Stroud, Texans host Steelers, looking to build on last week's big win
Thu, Sep 28, 2023
NFL News (AP)
HOUSTON (AP) - Houston coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud admire the sustained success that coach Mike Tomlin has had during his tenure in Pittsburgh and hope to one day emulate it.
"He's definitely a guy I look up to, and you see his success and how his players rave about him," Ryans said. "I think that's what sticks out the most, and that's the type of coach that I want to be - a man who truly cares about the players. Not just as players, but as men, and that's where Coach Tomlin sticks out to me the most, and I have the upmost respect for him."
For now though the young duo is simply looking for their first career winning streaks when the Texans (1-2) host the Steelers (2-1), who have won two in a row, Sunday.
Stroud and the Texans are coming off an impressive 37-17 win over the Jaguars last week where multiple rookies helped the team to the victory. Stroud, who was taken second overall, said he and Houston's other first-year players feel a responsibility to turn around a team that has been among the league's worst for the past three seasons.
"When we first came in, we wanted to set the foundation of why they drafted us," he said. "We all said to each other, 'They drafted us together for a reason.' We all play off of each other and we all eat off each other. We set that standard that we weren't going to go anything short of success here. We're going to bring hope to the Texans."
Stroud has been doing his part and became the first Texan since 2017 to be selected as offensive rookie of the month. The former Ohio State standout is the first player in NFL history with 906 yards passing, four TDs and no interceptions through his first three games.
Now he'll face a defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in yards allowed, but that has a fierce pass rush that has 13 sacks led by T.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with six.
Tomlin has been impressed with Stroud's work so far.
"They do a good job of keeping him out of adverse, one-dimensional circumstances like behind the chains is a component of it," he said. "He's experienced beyond his years, being a quarterback at Ohio State is a component of it, in my opinion. And then his mobility, his prudent use of mobility, the fact that he can extend plays and still keep his eyes downfield and still manage negativity is another component of it. And so, I think there's multiple things."
While Pittsburgh's Watt looks to lead the Steelers on Sunday, his older brother J.J. Watt will return to the place he made home when he's inducted into Houston's Ring of Honor. J.J. Watt, who starred for the Texans from 2011 to 2020, will be the third person to receive this honor, joining receiver Andre Johnson and the late founder of the team, Bob McNair.
BACKING IT UP
The Steelers eased up some of the pressure on embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada - at least briefly - by showing signs of life during last week's win over Las Vegas.
Pittsburgh scored 23 points as Kenny Pickett threw multiple touchdowns in a game for the first time in his short career. The next step may be more difficult: building on it.
The Steelers have scored 20-plus points in two straight games, though they only crossed that threshold in a Week 2 win over Cleveland thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns. Pittsburgh has topped 20 points in three straight games just once since Canada took over as offensive coordinator in 2021. Sunday will be Pickett's 16th NFL start. He's well aware it's time to take the training wheels off.
"We want to stack performances, stack wins," Pickett said. "Got two primetime wins, which was great for us, building momentum ... we've got to take care of business Sunday."
A BIG DELL
Houston rookie Tank Dell has come up big through the first three games. The third-round pick from the University of Houston set a rookie franchise record with 145 yards receiving against the Colts. Dell had a 68-yard touchdown reception last week and ranks second among rookies with 251 yards receiving this season.
"I think Tank's success has just come from his preparation," Ryans said. "He's locked in on the details of what he's asked to do when it comes to the route-running, the depth, the angles of where he's running. He's locked in on the details. He's prepared, and it shows on Sunday when he goes out there."
The Steelers relied heavily on the running game during a 7-2 run to end the 2022 season. After two weeks of being stuck in place to start 2023, Pittsburgh may have found something against the Raiders.
The Steelers ran for 105 yards, with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren both making an impact. Warren has made a name for himself since making the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent before the 2022 season.
He immediately won over Tomlin with his willingness to take on defenders in pass protection, a talent that was on display last week against Las Vegas, when the 5-foot-8 Warren took out Raiders star defensive end Maxx Crosby - all 6-5 of him - to buy enough time for Pickett to find Calvin Austin III for a 72-yard touchdown pass.
"That's really consistent with what he's done since he's been here," Tomlin said of Warren. "His blitz pickup has always been exciting and exceptional."
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.
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