HOUSTON (AP)Just six games into the season, the Houston Texans already have three wins to match their total from last season.
The biggest change? The strong play of rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who had another good game Sunday to lead Houston to a 20-13 win over New Orleans to improve to .500 entering the bye week.
Stroud threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. He threw his first interception after setting an NFL record by throwing 191 passes without a pick to start his career.
But it didn’t matter much as receiver Nico Collins forced Zack Baun to fumble after the interception. The ball was recovered by Tytus Howard to give the Texans the ball back, and Stroud put them up 7-0 on a 1-yard TD pass to Dalton Schultz.
“I think that was the turning point of the game for us and on offense,” coach DeMeco Ryans said. “Bad things happen. We responded the correct way. That’s what you continue to see from C.J. … a bad play, it doesn’t affect the next play. That’s growth and that’s really great to see from a young quarterback.”
Stroud, the second overall pick in the draft, has thrown a touchdown pass in five straight games and has thrown two in four of his past five games for Houston (3-3).
He ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,660 yards passing and his 7.8 yards per throw is fourth in the league.
Stroud is pleased with his success so far but thinks he and the Texans can do much more.
’’DeMeco was up here for 45 minutes showing us the details, all the positive plays we’ve had,” Stroud said. “And we were kind of like: ‘Man, we shouldn’t be 3-3.’ We should be better than that, but we are because we missed details on little certain plays.’ That’s what it boils down to.”
Houston’s defense made two big stops in the last five minutes against the Saints to preserve the lead. The performance came after Stroud led a TD drive to put the Texans on top with less than two minutes left at Atlanta a week before. But the defense was unable to come up with a stop and allowed a last-second field goal in the 21-19 loss.
On Sunday, Houston stopped Alvin Kamara short of a first down on fourth-and-4 with about 4½ minutes left before Steven Nelson intercepted Derek Carr in the game’s final seconds to secure the win.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
While Stroud has revamped Houston’s passing game, the Texans running game has not gotten going this season. The Texans rank 24th in the NFL by averaging just 88.8 yards rushing a game.
Schultz. The tight end, who is in his first season in Houston after five years with the Cowboys, has become a top option for Stroud. He had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown Sunday to give him three straight games with a TD for the first time in his career.
“Seeing Dalton and his playmaking ability in the passing game, it’s been what we anticipated we would get from him and it’s showing up big time,” Ryans said. “Proud of Dalton for him showing up, making big-time plays for us.”
RB Dameon Pierce. The second-year player has struggled this season and had just 34 yards on 13 carries Sunday. He’s averaging just 2.9 yards a carry this season after averaging 4.3 yards a carry as a rookie when he had 939 yards rushing.
WR Tank Dell missed Sunday’s game with a concussion but should return for the next game. … S Eric Murray injured a knee in the first quarter Sunday.
6. The Texans are tied for third in the NFL with a plus-6 turnover margin.
“Turnovers is definitely an area where we focus – we spend a lot of attention on attacking the football defensively,” Ryans said. “For our offense, it’s protecting the ball and to see it show up in games has been really great.”
The Texans are off this week before Stroud will match up against No. 1 pick QB Bryce Young Oct. 29 when Houston visits Carolina Oct. 29. Young’s had a tough time this season and the Panthers, who also have a bye this week, are the NFL’s only winless team at 0-6.
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