Perhaps the most surprising aspect behind the unexpected rise of Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the resilient play of his offensive line, a patchwork unit besieged by injury from the start of this season.
Despite operating behind a makeshift group, Stroud has performed at a level on par with the greatest campaigns ever for a rookie signal-caller. Stroud certainly is deserving of a lion’s share of the credit for his development, but the ability of his line to hold up under pressure and against attrition has enabled Stroud to produce at a level unexpected by most.
The Texans (6-5) will host the resurgent Denver Broncos (6-5) on Sunday, short-staffed again after offensive lineman Tytus Howard was placed on injured reserve after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the team’s 24-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday.
Howard, who missed the first four games of this season with a broken hand, was replaced by rookie Juice Scruggs against the Jaguars. Scruggs had just returned from IR after missing the first 10 games with a hamstring injury that forced Houston to move Howard from right tackle.
“Unfortunately we’ve had to deal with this before, but we’ve done a good job of shuffling things around and guys working well together as a unit,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “And for me, it’s always whoever steps in, can you just play to the best of your ability. (The) other 10 guys play well around you, we’ll make it work.”
One positive for the Texans: Linebacker Denzel Perryman was reinstated following a two-game suspension.
“Excited to get Denzel back,” Ryans said. “Denzel has been a physical force when he’s in there, and (we) definitely need him this week playing against the Broncos. They’re a physical unit and Denzel being back, it really helps our defense.”
The Broncos extended their winning streak to five games with their 29-12 dispatching of the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, a victory that showcased how defensive might has recently become their calling card.
Denver limited the Browns to 269 yards, recorded four sacks and forced three turnovers. Four different Broncos notched at least a half sack — Nik Bonitto, P.J. Locke, Josey Jewell and Zach Allen — while Alex Singleton, D.J. Jones and Mike Purcell all recovered fumbles, underscoring how a collective approach has sparked the Broncos’ surprising surge into playoff contention.
Integral to the Broncos ranking first in the NFL in takeaways with 22 is the dominant play of Patrick Surtain II, whose ability to negate the top opposing receiver has forced opponents into undesirable situations that have proven advantageous to Denver.
“The takeaways have been a group result relative to punchouts, strips, getting everyone to the ball,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “I’d like to say schematically because we know they’re going away from Patrick and they’re coming over here, but I think there’s a little more to it than that.
“There’s effort, there’s an intelligence that’s involved when you’re trying to take the ball away, and then obviously pressure on the quarterback. I think there are other things that are a byproduct of what he does so well.”
Denver wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (groin) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
For Houston, rookie wideout Tank Dell (calf), tight end Dalton Schultz (hamstring) and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) were among eight players who did not practice on Wednesday.
–Field Level Media