NFL Preseason Blitz: Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud settles in with impressive throws

NFL teams don't expect rookie quarterbacks to be great in the preseason. But it's nice to see some highlights.

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud didn't have a great start to his NFL preseason career. The second pick of the draft had a rough debut against the New England Patriots, throwing an interception. He had a bad start Saturday against the Miami Dolphins after the Texans defense returned an interception inside the 10-yard line.

But finally, Stroud got comfortable and made some nice throws on Houston's second drive. That had to calm Texans fans down a bit. The final score wasn't great, as the Dolphins piled up a lot of yards against the Texans defense in a 28-3 win. But at least there were some good signs from Stroud.

First, the bad for Stroud. He made some mistakes after Houston's offense took over at Miami's 7-yard line following an interception, and the Texans came away with no points.

On third-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Stroud didn't get a play off in time and the Texans took a delay of game penalty. It was a critical penalty at the 1-yard line; Stroud needed to show more awareness of the situation. On third down, after the penalty, he was quickly pressured and threw incomplete. On fourth down, Houston went for it and Stroud missed tight end Dalton Schultz badly. Stroud talked to Schultz after the play, indicating there was a miscommunication. Regardless of what happened, it was still a missed opportunity.

Stroud was a lot better on the second series. He had a couple nice passes to Nico Collins. Off a play action fake, Stroud rolled right and had a nice touch pass to Noah Brown for 14 yards. Stroud had a great throw on an out route to Robert Woods near the sideline for 11 yards. The QB was 5 for 5 on the drive for 52 yards, hitting four receivers before a great pass breakup on third down led to a field goal. Stroud was in control during that drive. Those plays were what the Texans saw out of Stroud when they made him the second pick of the draft.

Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans wanted to see his starters get some extended playing time, so they closed out the first half. On their third series, they went three-and-out and the offense couldn't get anything going in a two-minute drill. That drive ended with Stroud missing a tough pass as he rolled to his left.

There were still positives to take from the second drive. Finally, Stroud looked like he was in a rhythm, showing off his accuracy. After a rough start, it was good for Houston to see some impressive plays from their rookie quarterback.

Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud had his second NFL preseason action on Saturday. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud had his second NFL preseason action on Saturday. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Spotlight team: Pittsburgh Steelers

It was just one quarter in the second preseason game, but the Steelers had to feel pretty good Saturday night.

The Steelers' starters mostly played, as did the starters for the Buffalo Bills. And the Steelers led 14-0 after one quarter, and they went on to win 27-15. The Bills had just 66 yards in the first quarter. Steelers running back Jaylen Warren almost outdid that on one run, taking a handoff to the left side and outrunning the Bills for a 62-yard score.

The Steelers got their other touchdown on a pretty pass from second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett to tight end Pat Freiermuth, who looks poised for a breakout as he enters his third season.

Pittsburgh's defense played well, as it did late last season after T.J. Watt returned from injury. The offense hit some big plays. Pickett, whose development is crucial if the Steelers want to make the playoffs, completed 3 of 4 passes for 43 yards. He is off to a very promising start this preseason. And all of the Steelers' big plays came against a Bills team that is still a Super Bowl contender. That's a positive with one more preseason game to go.

Standout player: Chiefs WR Rashee Rice

Rice is going to be moving way up fantasy draft boards this week. Rice, the rookie receiver for the Chiefs, had seven catches for 85 yards in the first half against the Cardinals. Only one of those catches came from Patrick Mahomes, but Mahomes is already a fan. He reportedly pushed the Chiefs to draft Rice, who Kansas City grabbed in the second round. Rice's big game against the Cardinals could lead to a longer look with the starters.

Rice also showed off some nice ability after the catch.

The Chiefs have options at receiver but none have separated themselves. If Rice can carry over his preseason performance from Saturday, he could move up the depth chart. And any receiver that has a big role in a Mahomes offense has the opportunity to put up big numbers.

Other games

Jacksonville Jaguars 25, Detroit Lions 7: Neither team used starters, which probably didn't make NFL Network happy as they had the game in an exclusive 1 p.m. Eastern window. But Lions quarterback Teddy Bridgewater wore No. 50 for his start, which was weird.

Indianapolis Colts 24, Chicago Bears 17: Both teams sat their starters Saturday after playing them a week ago. That meant no Justin Fields or Anthony Richardson at quarterback. That also meant Gardner Minshew II threw it a ton for the Colts. He was 13 of 15 for 107 yards and a touchdown. He'll be a reliable backup for the Colts if they need him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13, New York Jets 6: Kyle Trask got the start at quarterback for the Bucs. Coach Todd Bowles said before the first preseason game that Baker Mayfield would start the opener and Trask would start the second game. Trask didn't have a great start but hit some plays before he was pulled. A big part of his night was a juggling 33-yard touchdown to Trey Palmer in the end zone.

Trask was 16 of 23 for 122 yards and that touchdown when he took a seat. But Trask had to come back into the game after John Wolford was injured. Mayfield didn't play, and he's likely going to be named the team's Week 1 starter, but Trask did enough to at least give the coaching staff some pause before announcing it.

New England Patriots 21, Green Bay Packers 17: Jordan Love isn't perfect, but he has plays that hint at his upside. The ackers quarterback had a beautiful 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie Jayden Reed to cap a drive against the Patriots. It showed off Love's timing, accuracy and touch.

Love also had a nice deep pass to Romeo Doubs for a 42-yard gain.

Love played well in the Packers' preseason opener as well. On Saturday night, he finished 5 of 8 for 84 yards. If Love can play like he has through two preseason games, the Packers should be a lot better than expected.

