Joe Burrow and C.J. Stroud have some common ground beyond being NFL quarterbacks at the center of Sunday’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans.
Call it the “Buckeye Bond.”
An Ohio native, Burrow spent three years at Ohio State and earned a degree but didn’t play much football. He transferred to LSU when the Buckeyes opted to go with Dwayne Haskins as the starting QB in 2018.
In Baton Rouge, Burrow won a national championship and Heisman Trophy and was the top pick in the 2020 draft by the Bengals.
“I always said I went to school at Ohio State, and I played football at LSU,” Burrow said this week. “That’s how I think about it.”
Stroud, from California, was a two-year starter at Ohio State where he broke school records and was a Heisman finalist at the end of the 2021 and ‘22 seasons. He was the second overall pick by the Texans in the 2023 draft.
Both were nurtured in Columbus by Ryan Day, considered one of the best quarterback coaches in college football.
Both were good NFL quarterbacks almost from the start. Besides the two of them, only three other quarterbacks in history passed for at least 2,250 yards as rookies during their first eight NFL starts.
Stroud said he and Burrow talked over the summer about their shared experiences.
“A lot of things to learn from that guy,” Stroud said this week. “He’s a hell of a leader and a really good person — somebody that only isn’t looking out for himself. He shot me a text over the year congratulating me on some of the success and things like that. … He had a lot of great advice for me that I’m still using to this day.”
Behind the 22-year-old Stroud, the Texans (4-4) have won four of their past six. They’ve already surpassed their win total from last season with nine games remaining.
Last Sunday, Stroud set the NFL record for most yards passing by a rookie in a game by throwing for 470 yards and five touchdowns. His game-winning drive in the last minute against the Buccaneers capped a 39-37 win and was one of the most thrilling victories in franchise history.
“They’ve done a good job structuring the offense around him and getting the most out of him, and he’s playing at a really high level,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said.
“You can see the confidence in the receivers and the tight ends.”
BURROW IS BACK
Burrow’s calf injury limited him early this season, and Cincinnati slumped to 1-3 on Oct. 1. But with their leader regaining his form, the Bengals (5-3) have won four in a row and are right back in the AFC playoff conversation.
“Everything is trending in the right way,” said Burrow, who passed for a season-high 348 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 24-18 win over Buffalo. “I’m accurate with the football right now. I’m making the right decisions. Happy with how I’m playing. I got to continue to get better.”
Houston could be without kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn after he missed the second half against Tampa Bay and sat out of practice this week. The Texans signed Matt Ammendola to their practice squad Tuesday and he will fill in if Fairbairn sits out.
Houston coach DeMeco Ryans isn’t worried about Ammendola being ready to go after just three days of practice. After all, running back Dare Ogunbowale only had a few minutes to prepare to take over for Fairbairn Sunday. He made a 29-yard field goal to put the Texans on top with nine minutes to go to become the first non-kicker or punter to make a field goal since 2004.
“We got a kicker ready at halftime last week,” Ryans said with a laugh. “So, we’ll see what happens.”
The Texans rank 24th in the NFL by allowing 238 yards passing a game. Their banged-up secondary will get perhaps its biggest test of the season so far Sunday against Burrow.
“Joe does a really good job of going through his progressions, and he can pick you apart very easily,” Ryans said. “So, you have to be on it … everybody has to be exactly where they’re supposed to be. If you’re off a hair, he’ll make you pay.”