The Houston Texans are a franchise in transition.
The Texans were finally able to hire the general manager they had pursued for a couple of years in Nick Caserio. Caserio retained the highly controversial Jack Easterby and brought on first-time head coach David Culley. Together, Caserio and Easterby purged the organization of long-term employees who were no longer deemed “culture fits”. Their franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson did not like where the franchise was headed and determined a change of scenery would benefit him. In the midst of his trade request, allegations of sexual assault by numerous massage therapists surfaced, thereby ensuring Watson, one way or another, had played his last down as a Texan.
Houston signed career journeyman Tyrod Taylor who surprisingly looked good to start the season. However, as fate would have it, he injured his hamstring, effectively handing the keys to the offense to 2020 third-round draft pick Davis Mills.
On Thursday night in Mills’ first career start, he demonstrated some of the attributes and characteristics that Houston loved about him in the pre-draft process. His quick release, mental quickness, and processing allowed him to efficiently get through his progressions. These attributes allowed Mills to stay on schedule and distribute the ball with timing and efficiency.
There were many instances of Mills getting to the top of his drop hitting his fifth or seventh step and delivering the football with accuracy. It was apparent this was in Houston’s plan, which resulted in somewhat of a conservative game plan in Mills’ initial start.
However, Houston’s inability to run the football effectively and protect up front was their demise against the Carolina Panthers. The Texans got behind the sticks too often in the first half and were in too many 3rd-and-long situations. They converted only one of nine third-down situations.
Mills closed the first half with impressive execution of the two-minute offense in which he was 5-for-5, hitting three different receivers. The rhythm of the two-minute offense seemed to help Mills. The drive subsequently ended with a touchdown to Anthony Miller. The second half would be a similar story. Mills only had 99 yards passing at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Carolina has one of the best defenses in the NFL and their defensive front again proved to be effective. Houston’s offensive line is undoubtedly their Achilles heel. Their inability to generate vertical movement in the run game allowed Carolina to drop and play coverage against Mills.
Houston has some things to build on with Mills. They’ll need to run the ball better (having run for just 42 yards) and will need to be better in third-down situations. Getting into 3rd-and-manageable situations will be beneficial for Mills and ultimately this offense. Protecting him better up front and keeping him clean will be key moving forward. Mills was sacked four times and knocked down nine times. The encouraging sign was that Mills took care of the football and had zero turnovers, although he fumbled once.
Overall, Mills was 19-of-28 for 168 yards and one touchdown against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The result was Carolina winning the game 24-9. However, Houston has to be encouraged by what they have in Mills as they transition away from Watson.
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