CJ Stroud has been beyond impressive. Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images.
There was a dull hue over the sky this morning. As I made my way to 59 heading north, I could see the sun shining brightly off in the distance to the right. The scene was pretty cool. Despite the imminent rain and rain clouds making the sky appear as if it was going to come crashing down at any moment, there was that bright beam off to the right letting us know everything would be fine.
That sunshine off to the right for the Texans has been C.J. Stroud. Despite the imminent rain of growing pains, with the rebuild still partially cloudy looming over this team, that beam of brightness has emerged as the thing that people will look forward to most. For years, this team has looked for a franchise quarterback. They've found a couple who were expected to fit the bill, but they haven't panned out for one reason or another.
Through the first three games of his career, he has the second most passing yards by a rookie, and has the most consecutive passes thrown without an interception in his first three games to start a career. Mind you, the offensive line is still in shambles. Four of the five guys expected to start this season in that position group are either hurt now, or won't return this season. The talk of not having a true number one at wide receiver has been bandied about. So has talk of possibly trading for one of the disgruntled running backs. I've even seen people who wanted other quarterbacks here change their tunes.
Add to all of this the negative stigma attached to Ohio State quarterbacks. From Art Schlichter to Justin Fields, there have been 12 OSU quarterbacks to play in the league starting in 1982. They've gone a combined 84-122-1. Two didn't have a career start (Cardale Jones and Joe Germaine). Former Heisman winner Troy Smith was .500 at 4-4, and only one has a winning record (Mike Tomczak 42-31). I won't bore you with their combined passing stats. Just know C.J. is already years ahead of the curve. He's breaking the mold of OSU quarterbacks being worthless at the next level. And he's doing so in impressive fashion.
I know this team has had a guy come in and look like a franchise guy before. David Carr was the good-looking all-American kid who was married with a family, but he was shell shocked and never panned out. Matt Schaub played very well, but caught the yips and never recovered. The last guy turned out to be an alleged pervert, despite seeming anything but previously. The difference I see in Stroud is he's such a student of the game. The way he talks about it and how others speak about his work ethic is remarkable. He talks about how his upbringing made him more appreciative of what he has. There's a calm about him that he must exude even in the huddle. His teammates have spoken about him as if he was named the starter and captain since he walked in the door. What other Texans quarterback has had that type of respect and command of the locker room this quickly?
For me, it was always his accuracy. Ball placement is more valued than arm strength. Anybody can launch the ball 60-plus yards in the air, or throw an out route that breaks fingers. But can you drop it in the bucket between two defenders and the sideline? Can you stay cool under pressure? Are you a laid back type of guy who likes to relax and have fun outside the spotlight? Would you split your NIL money with your teammates and make sure you don't take on too many, which could lead to a lack of focus, even though it may have cost you millions? Again, more reasons to like this kid.
Coleridge Bernard. C.J. QB1. The Franchise. Call him what you want. What you will do is respect this kid and how he's come to play.
“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.