HOUSTON, TEXAS – AUGUST 25: Davis Mills #10 of the Houston Texans walks to the sidelines during a preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at NRG Stadium on August 25, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
In Davis Mills’ evolution as an NFL starting quarterback, the next hurdle he must clear is playing consistently for an entire game and not for two quarters, as was the case in the Texans’ 20-20 tie with Indianapolis.
The Texans are 10-point underdogs at Denver. If they’re going to beat the spread or pull the kind of stunning upset they blew against the Colts, Mills has to excel from start to finish.
“What a lot of people talk (about) is the biggest game-to-game jump is from Week One to Week Two,” Mills said this week during preparations for the Broncos. “Week One, you’re back to live football. Week Two, you’re able to settle in (and) you know what it’s like already. (You’re) ready to kick things off and get rolling again. I’m excited to see the jump we’re going to make as an offense and as a team.”
What kind of jump the Texans make depends heavily on Mills, who’s started 12 games since being drafted in the third round last year. Against the Colts, he was 23-of-37 (62.1 percent) for 240 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 98.9 rating.
The good Mills was 9-of-13 for 96 yards and a touchdown in the second quarter and 10-of-11 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter
The bad Mills was 1-of-4 for 2 yards in the first quarter and 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter.
In overtime, Mills completed 3-of-5 for 26 yards and was sacked two times when end Kwity Paye beat Pharaoh Brown and Tytus Howard on the Texans’ first series.
The secret for Mills to develop the kind of consistency that’s essential to winning?
“Start the first quarter a little faster, put some (drives) together (and) continue to stay aggressive throughout the game,” he said. “I think if we can do that Sunday, we can come home with a win.”
That aggressiveness from start to finish is up to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who calls the plays and determines who’s on the field.
According to coach Lovie Smith, the plan is to utilize rookie running back Dameon Pierce more against the Broncos than they did against Indianapolis. He had 11 carries for 33 yards against the Colts.
A productive running game benefits Mills. All the pressure to move the ball and convert in the red zone won’t be on him. Mills, the coaches and his teammates know he has to play better to give the Texans a chance to escape Denver with a victory that would shock the NFL.
“In the first game, players haven’t had that many plays and snaps,” Smith said. “There are some things you don’t really know. You have to get to the first game and see. Then you start working on those things. As coaches, you get into the first game and you see what we’re able to do well (and) what we didn’t do so well. All those things come into play. That’s why we talk so much about Week One to Week Two. We kind of know where we are right now.
“There were a lot of good things that Davis did (but) there were some plays that could (have) changed the outcome. Hopefully, (in) the second game you’ll see things we do a little better.”
Despite his inconsistency, Mills’ 98.9 rating was better than any of the second-year quarterbacks who started their first game. Mac Jones (Patriots) was 87.2, Justin Fields (Bears) 85.7, Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars) 75.0 and Trey Lance (49ers) 50.3. Fields was the only one to earn a victory.
Mills has done a lot of impressive things since he took over the starting job last season from Tyrod Taylor.
Over his last six games, Mills is 140-of-208 (67.3 percent) for 1,498 yards, 11 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 101.8 rating.
As a rookie, his 116.9 rating on completions of at least 20 yards was second to Kirk Cousins (Vikings), who finished with 120.6.
Mills was the league’s most efficient passer in the red zone with a 116.8 rating for quarterbacks with a minimum of 25 attempts. He threw eight touchdowns without an interception in the red zone.
The key, of course, is to reach the red zone and see if Mills can continue to be successful. Mills threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end O.J. Howard to cash in the Texans’ only red zone appearance against the Colts.
Obviously, they need more opportunities against the Broncos. When they get them, the Texans should be more aggressive and less conservative. It’s a fine line a play-caller like Hamilton has to negotiate.
“That’s what we get paid to do — to dance on that line, when to take a shot and when to be smart with the football,” Mills said. “The shots will come with how we’re calling the offense. Situationally, there’ll be time to take chances, but it’s never blatantly exposing the ball to the defense.”
As it is with every quarterback, the key to having a chance to win is to avoid interceptions. That hasn’t been a problem with Mills. He has only three interceptions in his last nine games. He knows what he needs to do against the Broncos.
“Continue to stay efficient, get through my reads, be ready to step up in the pocket and use my legs a little to help the offensive line,” he said. “Last season, I was capable of doing that. We feel like when everybody’s clicking on the same page, we can play (with) anybody.”
The Texans proved they were able to play with Indianapolis, the favorite to win the AFC South. Now they have to prove it again against the Broncos and quarterback Russell Wilson.
Denver is trying to show its one-point loss at Seattle was a fluke that won’t become a habit. The Texans are trying to prove their performance against the Colts wasn’t an aberration but a sign of what they’re capable of doing this season.
(John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He also can be read on SportsRadio610.com)