HOUSTON (AP)C.J. Stroud has tried to stop being so hard on himself, but he simply can’t help it.
“It’s hard to live like that,” he said. “I just put pressure on myself and just try to be as best prepared as I can, so yeah, I would say I’m a perfectionist … but I’m trying to be more accepting of my flaws and plays I don’t make.”
So far, that perfectionism has paid off for the Houston Texans as the rookie quarterback has transformed their passing game. He’ll get a big test Sunday when he faces a New Orleans secondary that is among the best in the NFL.
Houston had one of the worst passing attacks in the league over the last two seasons with Davis Mills at quarterback. Stroud, the second overall pick in the draft, has the Texans ranked third in the NFL with an average of 274.8 yards per game.
His performance has turned heads across the league.
“C.J.’s doing a great job and I’m happy for him, but … our defense makes it tough on anybody – a rookie or not a rookie, they make it hard on you,” New Orleans quarterback Derek Carr said. “Hopefully, they can do that this week for us.”
Since second-year Saints coach Dennis Allen began running New Orleans’ defense as a coordinator during the 2015 season, the Saints have won 11 of 14 games against rookie QBs. In 10 of those, the Saints’ opposing signal caller finished with a rating of 87.1 or worse.
The three Saints losses came against Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett in 2022, Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts in 2020 and Carolina’s Kyle Allen in 2018. But the Saints rested numerous starters in the loss to Allen, having already clinched a No. 1 playoff seeding.
In Week 2 of this season, Panthers rookie Bryce Young completed 22 of 33 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown in a loss to the Saints. He was sacked four times and lost a fumble.
Allen said New Orleans’ past success against rookie quarterbacks has no bearing on Sunday’s game. He’s been impressed with Stroud.
“The one thing that you do see sometimes out of rookie quarterbacks is you see them not always processing the information as quickly as they need to and getting the ball to the right spots all the time, which presents some challenges for the offense – and that’s not what I see out of this player,” he said.
The Saints enter Week 6 having allowed the fourth-fewest yards passing in the NFL. Their seven interceptions are just shy of the league high of eight by both San Francisco and Buffalo.
Stroud is one of only two quarterbacks to have started every game this season and not thrown an interception. He has an NFL record 186 passing attempts without an interception to start a career.
“I just want to keep building trust and keep putting it on the field and keep playing well because I know I can and I have that confidence in myself,” he said.
TAKE IT AWAY
Led by Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ secondary was among the best in the NFL last season. New Orleans allowed 184.4 yards passing per game in 2022, second fewest in the league. But one area in which the unit struggled was in intercepting the ball. The Saints ranked 30th with seven picks all season.
Five games into this season, the Saints already have picked off opposing quarterbacks seven times. And it’s been a shared effort. Seven players each have one: Marshon Lattimore, Tryann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, Isaac Yiadom, Paulson Adebo, Lonnie Johnson and Pete Werner.
Maye and Werner made their interceptions after deflections caused by teammates making plays on the ball.
“Everybody’s just attacking the ball. We’re being in the right place at the right time and so we’re just making plays on the ball,” defensive back Alontae Taylor said.
Taylor has nearly intercepted a couple of passes himself.
“Everybody can say it’s the coaching, it’s this and that,” he said. “I think it’s the mindset and it’s a challenge that we have in our DB room right now. … We’re up for the challenge and we’re having fun. So, I think that’s the most important part.”
The Texans enter Sunday’s game ranked 27th in the league in rushing, averaging 82.6 yards per game. They managed just 64 yards rushing Sunday after running for a season-high 139 yards against Pittsburgh.
Dameon Pierce is averaging 2.9 yards per carry after averaging 4.3 as a rookie last season when he finished with 939 yards.
Houston coach DeMeco Ryans is confident that Pierce will get going.
“Dameon is steady. He takes what he can get, and he continues to work at it,” Ryans said. “Dameon is a hard worker. He’s dialed into the process of continuing to get better with what we’re asking him to do with the football and he keeps after it. Stay after it, stay after it, stay after it and those runs will come – explosive runs.”
Saints running back Kendre Miller, a rookie from TCU and a third-round draft pick, is coming off his best game. He had 90 yards from scrimmage on 12 carries and four receptions, highlighted by a short catch that he turned into a 33-yard gain.
“It takes some time to kind of get your feet under you and to understand why and when and where,” said Alvin Kamara, New Orleans’ primary running back. “But he’s figuring it out, putting the pieces together. He has the ability.”
Although Kamara was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2017, with 1,554 yards and 13 TDs from scrimmage, he estimated that it took him nearly 14 games before he always knew where to line up without former QB Drew Brees or another teammate pointing him in the right direction after the huddle broke.
“I made it look easier than it was for me,” Kamara said.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
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