Tennessee Titans 24, Minnesota Vikings 16: The Vikings and Titans sat starters. Rookie Titans quarterback Will Levis was out with an injury, so Malik Willis got the start. It wasn't Willis' best day. He had a 31.2 passer rating at halftime. Willis played the whole game and had just 85 yards passing, which was a step back after a good camp and start to the preseason. He also had 91 yards rushing, though that part of his game has never been in question.

San Francisco 49ers 21, Denver Broncos 20: The big news from Saturday's game was 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy returning to action after his offseason elbow surgery. He played and looked sharp, which is great news for the 49ers as they get closer to the regular season. It was also noteworthy that Sam Darnold came in second after Purdy after Trey Lance struggled in a start last week. Darnold was 11 of 14 for 109 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Lance came in and threw an interception that was tipped at the line and caught by the Broncos. Lance rebounded for a nice outing, including a 22-yard touchdown pass. Lance also led a last-minute drive, highlighted by a 43-yard pass to Ronnie Bell, to set up a game-winning field goal.

Las Vegas Raiders 34, Los Angeles Rams 17: Jimmy Garoppolo got his first snaps with the Las Vegas Raiders. He was 4 for 4 for 39 yards on his first drive, which ended in a touchdown. He took a seat after that, but did enough to satisfy Josh McDaniels' desire to win preseason games.

Seattle Seahawks 22, Dallas Cowboys 14: The Cowboys didn't use their starters, which meant another big opportunity for running back Rico Dowdle. Dowdle has been working as the No. 2 running back behind Tony Pollard in camp, and that spot is key with Ezekiel Elliott off to the Patriots. Dowdle has been on the Cowboys roster since being undrafted in 2020, but has battled injuries. Dowdle had 38 yards on eight carries and two catches, including a 6-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. He has the chance to hold on to an important role for Dallas this season.

Final thoughts

• Jaguars rookie running back Tank Bigsby got a long look with starters sitting. Bigsby looked good, with some strong, explosive runs. Bigsby had 70 yards on 13 carries. He's trying to carve out a role behind Travis Etienne and his showing against the Lions will help.

• Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa played for the first time since suffering a concussion in Week 16 last season, and on the first play he threw an interception to linebacker Denzel Perryman. Tagovailoa wasn't hit hard after the interception, but he was blocked and tried to get in on the tackle. On the next series, Houston defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins hit Tagovailoa on a screen pass. Tagovailoa didn't take any big hits but he had some contact. Every hit he takes this season will cause some nervous moments, given his concussion issues. Tagovailoa also had some strong throws, including a couple third-down completions and a great pass to Braxton Berrios to set up a rushing touchdown by Raheem Mostert. Overall, it was a good preseason outing to get Tagovailoa some live action.

• Texans rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr., the third pick of the draft, had an impressive play. On a run-pass option, Anderson ran through running back Salvon Ahmed, knocking him to the ground. It was not the best idea for Miami to have a running back try to block Anderson. He then grabbed quarterback Skylar Thompson, forcing a fumble. It was a violent highlight that showed Anderson's playmaking potential.

• The Steelers looked good, but is there reason for concern with the Bills? The defense did not look good as Jaylen Warren ran past them for a 62-yard touchdown. The first-team offense didn't get much going, with three punts on three possessions, including two three-and-outs. It's just the second preseason game and there's probably no reason to be concerned, but the coaching staff won't be thrilled reviewing the tape.

• The Jets defense looks really good. They shut out the Carolina Panthers last week and were flying around against the Buccaneers on Saturday night. Five of the Buccaneers' six first-half drives gained less than 30 yards. New York was a top-five defense last season and it's possible they repeat that this season.

• Zach Wilson continues to look much better. It's just the preseason, but perhaps the pressure being off of him as Jets quarterback, with Aaron Rodgers taking over the starting role, is helping. Wilson passed it pretty well and also showed off his athleticism in avoiding the rush and taking off for a 35-yard run. Wilson was 9 of 13 for 70 yards passing. Maybe the second overall pick of the 2021 draft can turn his career around.

• It was good to see Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson using his legs again. That part of his game has mostly dried up the past couple seasons. In his brief playing time Saturday, he ran three times for 25 yards and a 16-yard run was wiped out due to a holding penalty. Wilson was 3 of 6 passing for 24 yards before he was lifted.

• Titans rookie running back Tyjae Spears has looked good so far this preseason. He had a 33-yard touchdown against the Vikings. Derrick Henry could be moving on from Tennessee after this season. The Titans might have found a replacement if he does.

• There has been speculation the Cardinals could start rookie fifth-round pick Clayton Tune over Colt McCoy at quarterback to start the season, while Kyler Murray recovers from a torn ACL. Tune hasn't done that much to win the job. He took over after McCoy had a brief appearance, and he did some good things, but didn't look like a sure NFL starter as a rookie. Tune was 12 of 24 for 133 yards. He also added 35 yards rushing on six attempts.

• Seahawks rookie receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a first-round pick who was the first receiver taken in the draft, is already making big plays. He had a fantastic 48-yard catch from Drew Lock that set up a touchdown. Seattle's offense was good last season and should be better after adding a playmaker like Smith-Njigba.

• Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O'Connell had another good game. He impressed in the Raiders' preseason opener last week and he had a good follow-up performance against the Rams. O'Connell threw two quick touchdowns after he relieved Brian Hoyer, who was the team's second quarterback after Jimmy Garoppolo. He completed 11-of-18 passes for 163 yards.