There are three rookie starting quarterbacks in the NFL this season, and none of them have looked better than CJ Stroud. After beating the Steelers at home last weekend, Stroud and the Texans will take their 2-2 record on the road to play a Falcons team that lost in London on Sunday morning.
Things were looking up in Atlanta through the first two weeks of the season, with the Falcons starting the season 2-0 and scoring 24 or more points in those wins. However, since their 25-24 win over the Packers in week two, Arthur Smith and the Falcons have come crashing back to reality, losing two straight and scoring a combined 13 points in those two games.
In their 23-7 loss to the Jaguars in London, the Falcons offense finished the day with a (-15.78) EPA, despite Bijan Robinson rushing for 105 yards on 14 carries. Outside of Robinson, the Falcons could not get anyone going, with quarterback Desmond Ridder throwing for just 191 yards and two interceptions as his struggles continued. Ridder has the Falcons' offense ranked 32nd in passing yards and 27th in passing touchdowns despite having multiple weapons surrounding him.
Ridder’s matchup this weekend will be a Texans team coming off their best defensive performance of the season, holding the Steelers to six points in their 30-6 win. Houston would finish the day with a (8.54) EPA on defense, holding the Steelers to 225 total yards of offense. After that performance, Houston is now 9th in passing yards allowed per game but is still 19th in rushing yards allowed per game, which could hurt them this weekend.
Offensively, CJ Stroud is leading one of the best passing attacks in the NFL despite having a banged-up offensive line. The rookie has thrown for the 4th most yards in the league, and thanks to receivers like Tank Dell and Nico Collins, Houston is averaging 6.9 yards per pass. In their win over Pittsburgh, the Texans' offense put up a (15.66) EPA, and for the first time all season, they managed a positive EPA on run plays, which is a big step forward for Dameon Pierce.
The Texans enter this matchup as (+2) point underdogs, and I’ll be backing them to cover as underdogs for the third time this season. Atlanta’s defense may be the toughest task CJ Stroud has had since playing the Ravens in week one, but he’s shown impressive maturity up to this point, and the fact that their run game has been improving is a big positive entering the matchup.
Atlanta’s pass defense is 7th in average yards per passing attempt and 5th in passing yards allowed per game, so Stroud may be unable to dial up as many deep shots as he’s been taking over the past few weeks. Houston may need to rely more on Dameon Pierce this weekend since Atlanta is 17th in rushing yards allowed per game. As long as Stroud protects the ball, the Texans should be able to hang around since the Falcons offense has not proven they can pull away.
We’ll likely see Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgier carry most of the workload for the Falcons offense. Still, with Atlanta averaging just 156.3 passing yards per game and 5.3 yards per pass, the Texans should be able to stack the box and focus most of their energy on slowing the run. I think the Falcons' lack of offense will be why Houston will stick around in this game and keep it close.
Houston Texans (+2)