ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It’s been seven months since the Houston Texans drafted C.J. Stroud, a time when the franchise believed he could halt the team’s spiral into abyss. Houston had not won more than four games in a season since 2019. Beginning in September, it has become clear that Houston has a problem -- one that the rest of the league now must deal with on a weekly basis.
Bucking the trend of Ohio State quarterbacks failing and breaking the mold of a rookie tilting conservative, Stroud has gone on a passing binge. The kid lets it eat. He has been responsible for more deep flies than Jose Altuve.
Through 11 games, Stroud has posted 31 completions of at least 20 yards and 10 of at least 30 yards. He is not afraid to stand in the pocket and deliver, boldness rewarded by first-time coach DeMeco Ryans, who has a finalist for the Broncos job before gravitating to the team where he once starred as a player.
As such, this week offers a fascinating challenge for the Broncos, winners of five straight and attempting to become the fifth team in NFL history start 1-5 and reach the playoffs. A sticky-fingered defense remains central to the Broncos’ U-turn. The Broncos have posted 16 takeaways during the streak, including interceptions. Denver’s ball-hawking secondary vs. Stroud’s accuracy – only five picks in 391 attempts – could decide the outcome.
“When you see him on film you don’t see a rookie quarterback by any means,” Broncos safety P.J. Locke said. “He’s making these crazy throws. He’s scrambling around. He’s extending plays. But he’s not looking to scramble. He will step up in the pocket and make throws even if he feels pressure. He can make every throw on the field. Yeah, we will have our hands full defensively.”
Perhaps the least surprised Bronco about Stroud’s success is Jonathon Cooper. Cooper and Baron Browning were teammates with Stroud at Ohio State. As a veteran leader, Cooper talked with Stroud about playing quarterback for the Buckeyes, one of the most high-profile positions in college football. He watched him handle the assignment with aplomb, and now he’s ready to face Stroud.
“I was one of the guys who always had confidence in C.J. I never understood those critics anyway and those scouts. C.J. has always been a great player. I already consider him one of the best quarterbacks in the league,” Cooper said. “We have to make sure we bring our A game.”
Just because Cooper likes Stroud doesn’t mean he won’t engage in trash talk. He already did as much with Chicago’s Justin Fields, also a former Buckeye, whose fumbled delivered a scoop and score for Cooper in the Broncos’ first win of the season.
“Oh yeah, I will talk. You have to,” Cooper said.
Stroud leans heavily on his speedy receivers to stress the defense. Nico Collins, a 2021 draft pick, and rookie Tank Dell remain on pace for 1,000-yard seasons and have combined for 12 touchdowns. Stroud, though, understands the Broncos are on a heater.
“They are really talented. They have two of my former teammates in Baron (Browning) and (Jonathon) Coop (Cooper) who set the edge well and make plays. (Justin) Simmons is a great player and if (Patrick) Surtain isn’t the best corner, he’s in the top 3. He’s my favorite corner," Stroud said. "We’ve got our hands full with that guy. They a great team.”
In many ways, Stroud’s numbers mirror those of Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson, who turned 35 on Wednesday, boasts 20 touchdowns with four picks – he is the first Broncos quarterback to reach 20 scores since Peyton Manning in 2014. Stroud counters with 19 and 5. Simmons praised Stroud’s poise under pressure. And Wilson has taken notice.
“C.J. has been impressive. He’s having one of the best rookie years ever. He’s got a great gene in him. It’s called the clutch gene,” said Wilson, who has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions over the Broncos last five games. “He’s got some ‘It’ factor to him. And you saw that in college. I think it translates, especially the league he played in (the Big Ten).”
Jackson to meet Commissioner on Thursday
Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson told Denver7 he will meet with commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday in hopes of getting more clarity regarding his two suspensions and $925,000 in lost salary for repeated unnecessary roughness violations. Jackson, 35, originally planned to talk with Goodell on Wednesday. He is not sure what will come of the discussion but would like a better understanding of why his punishment has not matched others who have delivered similar hits this season. And Jackson would like the league to reconsider allowing suspended players to remain with the team and at the facility. …
At Patrick Surtain II’s Inspire the Dream Gala on Tuesday, one of the most popular auction items was a ‘Free KJack’ shirt brought by Locke. Jackson autographed the shirt and posed for a picture with the person who had the winning bid.
Jerry Jeudy (groin) did not practice because of a groin injury but said he should be fine to play Sunday. Brandon Johnson (hamstring) returned to practice and is ready to go after his four-week stint on the injured reserve. The Broncos have to decide what move to make given their receiver depth.