The Houston Texans host the Indianapolis Colts in their first home game of the 2023 season. Both are coming off a loss that was a little more contested than many prognosticators expected, Houston’s defense with a few turnovers and the Colts’ offense holding onto a lead entering the fourth quarter. Even though both the Texans and Colts lost, there were plenty of new players to gawk at, with two players in particular stealing the spotlight: Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson and Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud.
Stroud and Richardson, the second overall pick and fourth overall pick, respectively, deservedly absorbed the attention of most fans, aching to get a glimpse at their franchise messiah. Both carry great expectations and, to an extent, delivered on them in week 1. Stroud was decisive and turnover-free in his first start, showcasing the deep-ball prowess that made scouts drool. Richardson completed a great variety of passes and ran for some first downs, displaying the traits that made him one of the most sought-after prospects in recent history. Richardson barely played in college, and he’s already looking like a solid pro in his first game! Both of these quarterbacks, now division rivals, are going to define the trajectory of their organizations for the next several years, with one’s success directly affecting the other. Now, with all this hype considered: who’s going to play better in their first meeting?
This one, unfortunately, isn’t much of a competition. Behind Houston’s mishmash offensive line, C.J. Stroud was pressured 17 times with three hits, five sacks, and a fumble. The majority of this pressure came right up the middle, where rookie center Jarrett Patterson and left guard Josh Jones failed to provide the rookie passer much security. The Texans were never able to establish a ground attack, putting all the pressure on Stroud to dig his team out of a hole while he scrambled around the backfield. 44 passes in your first game is quite the tall order, but Stroud succeeded in moving the offense with his arm, completing 63.6% of those attempts for 242 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.
Anthony Richardson, on the other hand, had a cleaner pocket to operate within during his first NFL game. Center Ryan Kelly, LT Bernhard Raimann, and LG Quenton Nelson made up a formidable offensive line, giving Richardson plenty of room right behind the line of scrimmage, and clear pathways to escape into the open field. Because of injuries tearing through Houston’s line, this can feel like a little bit of an unfair comparison, but their failure to capture linemen like RG Will Fries or RT Braden Smith in later rounds of the past few drafts has put the Texans in a pickle they only have themselves to blame.
Sorry, Houston, but this point goes to Indy.
What’s a rookie quarterback gonna do if he needs to score 25+ points a game? He’s gonna make a lot of mistakes, and he’s gonna lose. Having a defense that can influence the pace of the game will go a long way at improving the value of their offensive possessions, and will make the rookie passer’s job much easier. Houston’s defensive line showed some real power against Baltimore last week, flustering Jackson into a fumble, three sacks, four hits, and 11 hurries. On top of that, the Texans also nabbed an interception from Lamar Jackson! This was, despite the final score, a very promising showing from DeMeco Ryans’ new-and-improved defense. Unfortunately, the Ravens were still able to find success running the ball, which could end up costing Houston as they face a very athletic rookie quarterback on Sunday. Defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and Maliek Collins had two of the worst PFF graded performances on Houston’s roster in Baltimore (38.5 and 27.6, respectively), they absolutely have to play better to keep Richardson from dicing up the defense.
On Indy’s side, the defense is a little more suspect. Similar to the Ravens, the Colts’ strength is their defensive line, led by stars DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart. Both players had a great first game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, meaning it’s going to be another rough day in the office for C.J. Stroud. Running the ball won’t be easy with left guard Josh Jones and center Jarrett Patterson leading the way, and it’ll be just as hard staying clean in the pocket. However, Stroud still performed admirably when pressured vs. Baltimore (11 completions, 64.7 CMP%, 78 yards), so there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to scramble and target the secondary, again. Indy’s secondary is - just like Baltimore’s - the weak link of their team, so Stroud will benefit from targeting outside. If you need any proof, look at Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s game against the Colts last week.
With former Colts CB Stephon Gilmore now in Dallas and current CB Kenny Moore II off to a rough start in coverage, this could be Stroud’s first game where his arm leads us to victory. With Houston’s pass-rush capabilities and ball-hawking secondary rounding into form, this point goes to the Texans.
Already so impressed with CJ Stroud.— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) September 14, 2023
HOU motion to 1x3, play concept puts LB6 in a hi-lo bind. Stroud gets his eyes over on time and fires as soon as he sees the LB has too much depth. Can really see it w/ the end zone view. pic.twitter.com/EyjuCyqzHk
C.J. Stroud became a superstar at Ohio State because of his ability to quickly move through progressions and make deadly accurate throws. Stroud made his decisions fast and made defenses pay for letting his receivers come open down the sideline. With Indy’s rough pass coverage and the DeForest Buckner-led interior rush, expect more of the same from Stroud in week 2. Plenty of running around, escaping interior pressure, and throwing the ball every which way will likely be Houston’s road to victory. Whether or not Stroud can lead some touchdown drives while he scrambles around the backfield has yet to be seen, and having to do so without much of a ground game is another challenge for the rookie.
Good base, stable front foot strike, perfect throw into traffic from Anthony Richardson— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) September 12, 2023
His control with impressive on Sunday. Threw short a lot but his short accuracy was one of the concerns with him in the draft. pic.twitter.com/6trnYhqXSl
On the other side of the ball is Anthony Richardson, a one-of-a-kind athlete. Anthony Richardson is just fast. He’s deceptively fast. He throws the ball fast, he runs way faster than you expect, and he can do things most other quarterbacks can only dream of. He’s big and strong, too, because of course he is. He has everything you could ever want in a quarterback, apparently. Have you heard about this? Everyone keeps saying this to me, I can’t escape it. Quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are an impossible challenge to start the season with, but it may end up paying dividends as Houston’s linebackers and safeties are now a little more prepared for the dual-threat attack that Richardson presents. Patience and tackling was key in Baltimore, and it’s going to be key again in Houston.
So, who takes the lead on this one? I would say Stroud looked like a much more competent passer in his first game than Richardson, who relied on his size and speed to make the plays for him. But, Richardson clearly has the edge in athleticism, and the blocking he’ll get from his line will allow him to take full advantage of that. But, ultimately, you win games when you throw the ball well, so, as a clearly unbiased observer of this matchup, I’m taking C.J. Stroud over Anthony Richardson!
WINNER: C.J. STROUD
I still just can’t believe we have a quarterback with a ceiling like Stroud’s. After two years of the Davis Mills experience, it feels like a dream to have a quarterback with the talent and consistency of Stroud’s. Of course, I could very well be wrong, it would be no surprise if the quarterback that was taken two picks after Stroud ends up having a better day on Sunday. What do you think? Will Anthony Richardson’s rocket arm and fleet-of-foot keep Houston under wraps, or will C.J. Stroud’s pocket presence and accuracy carry the Texans to victory? Let us know in the comments below!