(SportsRadio 610) - The Texans showed in Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis they have problems to solve on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but quarterback isn’t one of them.
After being a late addition to Friday’s injury report as questionable because of a sore right shoulder, it was touch-and-go with rookie C.J. Stroud until late Saturday when he convinced his bosses he would play against the Colts.
Not only did Stroud play, but he played so well he completed 30-of-47 passes (63.8 percent) for 384 yards and two touchdowns without an interception and compiled a 103.5 rating in the 31-20 defeat.
“Had a hard week,” Stroud said afterward. “Tried to fight my tail off just to be able to play because my shoulder was hurting me. I wanted to be out there for my guys. I had a little pain here and there, but I wanted to play in the home opener and try to flip this thing around the right way by playing well.”
It wasn’t Stroud’s fault the Texans lost after falling behind 28-10 in the first half to fall to 0-2 in DeMeco Ryans’ first season as coach. It wasn’t Stroud’s fault the Texans put on a disappointing performance in their home opener and tumbled into last place in the AFC South – a position they’re all too familiar with.
If Stroud played that well with a sore shoulder, imagine what he’ll be capable of doing when his shoulder is healthy.
“It was ups and downs, but my guys me made me more positive as the week went on,” he said. “I had a little shoulder pain, and it was hard for me to throw. I started feeling better Friday. Saturday, we don't throw at all, so that helped. This morning (I) came in really early, just tried to fix it and (do) anything I (could) do to play.
“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. I don’t think it hindered me that much. Yeah, it was painful (but that’s not) an excuse.”
Speaking of painful, Stroud took a beating playing behind an offensive line with only one regular starter in right guard Shaq Mason. The Colts dominated the Texans up front, limiting them to 52 yards and a 2-yard average per carry. They hit Stroud nine times, including six sacks, and recorded 10 tackles for losses.
Despite the anemic running game, the Texans still generated 389 yards, their most since they had 398 against the Colts in 2020.
“I thought C.J. did a really good job managing the offense,” Ryans said. “C.J. does that every week. He continued to put the ball where we needed it (and) made good decisions with the football. I'm encouraged by C.J.'s play, and he got better this week.”
Unfortunately, Ryans’ defense didn’t get better. It took a big step backward against the Colts. After showing so much promise at Baltimore, the Texans couldn’t stop the run, and the defense had no sacks, no tackles for loss and one hit on the quarterback by end Will Anderson Jr.
As for Stroud, he was poised and fearless when taking quick drops or being forced to run for his life. Considering how bad the injury-depleted offensive line has been in 16- and 11-point defeats, it’s amazing he hasn’t been taken away in an ambulance.
“C.J. is a competitor, and he shows that,” Ryans said. “He continues to fight no matter what odds are stacked against him, no matter who's in front of him. He has a winning mindset. Now, we need everybody around him to continue to have that winning mindset and play winning football, and that's when things will get better for us.”
Until left tackle Laremy Tunsil, right tackle Tytus Howard and center Juice Scruggs return, the Texans are going to have major issues in their next two games at Jacksonville and at home against Pittsburgh.
Stroud collaborated with wide receivers Nico Collins (seven catches, 146 yards, one touchdown), Tank Dell (seven for 72 and one) and Robert Woods (six for 74). Dell caught another touchdown pass, but it was wiped out because of a holding call on left tackle Josh Jones, who struggled in his second start.
Stroud connected with nine players, and the passing game was about the only positive the Texans could take out of this whipping.
Something the offense must improve before it gets to Jacksonville for another AFC South game is red zone efficiency. The Texans scored one touchdown on four trips into the red zone compared to the Colts’ 4-for-4.
“I feel like I did okay,” Stroud said. “Of course, you always want to do better. Got to not take sacks in the red zone and got to score in the red zone. That was the main reason we didn't put (enough) points on the board.
“We were driving the ball pretty well, just got to finish those drives. Overall, I feel like there's light at the end of the tunnel. I think we showed that today -- that we're not going to lay down because the score flips early. We're going to keep fighting till the end.”
In the first half, Stroud completed 8-of-15 for 110 yards. In the second half, he was 22-of-32 for 274 yards when the Texans were playing from behind.
“I thought our offense moved the ball better (and) the tempo was much better,” Ryans said about the second half. “I thought we moved it really well (but) just stalled.
“In the red zone, we have to find a way to score. We had our opportunities, but we hurt ourselves. Penalties, sacks -- it's self-inflicted. If we clean up our mistakes, then let's have a fair fight. Right now, it's not fair because we keep helping the other team.”
In his first two starts, Stroud has completed 58-of-91 (63.7 percent) for 626 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception, and his rating is 91.2.
Stroud’s 58 completions are second in NFL history for a rookie to Joe Burrow’s 60 in 2020. His 626 yards are the fourth most. He and Kyler Murray are the only rookies in history to complete at least 25 passes in each of their first two starts.
Something that failed to materialize was the first game between Stroud and Indianapolis quarterback Anthony Richardson, the second and fourth picks in the draft. Stroud and Richardson, who are close friends, went against each other in the first half when Richardson ran for two touchdowns and suffered a concussion on the second one. He was unable to return. He was replaced by veteran Gardner Minshew.
“That’s my brother,” Stroud said. “I talked to him before the game (and) we had a great conversation. We were planning a jersey swap (afterward). I hope he's all right. I sent a prayer. I got to talk to some guys on the coaching staff, and they said he'll be okay.
I've got real love for him, and I hope that he comes back from this even stronger -- wishing the best for him and praying for him.”
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.