CJ Stroud has been beyond impressive. Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images.
The Face of the Franchise.
Coleridge Bernard Stroud IV.
Whatever you want to call him, make sure you say it with the utmost respect. Stroud had the performance of a lifetime in the Texans' 39-37 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs. He led his team to an improbable comeback win. Improbable you ask? They were on their third or fourth different starting center. The whole team has been decimated with injuries. Quarterback is the only position group that hasn't had a guy miss a game this season from injury. The injuries kept coming in-game as Jimmie Ward, M.J. Stewart, Ka'imi Fairbairn (more on this shortly), John Metchie III, and Hassan Ridegway were all ruled out of the game with injuries. All of that, plus being down 37-33 with 46 seconds left and two timeouts. Nothing a rookie record of 470 yards passing and five touchdowns with no picks couldn't cure.
None of it phased him. One of the injuries has been to Robert Woods. A bit of an afterthought of a wide receiver signing because he was coming off an okay season with the Titans. A receiver over 30 years old two years removed from an ACL injury isn't exactly WR1 material for a rookie QB. Woods became a safety blanket for Stroud. The other receivers were all unproven with little experience. Dalton Schultz (211) was the only one of them that had more than 100 career receptions entering this season. Combine that with a first time offensive coordinator, rookie head coach, and a franchise trying to turn their team around, you wonder how is this kid seeing this much success so early on?
Faith. He opened his post game presser by thanking his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When asked how he stays so calm, he reiterated his faith by saying, “God gives me a peace to remain calm despite all what's going on around me.” He spoke about how he's a family man and struggles with balancing everything sometimes. That led to him speaking out on criminal justice reform. He brought up his dad's situation, as well as prison conditions in Mississippi. Saying he wants to use his platform for criminal justice reform was a delight, but the fact that he knows about it and does the research was impressive. “Some of the conditions with rats and roaches and stuff… I mean, I know they're criminals, but they're humans too.”
Whenever I hear about a player's leadership skills, I often pay attention to what others say about them. Unprompted praise from a vet on a rookie's leadership skills isn't something that should be ignored. When Laremy Tunsil says he's impressed by Stroud's leadership skills and other vets speak very highly of him, it lets me know the hype is no longer hype. The hype has given way to the real deal. Stroud is everything they say he is and then some. Stories like this go back to his time at Ohio State. He once told his NIL agent he didn't want any more deals so he could focus on being a good teammate and leader. He even bought his teammates gifts to share his newfound wealth. So I wasn't really surprised when I heard he regularly hosts teammates for dinner during the week.
Setting rookie passing records while leading your team to a comeback win on the final drive is one way to announce your arrival to the upper echelon of QBs in this league. No longer is he thought of as a good young QB, or good for a rookie. He's good. Period. Use whatever measuring stick you want, this kid stacks up with the best in this league. Name 10 QBs in this league playing better football this year. I doubt you can. As good as he is now, wait until they put more talent around him. If he stays healthy, he's going to be in that top QB conversation for a long time. Stroud has given Houston something it can be proud of.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.