CJ Stroud built up a fantastic collegiate stat line. For all he’s criticized for and questioned about, he’s only thrown 12 interceptions in his college career; six this year, six last year.
His phenomenal accuracy in scripted situations provides the Houston Texans a rubric to build up their rookie QB. Part of that rubric will be to analyze, identify, and remedy his six interceptions on the season.
Interception One: vs. Wisconsin
Stroud threw his first interception against Wisconsin after three clean games without any picks. He developed a fairly pungent lead against a fledgling Badgers team before trying to fit a ball into a tight zone down the sideline.
CJ Stroud vs Wisconsin. Just bobbing along nicely with a 31-7 lead then drops these two clangers back to back. pic.twitter.com/ZHofDE9Brb— Rory-Joe Daniels (@rjdanielsnfl) December 13, 2022
In a last-gasp one-minute drill to score on five straight possessions, Stroud forces a throw in what truly doesn’t need to be forced. He also completely misses a receiver over the middle that would have converted the first down. In what will be a theme, he locks in on a singular receiver instead of scanning the field.
Interception Two: vs. Rutgers
After going down early, Stroud led the Buckeyes to four straight touchdowns before halftime. On the first throw after the half, Stroud lofted a ball in the air over the middle of the field.
Throwing into quadruple coverage is not recommended at any level. A little discipline and greed need to be established here; he was staring at the long ball the whole way. Sure, chicks dig the long ball and you’re up by 21, but that was not the pass that should have been thrown. In an effort to loft the ball above the trailing corner, he directly places the pass into the hands of the willing safety.
Interception Three: at Michigan State (The Pick-Six)
In the most egregious throw of his career, Stroud errantly dishes a ball directly to a Michigan State player for a pick-six. While it can be diagnosed as a failure in communication, the bigger concern is his lack of mental clarity to press the ‘eject’ button on the play. He throws this pick because he isn’t reading the field, he’s instead mentally going through the motions. That’ll get him benched in the next level.
Yes, this can be chalked up to a one-time blasé decision. However, it’s a tell-tale sign of much of the criticism surrounding Stroud, that he is a signal caller of the Derek Carr, Jared Goff, and Kirk Cousins guild rather than of the gun-slinging, play-making, defense-reading cloth.
Interception Four: Iowa
Stroud has now thrown one interception in four straight games. Not a great streak, but let’s just calm down because he threw for 17 TDs in that same timespan. That’s an acceptable clip. On this play, Stroud does well to move around in the pocket and find the receiver moving in his direction, but once again Stroud falls in love with the wrong guy.
Iowa LB Jack Campbell picks off CJ Stroud. The play was not reviewed. pic.twitter.com/1Ir11ApBX6— Philp Football (@PhilpFootball) April 25, 2023
This is an opportunity against a nickel defense with two high safeties to use his athleticism and scramble for a positive gain of yards. It’s first and 10, which implies that a three-to-five yard gain is a dandy little play to start the half. He has enough time after resetting his feet in the backfield to recognize where everyone is, but it’s another case of trying to force a pass. He’s trusting his own talent and his quality receiver to outplay an entire defense. I’ll never knock a QB for trusting their talent, but there’s sometimes when you have to step away from the blackjack table even if you’re on a hot streak.
Interception Five: vs. Michigan
In the final game of the season, CJ Stroud fell flat against a determined Michigan. It possibly cost him a Heisman Trophy, but more importantly cost them a shot at the Big Ten Championship game. His two interceptions are less noteworthy, but they do represent similar instinctual ineptitudes we are discovering.
With the game teetering on out of reach, Stroud led Ohio State inside Michigan’s red zone with just over four minutes to go. Stroud, with good reason, disliked many of the options as the Wolverines deployed a quarters zone scheme out of a blitz-look that they hadn’t used all game. When he went to scramble, the odds simply fell out of his favor; it was not going to be his day that day.
Tip your hat to the kid trying to make a play. They’re down two touchdowns, so opting for a field goal doesn’t bode well. Even so, their offense is clearly in fourth-down territory and he has to acknowledge the circumstances. We’re quickly learning that Mahomes-esque plays are not in his repertoire and we’ll have to manage expectations for the miraculous to settle for better than what we’ve had the past two seasons in Davis Mills.
Interception Six: vs. Michigan
The sixth and final interception of CJ Stroud’s 2022 season comes in a last-ditch effort to ease the pain of a loss against their arch rival. With the game out of reach, Stroud elevates a ball into the middle of the field, again.
There’s not too much to over-examine in a garbage time play off of a tip-drill. It’s a matter of Stroud throwing an unrecommended ball hoping something good happens. With plays like this, you unlearn more about the player by trying to pick a part what he can and can’t do.
Several lessons we’ve learned through this exercise. First, when Stroud is trying to fit a ball between receivers, he’s going to miss high. He rarely misses, but when he does, it’s an airmail. There isn’t a technique issue per-se, but it’s more of an effortful insistence on the throw that exists rather than a rhythmic synergy with his receivers. Granted, I’ll take a QB who’s willing to throw the ball over the middle of the field than one who simply has etched those throws out of their game.
We’ve also seen several instances where patience meets persistence. Stroud is known for his pocket presence and willingness to allow his star receivers to get open. However, there’s too many opportunities for him to make a poor throw at the next level with this habit in hand. Mind you, the receiving options at Ohio State will be markedly better than the ones he’ll have in Houston. Meaning, that the pros and cons of him waiting on receivers is exacerbated at the next level.
Finally, the guy is always looking to make plays. No matter the situation, the guy is going to drive the offense with his arm. Be that as it may, it’s a trait we need to win games. It also could be a deterrent for him to succeed if the Texans coaching staff doesn’t properly coach him and place him in the right positions to win.