Time and time again, it seems it's been Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud stealing headlines after wins, putting up historical performances, and putting the finishing touches on games.
Week 11 flipped the script. Stroud threw three interceptions in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals—a game Houston won 21-16. On fourth-and-3 from the Texans’ 27-yard line, the defense came up with the big stop, deflecting a pass from quarterback Kyler Murray to clinch the game.
Arizona turned the ball over twice and managed just two touchdowns, despite an offensive performance that shouldn’t be considered complementary. Leading the way was linebacker Blake Cashman, filling in for the suspended Denzel Perryman.
Cashman moved from an outside linebacker spot to the “Mike” spot in Houston’s defense, where he was central to the communication of the unit. Evidently, that transition wasn’t an issue. In crunch time, he and the rest of the defense stepped up; not only in the game’s final minutes, but on two earlier fourth downs as well.
“It felt great just because it’s something we’ve been emphasizing,” Cashman said. “As a defense you take pride in closing out games. There’s been a couple instances this year where we haven’t been able to do that. So to emphasize it, to practice it, to work on it every week, and then to finally have the opportunity to do it and close out, it’s great.”
Cashman wasn’t just the vocal leader of a defense that had a good day. He played out of his mind. He beautifully transitioned into the Mike role and racked up an incredible 19 tackles, more than three times the next-best Texan. He also recorded a tackle for loss, a sack, and a pass breakup, in what was one of the best games a linebacker has played this season.
Additionally, he played a large part in containing Murray, who may be the most dynamic quarterback in football, his athleticism sets him apart, as evidenced by his 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground. When it mattered most, he wasn’t able to use his legs to convert.
“It’s hard to keep a guy like that from making plays,” Cashman said. “He’s a dynamic player, explosive player, they’ve got a lot of speed … We knew if we could just keep the ball in front of us and make them earn their drives, then we can be in a good position to win the football game.
“At that point, it’s just playing football, playing instinctively, and getting after the rock.”
Head coach DeMeco Ryans has preached a winning mindset and next-man-up mentality since he was introduced as the leading man mere months ago. On Sunday, Cashman and the Texans continued to embody those principles.
Week 11’s win puts the Texans at 6-4 with a pivotal Week 12 match with the first-place Jacksonville Jaguars on deck. It’s a safe bet Cashman will find himself in the middle of that one, too.