HomeFootball DirtAmari Cooper, Browns WR, to face Houston in playoffs after recent record-breaking...

Amari Cooper, Browns WR, to face Houston in playoffs after recent record-breaking performance against Texans

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BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Never flashy or full of himself, Amari Cooper downplayed his record-setting performance a few weeks ago in Houston.

Cooper had a game unlike any in Browns’ history.

“Just numbers,” he said.

Eye-popping ones.

Shredding Houston’s secondary from the opening play, Cooper finished with 265 yards in Cleveland’s 36-22 win on Dec. 24, setting the team single-game mark for yardage. He may have broken the NFL record (336 yards) if he hadn’t been pulled for a portion of the fourth quarter with the Browns holding a big lead.

The Texans had no chance against Cooper. They’re getting another one at him on Saturday as the Browns (11-6) hit the road in the wild-card round to face the AFC South champions, who know they’ll have to do a better job slowing down Cleveland’s dynamic, dependable wide receiver.

“Obviously, we didn’t do a good job of that specifically with him in the first game,” Texans defensive coordinator Matt Burke said Wednesday. “It’s not even something that had to be brought up, everyone kind of knew it coming in.

“Like: ‘hey, we can’t play like that again. Obviously, if he’s breaking records on Saturday again, it’s gonna be a long day for us.’”

In the previous matchup against the Texans (10-7), Cooper hauled in a 53-yard pass from Joe Flacco on Cleveland’s first snap and finished with 11 catches, two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion. He also became the first Browns’ receiver to surpass 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

Impressive enough, but he also did it after sustaining a heel injury that has continued to bother him.

Because the Browns had already clinched the No. 5 playoff seed, Cooper sat out the final regular-season game to be ready for the postseason. The five-time Pro Bowler hasn’t practiced this week, but said the injury is improving.

“It’s getting better every day,” said Cooper, adding he would have played last Sunday in Cincinnati if the Browns hadn’t rested their starters. “I’m running around now. So it’s just a typical injury that you have to work through.”

Cooper anticipates the Texans will tweak their coverage in the rematch, but he’s not sure what to expect.

Houston mostly plays zone, dividing the field into quadrants for its linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties to defend. It’s possible the Texans will assign a player to stay exclusively with Cooper, but the danger there is that it could create opportunities for Cleveland’s other receivers and tight ends to make plays.

“They’re not really a man (coverage) team, so I think the chances of them using a player to shadow me is a little bit less than what it would be if they were a man team. But you never know. For the playoffs, teams are willing to do whatever they have to do to win. We’ll just see.”

The Texans aren’t revealing any plans. However, safety Jalen Pitre made it clear that Cooper’s recent performance stung him and he can’t allow an encore.

“I definitely take it personal,” Pitre said. “As a safety, I’m not supposed to let anything get behind me. So any time that a receiver or running back, anybody scores touchdowns and has that many yards, it definitely eats at me.”

While Cooper gashed the Texans, a bigger issue may have been their inability to put enough pressure on Flacco. He had plenty of time to throw and finished with 368 yards and three touchdowns while helping the Browns build a 36-7 lead.

Houston was without defensive end Will Anderson Jr. in the first meeting, and team sacks leader Jonathan Greenard went out with an ankle injury that has sidelined him since. Both have missed some practice time this week.

“Those are great players,” said Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. “I hope they’re healthy. We hope we get them at their best.”

Based on his past experiences, especially when facing a team twice in the same season, Cooper’s expecting the Texans to play him differently.

They have no choice.

“I mean, obviously if you are dominating the team generally in those division games, that’s when it happens,” he said. “If you’re dominating in your division, you see those teams a lot throughout the course of the year. Of course, they’re going to make changes.”

NOTES: Browns S Grant Delpit was designated to return from injured reserve and practiced for the first time since hurting his groin on Dec. 10 and undergoing surgery. Delpit was selected a Pro Bowl alternate, and a return to the lineup could give Cleveland’s secondary a lift. … QB Jeff Driskel will be Flacco’s backup against the Texans and the duration of the playoffs — however long that may be. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt praised Driskel’s play in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati. He was the fifth QB to start for Cleveland this season.

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AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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