(SportsRadio 610) - With assistance from another terrific performance by rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and big plays from his offense, defense and special teams, DeMeco Ryans didn’t have to wait as long for his first victory as a head coach as he did as a player and assistant coach.
During Ryans’ rookie season in 2006, the Texans started 0-3 before they won for the first time. As a first-year assistant with the 49ers in 2017, Ryans waited until their 10th game to win for the first time.
On Sunday, Ryans walked off the field with his first victory after an 0-2 start, thanks to a 37-17 demolition at Jacksonville.
“To get that first win is special,” Ryans said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. It’s a lot of work, and I never lose sight of the grind and what it takes to win a game. I’m so proud of our guys and the work they put in to win this game. It was truly a team effort.”
While Ryans was receiving congratulations for his first victory, Stroud was taking another step in his maturation as a franchise quarterback. Not only did Stroud not throw an interception for a third consecutive game, but he wasn’t sacked for the first time because his offensive line that was missing four starters played its best game, as did his receivers, especially rookie Tank Dell.
“Another impressive outing by C.J.,” Ryans said. “Everything starts with the quarterback. We have a good one who’s improved every week. That’s what I really admire about C.J. He’s dialed into improving every week. He’s a leader (and) he’s not satisfied.
“Our offensive line played really well keeping our quarterback clean. They played well as a unit, and that’s what it takes in protection. It was a really good job by him, Tank and the receivers making big-time plays. Playmakers have to step up and make plays for us to win games, and that’s what our guys did.”
Stroud, who was hit 19 times and sacked 11 times in the losses to Baltimore and Indianapolis, got better protection. He took advantage of it to complete 20-of-30 (67 percent) for 280 yards and two touchdowns. His average per pass was 9.3 yards, and he closed with a 118.8 rating.
Stroud has been tremendous, especially in the last two games. He’s being coached well, and he’s responding to that coaching. Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson and senior offensive assistants Bill Lazor and Shane Day are doing outstanding jobs helping the second overall pick in the draft make impressive progress. Stroud praised all four of those coaches after the game.
“Every week I’m learning,” he said. “I’m trying to take a step forward and never (backward). It’s a battle every day. All of them have done a great job of helping me with my processing.”
Stroud has been processing quite effectively. He’s the first quarterback in league history to throw for at least 900 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in his first three starts.
Stroud has thrown for 906 yards, third in NFL history for a rookie in his first three games. Only Cam Newton (1,012) and Justin Herbert (931) threw for more.
Stroud has thrown 121 passes in three games, surpassing Warren Moon’s 103 with the Oilers in 1984 as the most by a rookie in his first three starts.
“The sky’s the limit for C.J.,” Ryans said. “He just keeps his head down and keeps working. He’s a very humble young man, and he’s all about the team. That’s how you become successful in this league. It’s not about one person. He understands that. He understands how important it is for the team to play together.”
As for Dell, the third-round pick from the University of Houston, he continued his development as a big-play receiver. He collaborated with Stroud for five catches, 145 yards and a touchdown. His 46-yard catch deep down the middle set up Dameon Pierce’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Dell took advantage of a miscommunication in the Jaguars’ secondary to get wide open down the right side, and Stroud hit him in full stride for a 68-yard touchdown that gave the Texans a 34-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Dell’s 145 yards eclipsed Andre Johnson’s 122 that had been the team’s rookie record. Dell’s 251 yards through three games surpasses Johnson’s 251 as the most by a rookie.
“That doesn’t happen without my O-line,” Stroud said. “They had a great game.
“This is just the beginning. Remember the feeling of losing and how terrible it is, and the feeling we just experienced in that locker room – that’s what it’s all about. We want to do it again. The great ones do it every week. We want to eliminate the negative plays and improve on first and second down and executing on third down.”
Big plays weren’t limited to Stroud and Dell. Fullback Andrew Beck returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Blake Cashman intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. Defensive end Will Anderson Jr. blocked a punt that set up a touchdown.
“When we make big plays, it’s about relentless effort,” Ryans said. “That’s how you win games. You impose your will on other teams by playing with great effort.”
And the Texans got great effort from players in all three phases. Now they have to do it again on Sunday at NRG Stadium, where J.J. Watt will be enshrined in the Ring of Honor at halftime of their game against Pittsburgh.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Monday, Thursday and Sunday on Texans Radio, also on SportsRadio 610. He writes five columns a week and does three Houtopia Football Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com.