The good and bad of Texans rookie C.J. Stroud’s preseason – ESPN – Houston Texans Blog

HOUSTON — Houston Texans coach DeMeco Ryans named rookie C.J. Stroud as the starting quarterback for Week 1 of the regular season after Sunday’s preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints.

Stroud, who beat out incumbent starter Davis Mills, ran exclusively with the starting offense during preseason and went 11-of-18 for 89 yards with one touchdown and an interception in eight series over three games. Stroud was able to show improvement from week to week, helping him earn the starter role — with the Baltimore Ravens up first Sept. 10.

“We’ve seen a complete product [this preseason] and C.J.’s desire to continue to get better,” Ryans said. “We’re not where we need to be as a team overall. We all have to continue to get better, and it’s just having the mindset to do that, and C.J., just along with all our other guys, know we have to get better in that regard.”

With the good comes the opposite, as well, for Stroud, and despite some promising throws, there were teachable moments as well for the No. 2 overall pick out of Ohio State.

Here’s a breakdown of each week of the preseason, framed by one good play and one bad play:

Week 1 was a struggle for Stroud as he was under massive duress. He was pressured on 60% of his dropbacks, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and went 2-for-4 for 13 yards with an interception.

The one good play… was a 5-yard completion to wide receiver Steven Sims.

It was second-and-9 from the Texans’ 39-yard line during the first quarter with 8:11 remaining.

The Texans were in 11 personnel (three receivers and one tight end) and under center. This play could have had a negative outcome as Stroud slipped out of his play-action bootleg while rolling left. But the 21-year-old composed himself and threw a well-placed pass to Sims on the sideline. Stroud knew he was going to take a hit from defensive end Keion White, but he was still able to deliver the ball where it needed to go on the final pass of his debut.

“I thought he moved around well,” Ryans said. “Went to the right place with the ball a couple of times, and it was good to see him move out of the pocket and try to make some things happen there.”

The one bad play… was obvious, and it came on his second throw of the preseason. He was intercepted by Patriots safety Jalen Mills, the exclamation point on Stroud’s struggles.

It was third-and-21 from the Texans’ 25-yard line during the first quarter with 11:51 remaining.

The Texans were in shotgun and 11 personnel. Stroud threw a pass to wideout Tank Dell, who ran an outbreaking curl route. As Stroud stared at Dell, Mills was able to follow his eyes and jump the route to make the play.

According to what an NFC offensive coordinator told ESPN, the Patriots were in an “umbrella coverage,” which means soft quarters (Cover 4).

“If I could do it over again, I’d just take the checkdown,” Stroud said following the game. “That look isn’t superb for what I threw. Just got to be better on my part. Got to make a play smarter and not put my defense in a bad situation, put them right in field goal range, and that’s my mistake. Even though I’m a rookie, still trying to play as a vet and play sound football and not only protect my offense but to protect the defense, as well.”

Game 2 marked by far the highest volume of passes for Stroud. He went 7-for-12 for 60 yards and looked more comfortable thanks to better protection from his offensive line — as he was pressured on only 16% of his dropbacks.

The one good play… was when Stroud completed a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Noah Brown on a bootleg play rolling right.

It was first-and-10 at midfield during the first quarter with 3:33 remaining.

The Texans were under center in 12 personnel (two tight ends and two receivers). Stroud ran a bootleg fake and threw a strike to Brown on the run. The play showcased his ability to have ball placement on the move, as the pass had a completion probability of 42%, according to Next Gen Stats.

“Yeah, with the passes that C.J. made, you see the accuracy that what you saw in college,” Ryans said. “You saw C.J. just playing comfortable, and it was exciting to see him just playing loose, making the throws that we’ve all seen him make in practice. … So, you saw him just being himself and being comfortable, and that’s what he can do.”

The one bad play… was Stroud’s incompletion to Brown on third down in the red zone.

It was the beginning of the second quarter and was third-and-5 from Miami’s 17.

This play can be a lesson on the speed of the NFL for Stroud. The Texans were in shotgun and 11 personnel. According to Next Gen Stats, the Dolphins were in man coverage. Stroud threw a slant route to Brown with Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard guarding him.

Stroud was a tick late over the middle, and Howard broke up the pass. Ryans saw the play as a great teaching moment.

“It’s a matter of actually getting it in that live action,” Ryans said. “You know, it’s one thing to practice, but to actually see him adjust on the fly and make those type of plays to see how tight the windows are, it’s encouraging to see him make the plays, and it’s also very important for him to feel that in the actual [game] action. So that’s why, again, I say the preseason is very important for rookies in general all across the league.”

Week 3 vs. the New Orleans Saints

Stroud concluded his preseason by going 2-of-4 for 16 yards with one touchdown in two series. Stroud had a couple of accurate throws that receivers couldn’t haul in, but the ball placement was on display.

The one good play… was the lone touchdown of his preseason.

It was second-and-goal from the 3-yard line during the first quarter with 7:22 remaining.

The Texans were in 12 personnel, and Stroud ran a play-action fake to running back Dameon Pierce. Stroud saw wide receiver Nico Collins on a crossing route and hit him in stride for the score.

“It was really cool to connect with Nico,” Stroud said. “Actually, we got that right after practice. It was on Friday, like three, four times. Just getting it down, and for it to pay off and for us to get a touchdown off of it, it was definitely cool to see the hard work pay off. So man, it was a blessing and hopefully the first of many.”

The one bad play… wasn’t that bad, but one where he probably could (or should) have picked up a first down.

It was third-and-7 on Houston’s 23-yard during the first quarter with 11:20 left.

The Texans were in 11 personnel and operating from the shotgun, and the play was one that was a learning lesson for Stroud.

Stroud had traffic around his feet as right guard Shaq Mason and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon tumbled. He stepped up and wanted to target wide receiver Robert Woods on a deep out route, but he hesitated. He started scrambling and tried to hit Woods, but by double-clutching — instead of throwing with anticipation — the pass fell incomplete on the sideline. Cornerback Alontae Taylor had good coverage on the play, but despite the incompletion, Stroud put the ball where only Woods could make the play.

Stroud was able to get a first down to Woods on a similar route (despite a different formation) on third-and-7 the week prior, but in that instance he didn’t hesitate.

The other caveat of the play, despite it being preseason and there being situational football (plus avoiding unnecessary hits) that teams are working on, is that Stroud has the mobility so he probably could have run for the first down.

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