C.J. Stroud Is Ready to Take the Texans Into the Future

Not even the pressure of his first postseason could shake the rookie quarterback, who looked as level-headed as ever in Houston’s wild-card win over the Browns. It’d be hard to rank the things that have been most impressive about C.J. Stroud’s rookie year—but what comes first for me was on full display Saturday. And that is how nothing has seemed too big for the Houston Texans’ star in his first year as an NFL quarterback. And he plays in a league that devoured players such as Peyton Manning (27 picks), John Elway (7-to-14 touchdown-interception ratio), Matthew Stafford (20 picks) and Josh Allen (67.9 passer rating) in their rookie seasons. And Stroud plays for a first-year coach and first-time coordinator, on a team that went 11-38-1 in the 50 games before drafting him. Yet, somehow, someway, Stroud has landed on the NFL’s playoff stage with the poise of someone in his 30s, looking like he’s played in the postseason every year. The numbers from the Texans’ 45–14 rout of the Cleveland Browns go a long way in telling the story. The stats were great, with Stroud throwing for 274 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-21 passing, and his team averaging more than a point (45) per offensive play (38). But the numbers certainly don’t show the full picture of how cool, calm and collected Stroud was at just about every turn of his first postseason afternoon in the pros. “I feel like God prepared me for everything that I’m doing now,” Stroud told me, from the bowels of NRG Stadium, a few minutes after the game. “Since the time I was a kid, I knew that I had a special talent, and I’ve been through a lot in my life. There’s been a lot of adversity. Even me going to Ohio State, all of it prepared me for moments like these, so that I’m blessed enough just to be living my dream.” The team’s first touchdown came on its next possession, set up by a 29-yard run from Devin Singletary and an off-balance seed down the right sideline to John Metchie III. Stroud went back to Collins for the score, carrying out his run fake and flicking the ball off a back-pedal, right to where a screen was set up perfectly for the receiver. “When 12 touches the ball, he’s special with it,” Stroud says. “So we designed that play in practice and we executed at a high level. L.T. [Laremy Tunsil] got out there with juice, they all got the blocks that we needed and we scored.” • The Texans’ next offensive snap was off a bootleg. Stroud held the ball long enough to pull linebackers Ogbo Okoronkwo and Owusu-Koramoah up toward him before popping the ball over their heads to Brevin Jordan. From there, the tight end did the rest, breaking angles and ankles on the way to a 76-yard touchdown that put Houston up 17–14. “That’s just where we’re running the ball good, and, I mean, hitting them with everything,” Stroud says. “I don’t think they knew what was coming next. [Coordinator] Bobby [Slowik] did a good job of mixing it up, going play-action, going straight drop back, going and running the ball. So those plays happen when players make plays, and Bobby did a good job of calling a great play.” • Two possessions later came perhaps the biggest play of the game, another bootleg with Stroud rolling right—only this time designed for Dalton Schultz to leak out back through the Browns’ coverage. “We knew that they weren’t always super disciplined with their eyes,” Stroud says. “We were just waiting for the right moment to call it, and Dalton did a good job selling it. We were selling boot and the backside corner collapsed. It was his ball and he made the play.” Still, there was one other play I wanted to get to with Stroud—one you may not remember. It was Stroud’s second throw of the second half. On it, linebacker Sione Takitaki burst through the line untouched on a blitz, as the quarterback faded back. Stroud was lined up in a way defensive players only dream about, with the quarterback completely exposed. The rookie could’ve panicked. He could’ve conceded the sack. Instead, Stroud stood in, absorbed the contact, and feathered a ball to the flat out to Xavier Hutchinson, showcasing his ability to block out what was around him and his awareness to know where his outlets were. “It’s really just having trust in my lineman,” Stroud says. “I’m not really looking down. So I really trust them, and even when guys come in, I know that it’s my job to be tough for my brothers and just stick in there and try to deliver the ball as best I can for the betterment of the team. So my mindset is, Whatever I got to do to win is whatever we have to do to win. If that’s taking hits, if that’s doing whatever, good.” It’s safe to say the Texans feel awfully blessed to have him. And Houston can go ahead and feel pretty good about the future, too—because Stroud has for a while now. “We knew what kind of team we had, man,” he says. “We knew that we can do whatever we put our minds to, with hard work and dedication. And I’m just blessed enough to be able to be with a great coach, with great teammates. And we’re putting it together, man. So it’s on to the next one, gotta go 1–0 this week and move on from there.

Gideon Canice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *