The Houston Texans upset the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3, announcing DeMeco Ryans' squad as a defensive force with a genuine gunslinger at QB. Rookie C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 pick out of Ohio State, has been the best offensive rookie in football. He has 906 yards and four touchdowns across three weeks — with zero INTs.
Houston is only 1-2, so it's still a work in progress. But the Texans are better than expected with a clear upward trajectory. Any Stroud doubters are awfully silent right now, and it's plain as day that Ryans is a quality head coach.
Unfortunately, the early honeymoon could come to a swift and disheartening end on Sunday, when the Texans face the 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh's offense has been a complete train wreck for two-thirds of the season, but that defense is a wrecking crew. The Steelers put constant pressure on the QB and force mistakes. If one was placing bets on Stroud's first turnover, this is the game.
Texans injury update: Josh Jones to miss Steelers game
It would be a concerning matchup if Houston's O-line was at full strength. It's doubly concerning given the multiple impact players who will be absent from the Texans' front seven offensively.
Texans left tackle Josh Jones is expected to miss Sunday's game with a hand injury, joining Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil who continues to deal with a knee ailment. The Texans also have four O-line members — RT Tytus Howard, C Juice Scruggs, LT D.J. Scaife Jr., and RT Kilian Zierer — on the injured reserve. Even Michael Deiter, starting in Scruggs' place at center, is listed as questionable for Sunday's contest.
Short story short, the Texans' O-line is completely decimated. It has been a core weakness through three weeks. On one hand, that only makes Stroud's efficiency more impressive. On the other hand, Week 4 profiles as a definite breaking point.
T.J. Watt is the Steelers' defensive ringleader. He has nine solo tackles and six sacks on the young season, establishing an early Defensive Player of the Year candidacy. He's in prime position to tack on a few more Sunday afternoon. Stroud is an athletic and evasive QB, but he's still a rookie. He hasn't faced a defensive front on Pittsburgh's level yet. One has to believe he won't be too keen to face it again once Sunday draws to a close.
That said... there's a chance for Stroud to make a real statement here. If he can handle the pressure and captain a Texans victory, drawing even to Pittsburgh in the standings at 2-2, that would qualify as a loud "I'm here" announcement from a top pick many folks doubted.
Don't count on that outcome, but it's clear Stroud is a force to be reckoned with. He deserves some benefit of the doubt, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.