Mandatory Credit: Photo by Nam Y Huh/AP/Shutterstock (13419235bb) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) throws a pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game, in Chicago Texans Bears Football, Chicago, United States – 25 Sep 2022
The Texans take a three-game losing streak to Jacksonville. They’re the only winless team in the NFL. Here are five plot lines that could determine whether the Texans can win their first game or lose for the fourth consecutive week.
CONFIDENCE LEVEL SHOULD BE HIGH
If the Texans really believe they’re going to win a game on the road, it should be against Jacksonville. After losing by seven at Denver and three at Chicago, the Texans play their third road game against a team they’ve dominated.
The Texans have an eight-game winning streak over the Jaguars. They’ve won 14 of their last 16. They haven’t lost to Jacksonville since 2017 when quarterback Deshaun Watson was a rookie.
The Texans have been woefully inconsistent on both sides of the ball. They make mental mistakes, allow sacks and commit penalties at the worst possible times, especially in the fourth quarter when they’ve had opportunities to win every game.
Because they’re playing the Jaguars, in pressure situations the Texans should be confident. If they can turn that confidence into positive rather than negative plays when they need them the most; perhaps they can extend their winning streak to nine games and leave Jacksonville with their first victory.
Getting over that proverbial hump can be as much mental as physical. This is a game in which the Texans shouldn’t continue to make the kind of plays that lead to defeat and finally make plays that lead to victory.
GET THE BALL TO PIERCE
In the Texans’ last loss to the Chargers, rookie Dameon Pierce was one of nine players in the NFL to rush for at least 100 yards during the weekend. He was one of three to play for a losing team.
Pierce has improved his rushing total in each of his four games, including his 131-yard performance against the Chargers. If he can continue that trend, the Texans will have their best chance to beat Jacksonville.
The problem is the Jaguars will build their defensive game plan around stopping Pierce. They’re eighth against the run, surrendering 93.8 yards a game. They’ve allowed 3.6 a carry, fourth in the NFL.
Even though Pierce may see a box stacked to stop him, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton can’t be shy about allowing the offensive line to set the tempo in the first quarter and try to maintain it.
The last thing Hamilton needs is to see quarterback Davis Mills in obvious passing situations. When that happens – and it will happen a lot based on what we’ve seen through the first four games — Jacksonville ends Josh Allen and Travon Walker can tee off on Mills and help create problems for him in the pocket.
CONSISTENCY REMAINS AN ISSUE WITH MILLS
Mills has struggled with inconsistency. He’s also had some bad luck, like getting pressure at crucial times in the game or watching his linemen get holding calls and commit penalties when the offense can least afford it. Mills also has been the victim of eight dropped passes.
The Texans need for Mills to play as efficiently as he did in the 30-16 victory at Jacksonville on Dec. 19. He completed 19 of 30 (63.3 percent) for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception, was sacked once and finished with a 92.2 rating.
As a rookie, Mills threw two interceptions over his last six starts. This season, he has four in his last two games, including one desperation throw as time was running out in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers.
By the way, that 92.2 rating Mills posted at Jacksonville last season is better than his rating in the last three defeats: 63.2 (Broncos), 70.4 (Bears) and 88.5 (Chargers).
MORE PRESSURE ON THE QUARTERBACK
The defense played its worst game in the 34-24 loss to the Chargers. Th problem started up front, where the linemen failed to get pressure on quarterback Justin Herbert. The Texans recorded one sack when Herbert elected to slide, and he was touched by end Rasheem Green and tackle Thomas Booker.
The Texans have 11 sacks, including four by Jerry Hughes and 2.5 by Green. Jonathan Greenard, their best pass rusher last season with eight, has 1.5. Pressure from the tackles has been almost non-existent.
Second-year Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been sacked only six times. He also has six turnovers, including four lost fumbles in the last loss at Philadelphia. If the pass rushers can’t get pressure on Lawrence and make him rush his throws, he’ll pick apart the secondary.
THIRD DOWN OFFENSE IS PATHETIC
In 2021, the Texans finished 15th on third down conversions with a percentage of 39.7. This season, they’re 31st at 26.9. And that’s with Davis Mills in his second season with a legitimate running back in Dameon Pierce. If Pep Hamilton’s offense can’t stay on the field against the Jaguars, the team is doomed.
There are two key statistics the Texans have improved. They are tied for 19th in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns at a 55.6 clip. Last season, they were 28th (51.4).
This season, the Texans are ninth in red zone defense (46.7 percent) compared to 22nd last season (62.1).
The idea offensively is to get into the red zone more against the Jaguars and see if they can capitalize by scoring more touchdowns.
(John McClain 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).