Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13435875ad) Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) runs for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game, in Houston Chargers Texans Football, Houston, United States – 02 Oct 2022
The Texans made a lot of news in Houston this week when they benched quarterback Davis Mills and replaced him with Kyle Allen. Coach Lovie Smith wouldn’t admit it to the media, but everyone knows the change was made. For the next two games, at least, the Texans are going to be interesting to watch with Allen starting against Miami, and Deshaun Watson coming to NRG Stadium on Dec. 4. Here are five plot lines for the Texans’ game against the Dolphins.
1-ALL EYES WILL BE ON ALLEN
The Texans have an NFL-worst 1-8-1 record, including a five-game losing streak. Their offense is 32nd, averaging 285.9 points a game. Before Kyle Allen replaced Davis Mills as the starting quarterback against the Dolphins, the Texans were 11-point underdogs. When it got out Allen would start at Miami, the line increased to 14 points, according to PreGame.com.
Allen, who’s playing in his fifth season and his first with the Texans, is 7-10 as a starter with Carolina and Washington. He has 24 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions, and an 84.9 rating. Sunday is his first start since November of 2020, when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the Commanders’ loss to the Vikings.
What can Texans’ fans expect from Allen trying to execute Pep Hamilton’s play calls? Nobody knows until they see him play. The coaches hope he’s more accurate than Mills, who struggled in that department this season, especially during the last four games. Against a good Miami defense, Allen isn’t likely to help the offense score a lot of points, but perhaps he’ll help the Texans average more than the 13.2 they’ve compiled over the last four games.
2-IMPROVED PASS PROTECTION IS ESSENTIAL
If the offensive line doesn’t protect Kyle Allen better than it protected Davis Mills, the new starting quarterback will experience similar problems. Mills was sacked 15 times in his last four games. Pressure up the middle was particularly dangerous. Allen will have to get rid of the ball quickly or risk the same kind of unsavory treatment.
Miami has four players in its front seven that were first-round picks. End Christian Wilkins and outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips were first-round picks by the Dolphins. Outside linebackers Bradley Chubb (Broncos) and Melvin Ingram (Chargers) were also drafted in the first round.
Nose tackle Raekwon Davis was a second-round pick. Like Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, Davis played at Alabama. Allen and Payne had two sacks each in Washington’s victory over the Texans. Left guard Kenyon Green, center Scott Quessenberry and right guard A.J. Cann have seen enough of talented, overpowering defensive tackles from Alabama.
It could be another long afternoon for the Texans’ offensive linemen – a lot of players screaming “duck” at Allen before he gets rid of the ball. And he better get rid of it quickly, or he runs the risk of getting pulverized like Mills.
3-WHERE DOES BENCHING LEAVE MILLS?
It’s no secret the Texans need to use their first draft choice – currently first overall – on a franchise quarterback. That’ll be up to general manager Nick Caserio, whose job isn’t in jeopardy like coach Lovie Smith and most of his assistants.
If Kyle Allen gets hurt, Davis Mills will return to the lineup. If Allen is worse than Mills has been, he’ll go to the bench, and Mills will play. Expect Mills to still be on the team next season when he could back up the first-round pick, although that’s not etched in stone.
Mills was benched because the passing game has been terrible, and the Texans had problems scoring. He threw too many interceptions – 11 to go with 11 touchdowns. His accuracy was horrible over the last four games, failing to complete 60% of his passes in each of those defeats.
If Mills gets an opportunity to play again this season, perhaps taking a seat on the bench will help him as it did last season when he returned to the lineup for the last five games and showed enough promise to get a lot of fans excited about his second season.
4-ESTABLISHING THE RUN IS IMPERATIVE
The Texans’ best offensive players are running back Dameon Pierce and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil is part of an offensive line that must help Pierce compile yardage the way he did against the Eagles and Giants. In those defeats, he ran 44 times for 233 yards.
What the Texans can’t afford against Miami is another performance like the running game produced against the Titans and Commanders. Pierce was limited to 10 carries and 35 yards against Tennessee and 10 carries for 8 yards against Washington.
For Kyle Allen to have a chance for any success against the Dolphins, Pep Hamilton has to find ways for Pierce to gain yards on the ground. If not, Pierce will get stuffed again.
The Dolphins’ run defense certainly hasn’t dominated the way Tennessee and Washington have. Miami is 16th against the run, allowing 116.9 yards a game. The Dolphins surrender 4.6 yards a carry, and they’ve given up 12 touchdowns rushing.
The Texans’ offense has been so inept it hasn’t been able to get close enough to help Pierce score a touchdown in the last five games. The one time the Texans got close, he lost a fumble.
5-TAGOVAILOA COULD SHREAD PASS DEFENSE
The Dolphins are 7-3 and trying to pull even with Buffalo at the top of the AFC East, which shouldn’t be a problem because the Texans are the worst team in the league. They have a four-game winning streak against teams that are a combined 13-29. After Sunday’s game, they’ll have a five-game winning streak.
In their last three games against Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland, the Dolphins average 35 points. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has averaged 323 yards in those three victories. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception. His ratings have been 138.7, 135.7, and 135.0. Expect more of the same against the Texans, who will be playing without injured rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (hamstring) for a second consecutive game.
There’s no telling how many touchdown passes Tagovailoa will throw to wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki. It should get ugly for the Texans’ defensive backs.
(John McClain writes four times a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).