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.
And the hits just kept coming for the Texans’ strong-armed quarterback, including an early blow from behind delivered by defensive end Samson Ebukam that dislodged the football.
Undaunted by such heavy duress and enduring a sore, right throwing shoulder that had created doubt on whether he would even be able to play Sunday, Stroud overcame the pain. Despite being sacked six times, and hit nine times overall, Stroud manufactured an encouraging performance, albeit in another losing cause.
The second overall pick from Ohio State completed 30 of 47 passes for 384 yards, and his first two touchdown passes during a 31-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He finished with a 103.5 passer rating and now ranks fourth in the NFL with 626 passing yards after piling up the second-most yards by a rookie quarterback in franchise history and the most since Deshaun Watson passed for 402 yards in 2017.
“Talking to some friends from home, really just thinking to myself, no one said it was going to be easy,” Stroud said. “I think the hope that we brought the city from the draft, from the offseason moves and everything, it got the buzz going. I think that was great, and I think it should continue because this team, we’re a couple plays away from winning a lot of games here. I don’t think that it should be easy. You’ve got to lick your wounds and just keep going, because no one said it was going to be easy and it’s not supposed to.”
Operating behind a makeshift offensive line that was playing without Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, the highest paid and highest-rated pass protector in the league last season, Stroud was seriously harassed by an aggressive Colts defense as defensive coordinator Gus Bradley constantly attacked the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist. The Texans shifted left guard Josh Jones to left tackle in place of Tunsil, and plugged in Kendrick Green at left guard.
Before kickoff, Stroud was dealing with pain that prevented him from throwing at a Friday practice. He was listed as questionable on the injury report. The Texans were preparing backup Davis Mills to start in case Stroud’s shoulder didn’t respond to treatment. Ultimately, he was able to go after arriving early at NRG Stadium on Sunday morning to loosen his shoulder up.
“Had a hard week, man,” Stroud said. “Trying to fight my tail off just to be able to play because my shoulder was hurting me. At the end of the day, I wanted to be out there for my guys, and I wanted to play. I had a little pain here and there.
“I just had a little shoulder pain that I was dealing with, and it was hard for me to throw. I feel like I did as best as I could with my injury, and I tried to let it fly as much as I could and still have velocity and accuracy with the ball, but I don’t think it really hindered me that much. If I were to say that, that would be an excuse. Yeah, it was painful.”
In his first two NFL games, Stroud has been sacked 11 times and hit 19 times overall.
Stroud has yet to complain about the pass protection issues. Instead, he has praised his blockers, which includes Jones, Green, rookie center Jarrett Patterson, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle George Fant. Mason is the only lineman who began training camp in the starting lineup as the team has lost left guard Kendrick Green (torn labrum, season-ending injury reserve), center Scott Quessenberry (torn knee ligaments, season-ending injured reserve) and center Juice Scruggs (strained hamstring, short-term injure reserve) and right tackle Tytus Howard (hand surgery, short-term injured reserve.
“You’ve got to trust those guys, and I do,” Stroud said. “I definitely appreciate those guys, because they’re fighting, they’re not just giving up. Those guys constantly are looking me in the eye like, ‘Man, I got you,’ and I appreciate that. I love those boys, and I’m going to keep fighting for them because they’re fighting for me.”
Stroud connected with wide receiver Nico Collins for seven catches and a career-high 146 yards with one touchdown. He averaged 20.9 yards per catch. And rookie Tank Dell caught seven passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. Another touchdown pass was nullified by a holding penalty on Jones.
“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,” Texans coach DeMeco 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 didn’t throw like a quarterback with an aching shoulder. He’s optimistic that the injury won’t linger.
“I hope not,” Stroud said .”I definitely think I took strides from when it happened. It felt better and better every day. So, I think that’s a good thing. It should be 100 percent by this week for sure.”
Stroud has overcome adversity on the field and in life, including his father being in prison. He doesn’t let things get him down.
“I don’t have no pity for myself,” said Stroud, who credited his family for giving him strength. “I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me, but the odds have been stacked against me since I was a kid. I trust my family. I trust my coaches. And I think people are depending on me, and I love that responsibility. He was just talking to me, pressure is a privilege. A lot of people don’t get to live the life I do. It’s hard. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, but it’s a privilege.”
The rebuilding Texans are off to an 0-2 start. They play on the road next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I’m not happy right now, of course, because we lost, but I definitely think that we’ve done a lot of good things on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball as well,” Stroud said. “Once we play together as a team, watch out, man.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.