C.J. Stroud Fed To Proverbial Wolves In NFL (Preseason) Debut — Which Is On His Coaches

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The best thing rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud did Thursday night in his first NFL game was survive. The best thing he did was avoid the New England Patriots pass rush and live to play another day.

That’s not exactly a gushing review. And it means the Houston Texans obviously have an issue.

The first problem with this game was with their backup offensive line. It was terrible

And the other problem was their inexperienced head coach and first-year offensive coordinator. They put Stroud behind that terrible backup offensive line to start the game.

C.J. Stroud started first NFL preseason game for Houston Texans
Quarterback C.J Stroud of the Houston Texans throws during the first day of Houston Texans rookie mini camp at NRG Stadium on May 12, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

C.J. Stroud Starts For Texans

“It was special,” Stroud said. “Just wish I didn’t do one mistake on one certain play but other than that, I thought I played solid. It felt good to get hit again and just get back in the groove … I’m not super excited how I played and didn’t play a lot, but I put my feet in the water, learn from my mistakes and keep going.”

That’s how we emerge from Stroud’s NFL (preseason) debut: He generally did a good job overcoming a wave of New England Patriots defenders collapsing the pass pocket as he scrambled multiple times.

Stroud was sacked once in two series and was forced to escape the pocket two more times to avoid being sacked again. And again.

This must have felt strange for a quarterback that was sacked only 13 times in 13 games at Ohio State last season.

“We don’t want him to have to move as much,” coach DeMeco Ryans said. “But it was a good first outing, a good look at live action. I thought it was good for him.”

Stroud also threw an interception. It was a rookie mistake. It was, the Texans must hope, a learning experience.

C.J. Stroud throws a first-quarter interception against the New England Patriots

C.J. Stroud Interception Was Avoidable

Stroud misfired on a pass that free safety Jalen Mills intercepted. The interception had three issues Stroud must clear up:

He didn’t simply throw a check down, which would have been a completion.

Stroud stared down his receiver, Tank Dell, on the deeper attempt.

And rather than delivering the ball on time to Dell as the receiver made his cut to the sideline, Stroud pump faked. That delay gave Mills enough time to rally to the football to pluck it out of the air.

Those things have to be cleaned up. Those things matter if the Texans are to see Stroud become their face of the franchise, as his No. 2 overall draft pick pedigree suggests.

But that’s not the most worrisome thing the Texans must consider now. Stroud seemingly just needs experience.

The greater issue, perhaps, is his coaches also need some experience.

Texans coach DeMeco Ryans
Houston Texans Head Coach DeMeco Ryans watches his team warm up during day 1 of the Texans Training Camp at Houston Methodist Training Center on July 26, 2023, in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DeMeco Ryans Gets W, But Misses Point

“It was my first time going out as a head coach,” Ryans said, “I thought it was a smooth operation. Offensively, defensively, everything went fairly smooth. It was a good first outing and, again, we’ll continue to build on what we started here.”

For whatever reasons, rookie coach Ryans and rookie offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik put their rookie quarterback on the field behind a substandard offensive line.

The coaches put the young quarterback that is competing to be the starter, has lately been working with starters in practices and, again, is a rookie, on the field with multiple backup linemen.

Stroud operated behind a line missing starting offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard, and presumed starting guard Shaq Mason. Howard, nursing a hand injury, is the only one of the trio who is injured.

So did these coaches put Stroud in the best position to succeed? Or did they put him in a position to have to run for his life?

It very much looked like the latter.

Somebody must have noticed, because Stroud played only two series. He threw only four passes, of which he completed two for 13 total yards.

But the way the Texans were struggling to protect him, the decision to pull him was probably as wise as the decision to put him out there with that line was shortsighted.

“They wanted to protect me, make sure I was alright,” Stroud said.

Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud
Quarterback C.J. Stroud of the Houston Texans takes the huddle during the first quarter of the preseason against the New England Patriots game at Gillette Stadium on August 10, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Texans Vet QBs Played Well

The Texans can argue that presumed backup quarterbacks Davis Mills and Case Keenum also played without the benefit of Tunsil, perhaps the best left tackle in the NFL, protecting their blind side.

Those veterans not only played but looked good doing it. Both threw a touchdown pass. Both had quarterback ratings over 100, with Mills finishing with a 126.7.

“We had a good day offensively, except for me,” Stroud said with a chuckle.

The difference is those two veterans have experience. They know the speed of the NFL game. Those veterans understand defenses better than a rookie. They progress through their reads faster.

They can, in other words, overcome poor line play better.

That was obvious to anyone watching the game.

And this is obvious to anyone watching the Texans: The quarterback needs more experience because he’s the future, but that experience has to come surrounded by the team’s best players.

And the team’s rookie coaches should understand that now.

Follow on X: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero


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  1. Always a great read from Armando. Insightful and well thought out. A welcome change from the mindless attempts by many other “journalists” here who magically find ways to get 200+ words out of an Instagram/Tick Tock video.

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