emerson and Hickman had the angle. Hickman was blocked out and then Jordan juked Emerson out and found nothing but green for the score. Ended up Emerson was the last defender who could have stopped the long touchdown. Emerson nailed QB C.J. Stroud with 6:06 left in the first quarter for no gain but missed another tackle moments later. He had a nice open-field tackle on Hutchinson in the second quarter when it appeared the play would go for a long gain.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

DE Alex Wright - Part of what the defensive end’s duties are is contain, yet Wright consistently gave up the corner as he either rushed into the middle or was blocked there. Singletary had a huge 29-yard gain with just two minutes left in the first quarter to Wright’s side as nobody was home with the corner wide open. The 19-yard Singletary run for the touchdown early in the fourth quarter was to the leftside where Wright should have been. Wright had some good moments rushing the passer.

TE Harrison Bryant - Made a great wide-open catch at the three-yard line coming from his fullback position with 3:01 left in the opening quarter and all he had to do was stretch the ball out over the goal line as he was being tackled by S Deandre Houston-Carson just feet from the end zone if he had switched the ball to his outside hand. On the Browns’ next possession, he caught a great pass from Flacco and then raced downfield with only Houston-Carson to beat, but again, he failed to switch the ball from his right hand to his outside hand and thus was not able to fight off the tackle or attempt a stiff-arm with a free hand. Somebody, please coach him on switching the ball. Part of the reason is that if a fumble does occur, it is more likely to go out of bounds from the outside hand, plus the receiver now has a hand to fend off defenders with. Bryant converted a key third-and-seven in the fourth quarter. Finished with four catches for 65 yards.

QB Joe Flacco - Played well in the first half and was able to move the ball with two scores and had the Browns in the game at the half. The second half was an absolute nightmare. After the second pick-six in successive drives, Cleveland could have packed up all their stuff and left the building because it was over. This was Flacco’s fault as everyone knows he is interception-prone. The QB sneak for the first down was a crowning moment, and he was able to use Njoku and WR David Bell more since the Texans decided to take WR Amari Cooper out of the equation. 34-46 for 307 yards with two picks and one TD, and an 80.6 QB rating. Nice first half, a horrible, horrible second half when this offense needed his veteran presence the most. Was a nice story while it lasted, but the ending was shockingly bad and putrid. So please, no more Flacco Browns 2024 talk.

NFL: JAN 13 AFC Wild Card - Browns at Texans Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

WR David Bell - Took advantage of his opportunities with a nice game. Wasn’t used in the first half, but with 6:30 left in the third quarter he snagged a nice ball as he collided with LB Blake Cashman. With five minutes left in the game, Bell got a first down to advance the sticks to the 43-yard line. Finished with eight catches for 54 yards and eight targets.

Poll

What was the biggest factor in the loss?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Over confidence since the Browns had dominated the Texans earlier in the year
    (115 votes)
  • 2%
    Lack of offensive production
    (16 votes)
  • 53%
    Lack of this defense stopping the pass
    (364 votes)
  • 20%
    Both pick sixes
    (142 votes)
  • 7%
    Could not run the ball at all
    (49 votes)
686 votes total Vote Now