BEREA — Amari Cooper did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted and however he wanted Dec. 24 vs. the Texans. The Pro Bowl receiver caught 11 passes for a Browns-record 265 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-22 win.
A similar performance Saturday in the rematch in Houston would likely bounce the Texans from the playoffs, so they seem to have no choice but to try something drastically different to contain Cooper.
He isn’t sure what that will be.
“I can’t predict that,” he said Wednesday. “I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.”
Cooper ran by cornerbacks and safeties. He beat them with sublime route running. He used body control to pull off the improbable along the sideline. He opened the game with a 53-yarder on a post and added a 75-yard touchdown on a double move.
Much of the record day came with a heel injured on his second catch. He pulled up a bit on the long touchdown but finished the game. He hasn’t practiced or played since but said he could’ve played Sunday in the meaningless finale.
“It’s getting better every day,” he said. “I’m running around now. So it’s just a typical injury that you have to work through.”
The Browns take supreme confidence in knowing what Cooper did a couple of weeks ago and all season — 72 catches, career-high 1,250 yards, five touchdowns — but face uncertainty with how the Texans will approach him.
“It’s hard to say,” coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. “That’s a defense that believes in who they are and what they do. So we’ll see.
“But we’re ready to adjust and we’re ready for anything that shows up Saturday.”
Cooper said the Texans aren’t a big man-to-man team, so it would be out of character for cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., the No. 3 pick in 2022, to follow him throughout the game.
“But you never know for the playoffs,” Cooper said. “Teams game-plan and they’re willing to do whatever they have to do to win.”
#Browns Amari Cooper not sure how #Texans will adjust their game plan after his big game Dec. 24, but says they’re not really a man-to-man team so having someone shadow him doesn’t seem likely. pic.twitter.com/B2V21AW3Bx
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) January 10, 2024
Texans coach DeMeco Ryans called Cooper a “great player” and said his cornerbacks need to do a better job or breaking up the contested catches.
“Made a ton of great catches, unbelievable catches in that game, and we were in position, we’ve just got to be able to finish and make a play on the ball,” he told reporters in Houston.
Coach and play caller Kevin Stefanski knew what to expect from Houston’s coverage in the first meeting. He must decide whether to stick with the game plan that worked or anticipate major alterations.
“That chess match of things that we tried, are you going to try it again? Are you going to try it a different way? Are they going to adjust?” he said. “It’s all those things that you go into a game you have conversations about, but you really don’t know until you get into the game. And sometimes you won’t know until the third series.
“So there’s always that chess match that takes place between the staff and their staff and see what their answers are. And you better have counterpunches ready.”
Cooper has been Mr. Reliable in his two seasons since being acquired in a trade from the Cowboys. He played every game until the last two and became the first player in franchise history with back-to-back seasons of 1,000 receiving yards.
He’s had success with whoever’s been at quarterback but speaks glowingly of Flacco and the catchable ball he throws. Flacco made Cooper’s milestone day in Houston possible.
“Records are meant to be broken,” Cooper said. “At the end of the day, it’s just numbers. I don’t take it for granted, but it’s the past and I always tell myself I want to look back on my career in that nostalgic type of way that I think you’re alluding to after I’m done.”
He’s focused on the task at hand. This will be his fourth trip to the playoffs in nine seasons, and he has one win, five years ago with the Cowboys.
“It seems like everything is just a little bit more heightened,” he said. “Obviously the stakes are, but when you’re out there on the field, it seems like the game plan is just on point.
“It feels like you don’t have any room for error.”
Flacco figures the Texans will change their approach to Cooper but isn’t obsessing over it.
“It’s my job to go out there and play on Saturday and just do what the defense tells me and you don’t want to overthink it,” he said. “You don’t want to take your head off of Amari just because you think that they’re going to have some gigantic plan for him. We got to be ready for everything.”