Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud besieged by Patriots pass rush in preseason debut

Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud got a Bill Belichick welcome to the NFL in his first preseason action.

Stroud played two series Thursday night in the Texans’ 20-9 win over the New England Patriots, completing 2 of 4 passes for 13 yards with an interception and a sack. He added two scrambles for 6 yards.

The rookie signal-caller was under siege behind an offensive line comprised chiefly of backups. The Pats officially pressured Stroud, the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, on three dropbacks, repeatedly pushing the QB off his spot. New England blitzed Stroud on 60% of his dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats.

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Third-year pro Davis Mills entered in the third drive and did a better job getting the ball out quickly to avoid pressure — something Stroud needs to work on. The Texans’ offense played smoother under Mills, unsurprising against backups, given he has 26 starts under his belt. Mills went 9-of-12 passing for 99 yards and a touchdown with no sacks in four drives.

Two preseason games remain, but the question for Texans first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans will be whether he allows Stroud to learn on the job, betting on upside, or start the season with the more experienced but less dynamic Mills under center for Week 1.

With defenders in his face, Stroud looked every bit a rookie in the development process.

On his interception, Stroud patted the ball and stared down receiver Tank Dell, bringing safety Jalen Mills right to the play for the pick. It’s a learning moment for the rookie. He can’t gawk at a wideout against NFL safeties. Once he patted the ball, the play was dead.

Facing a Patriots defense — which has one of the deepest rushing groups in the league — with a slew of backup offensive linemen is a tough task for any first-year quarterback. It felt like Stroud got pressured more in two series in his first preseason action than in entire games at Ohio State. The rookie showed he has a way to go with his processing, which should improve with more reps.

Stroud got his feet wet Thursday in a brief outing. It wasn’t pretty. The question moving forward is how he bounces back.

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