Wildcard weekend is officially set and the Cleveland Browns will be taking on the AFC South Champions, the Houston Texans this Saturday in Houston. In these playoff games, no matter who is playing, the elevated stakes lead to elevated play. Most times a team's star player has to step up to help lead his team because now is the time where they are needed the most.
So it does make sense that a lot of attention would be paid to the best player on the NFL’s No. 1 defense in the 2023 playoffs. Myles Garrett will be the top player to watch against the Houston Texans.
It will be a different experience for Garrett personally this time around. The last time the Browns were in the playoffs, he was recently recovering from COVID-19 but still was able to make his presence known with 7 QB pressures and a sack across two games. This year not only is Garrett healthier, but his play has been a career-best.
Sure glancing at the initial stat sheet, Garrett's 14 sacks aren’t a yearly best but he's also logged the least amount of snaps since 2020. This is due to the defense's ability to get opposing offenses off the field quickly and often. Despite the lower snaps, Garrett had career highs in QB pressures(86), QB hurries(57), and forced fumbles(4).
Garrett's real impact on the game won’t show up in the box score, but there’s a reason why the NFLPA named him to an All-Pro team and Pro Football Focus named him their defensive player of the year. While he doesn’t lead the league in sacks, Garrett’s ability to pressure the quarterback speeds up players' time to throw.
This causes bad throws, which could result in incompletions or turnovers, but it also forces the QB to throw a shorter pass in an attempt to get the ball out. This year the Browns are fifth in the league with 28 turnovers, the most a Browns defense has had since 2018, and they are second in the league in net yards gained per pass attempt at 4.8. The 4.8 is the lowest allowed by any Browns defense since the franchise returned in ‘99.
Garrett needs a good game this weekend as the Browns are facing off against the Houston Texans. Their quarterback CJ Stroud has had a stellar rookie season and is in contention for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Looking at the stats you can see why.
He's eighth in the league with 4,108 passing yards, tied for sixth with three game-winning drives, and his 100.8 passer rating is good for sixth-best in the league. These numbers alone are impressive for any player, let alone a rookie. Like most quarterbacks though, Stroud’s play dips significantly when he is pressured by the defense.
His completion percentage goes from 68.8 to 52.1 and his passer rating goes from 110.7 to 77.2 when pressured vs when he throws from a clean pocket. Houston’s entire offense is dependent on Stroud too as their rushing attack is bottom ten in the league in yards, touchdowns, and yards per carry.
All in all like for most of the season, the Brown's hopes dwell on the shoulders of their elite defense. The same defense that helped them win against high-powered teams like the Ravens and 49ers. Garrett is their No. 1 defensive weapon and without him, the defense isn’t the best unit in football.
He will need to step up his game this week too as safety Grant Delpit has already been ruled out and cornerback Denzel Ward suffered a knee injury in practice leaving him questionable for Saturday's game. Garrett has a lot of accolades already in his career such as three All-Pros and five Pro Bowls, but a stunning playoff performance would cement that he really is this year's Defensive Player of the Year.