C.J. Stroud absorbed a crushing hit from behind from blitzing linebacker E.J. Speed, enduring a lot of punishment in the second game of his rookie season.
The Texans’ rookie quarterback was already banged up heading into Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts and endured more punishment during the 31-20 loss, being sacked six times and hit nine times overall. He still managed to throw for 384 yards, completing 30 of 47 passes and ranks fourth in the league in passing yards and has no interception in the first 91 attempts of his career, an NFL record.
Stroud was dealing with a painful right throwing shoulder injury, but managed to play. With a lot of treatment with head trainer Roland Ramirez, the second overall pick from Ohio State emphasized he’s making strides. Stroud was able to throw Wednesday during practice and was listed as limited. He’s on track to play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I feel blessed, I feel good,” Stroud said. “Football is a physical sport and that’s what I signed up for, but my body is fine. I’ll be all right.”
Stroud dealt with a sprained AC shoulder joint as a redshirt freshman against the University of Minnesota while playing for the Buckeyes two years ago, but didn’t let it hold him back. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist that season with 44 touchdown passes and six interceptions. That experience was similar to how he dealt with his injury last week.
.“It helped a lot,” Stroud said. “I did a lot of the same things I kind of did for this injury that I had now, just to get back feeling right. When you’re playing, your adrenaline usually takes away the pain, so that helped a lot. But after the game, I felt it a little bit, but as I’ve gotten back with Roland and my guy [Brandon] Kukal. They’ve helped me a lot, so I feel almost 100%.”
Stroud’s passing yardage total is the second-highest in franchise history behind former Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson’s 402 yards in 2017. He passed for the most yards of any quarterback last weekend. He had the fifth-highest average intended air yards mark of (10.2), second-highest completed air yards mark (9.0) while dealing with the third-highest pressure rate (44.4 percent) during his first two games, according to NextGen Stats.
Being healthy is a big part of the equation in addition to Stroud’s obvious passing skills and uncommon maturity for a 21-year-old rookie.
“For C.J., everything was normal at practice,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He threw the ball well. No issues with his shoulder.”
Stroud has a 91.2 passer rating. He threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Nico Collins and Tank Dell on Sunday. He has been sacked 11 times and hit 19 times overall, leading the NFL in sacks taken.
Having back Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil from a knee injury that sidelined him Sunday should provide a boost to Stroud. Their lockers are next to each other and Tunsil has been a big proponent of Stroud since he arrived in Houston.
“Yeah, Laremy is a big part of this offense, not only by his play, but just his presence, a leader, his presence of somebody who has really, really good experience,” Stroud said. “He’s been in the league a long time and he’s done it at a high level for a long time, so just another comfort factor for not only myself, but for our whole offense and our team, so it was really good to have him out there. That’s my guy, man. We’re locker roommates, and we talk all the time, and I missed him out there on Sunday, but I’m glad he’s back and I’m hoping he does his thing because I know he will.”
The Texans are off to a winless start at 0-2 heading into Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road.
Stroud’s commitment to winning stems from his experiences in college on a national championship contender.
“I always had kind of like a killer mindset,” Stroud said. “Pressure is a privilege because, at the end of the day, we wake up and we get to play this lovely game. The pressure that is applied and the job it comes with is a privilege because not many people get to do it, and it’s a blessing at the end of the day.
“It’s cool to play good, but if you don’t win, it really doesn’t matter. And, for me, I had plays where I feel like we didn’t win because of me. So, I’ve got to be better, and I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and not point fingers, and that’s something I would never do. But, for me, I’ve got to lead my guys better. I’ve got to do everything better so we can win, and that’s all that matters.”
Stroud connected with Collins for seven catches and a career-high 146 yards with one touchdown. He averaged 20.9 yards per catch. And Dell caught seven passes for 72 yards and one touchdown.
“C.J. did his thing,” Collins said. “We’re going to keep building as an offense.”
Stroud has 58 completions in his first two NFL games, ranking second in NFL history behind Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s 60 completions in his first two games in 2020 and one better than Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
The California native’s passing yardage total ranks fourth in NFL history in an opening two-game span for a rookie.
And he’s the only quarterback in NFL history to attempt 80-plus passes without an interception in his first two games.
“C.J. is a competitor, and he shows that,” Ryans said. “He continues to fight no matter what odds are stacked up against him, no matter who’s in front of him. It doesn’t matter. He has a winning mindset. Now, we need everybody around him to continue to have that winning mindset and go play winning football, and that’s when things will get better for us.”
Stroud is averaging 7.3 yards per attempt.
He has 18 completions on throws of 10 yards or higher to lead the NFL.
The progress is obvious.
“C.J. is a very good processer, a smart, smart quarterback,” Ryans said. “He’s not going to make the same mistake twice. That’s one thing I like about him. He knows his mistakes and he knows how to correct them on the fly and it’s just encouraging when you see a young player, a rookie quarterback, who is able to make steps in the right direction.
“He’s able to progress, he’s able to grow within games. Like you see in our past game where he got pressured and held onto the ball a little too long and he comes back, and he makes the right decision with the football. This kid is made of all the right stuff. Happy to have him on board, our team is happy to have him on board. We just have to play better, complementary football around him.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.