2. Za’Darius Smith is a bad man
If you were to look at mere stats, it would seem as though Za’Darius Smith has been quiet in 2023. The Browns added Smith in an offseason trade with Minnesota and expectations were through the roof since he and Myles Garrett were two of just a handful of players to record at least 10 sacks three times over the past four years.
Smith entered Week 16 with just 3.5 sacks on the season and he’s expressed frustration that his numbers were this low. Still, he’s been an effective player with 25 pressures while also having an 80.4 pass rush grade according to PFF. On Sunday, however, he might have finally broken the seal.
After a sack on third down was negated by a penalty in the first half, Smith responded by ending that same drive with a third-down sack — and this time, it stood. In the second half, he recorded another, this time giving his defense some much-needed momentum. A 17-yard run from Devin Singletary moved the ball to midfield but Smith sacked Case Keenum on the next play, pushing them back 10 yards.
He continued his elite afternoon late in the third when he forced a turnover on another play that won’t go into the stat sheet — at least not for him. Following Amari Cooper’s second touchdown, the Texans were trying to get back into the game and Keenum wound up for a deep pass. His arm was hit on the way forward by Smith and the ball floated right to Duron Harmon for the Browns second interception on the day.
Smith finished with two sacks and ave the team a scare when he was hobbled at the end of the game. He seemed fine by the time he got up which is great news. He's playing at an elite level and if that keeps up, they're going to be tough to deal with.