Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Locher/AP/Shutterstock (13489109cq) Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills scrambles during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, in Las Vegas Texans Raiders Football, Las Vegas, United States – 23 Oct 2022
Imagine what Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and quarterback Davis Mills could accomplish if they could put together four productive quarters for the first time this season.
With Hamilton calling the plays and Mills trying to execute them for coach Lovie Smith’s team, the Texans’ passing game has been maddeningly inconsistent and woefully unproductive.
Despite Mills’ regression from the last five games of his rookie year when he threw nine touchdown passes and two interceptions and authored ratings of 130.6 and 128.5, the Texans have been in position to win seven of their nine games in the fourth quarter.
The Texans are coming off a 24-16 road loss to the Giants that left them with an NFL-worst 1-7-1 record going into their next game against Washington at NRG Stadium. Fans already are trying to decide if they want general manager Nick Caserio to draft one of the two elite quarterbacks in college football – Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
The Texans, who are are coming off their sixth one-score game, have a four-game losing streak since their only victory at Jacksonville. Since their bye, they average 15.7 points a game. That kind of measly point production won’t win many games in the NFL, which is a key reason the Texans are so wretched.
Sunday’s loss at MetLife Stadium was the most recent example of why the Texans are wallowing at the bottom of the NFL.
In the first half, Mills completed 6-of-13 passes for 35 yards. His rating was 53.0. If you think that first half was bad, remember the Titans? In the first half of that 17-10 loss, Mills was 5-of-11 for 17 yards with a 14.6 rating.
To show how frustrating Mills and the passing game are in the first half, he rebounded against the undefeated Eagles. With Hamilton calling his best half of the season, Mills completed 8-of-9 for 90 yards and two touchdowns with a 147.9 rating in a game that was 14-14 at halftime before the Texans lost 29-17.
Against the Giants, who were 6-2 when they played the Texans, Mills recovered in the second half of a 7-3 game at halftime. In the second half, Hamilton opened up the passing game, and Mills responded by connecting on 16-of-24 for 284 yards and a touchdown. He had another touchdown pass nullified by left guard Kenyon Green’s holding call.
After throwing beneath and over his receivers in the first half, Mills had one bad pass the rest of the game, a foolish decision from the Giants’ 29. He threw for Phillip Dorsett in the end zone, where he was double covered, and Mills’ pass was intercepted, giving him nine compared to 11 touchdowns.
“He’ll tell you he needs to play better like all of us need to do a better job and eventually will,” Smith said about Mills. “We need to protect the football better. That interception, we can’t make it.”
Another example of just how pitiful the offense was in the first half of the Giants’ game, the Texans began with three consecutive three-and-out possessions that netted minus-1 yard. How preposterous is that?
They didn’t get a first down until the second quarter. They punted on five of their six series in the first half and still trailed by four points at halftime because the defense and special teams played well.
Even though Mills continues to struggle, Smith has no intentions of replacing him with Kyle Allen.
“Because he gives us our best chance to win,” Smith said.
Through nine games, Mills’ 81.7 rating is 27th in the league.
He’s the NFL’s worst third-down passer, throwing two touchdowns and five interceptions and getting saddled with a 52.5 rating.
Only two teams have a worse third-down conversion percentage than the Texans’ 31%. Against the Giants, they converted 30% on third down, and they were 1-of-6 in the red zone.
“We evaluate everything that every position does,” Smith said. “Quarterback — some of the positions — we never rotate them. If there’s a position where you don’t rotate a guy, you’re going to let that guy play a little longer.”
Smith defended his offense against the Giants, pointing to the Texans’ performance in the second half.
“Our game plan allowed us to get down in the red zone six times,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job once we get down there. We didn’t punt in the second half. The negative part is when you’re down there (red zone) six times, we can’t convert (only) one time.”
The best thing the Texans have going for them on offense is rookie running back Dameon Pierce. Opposing game plans are built around containing him. He had 17 carries for 94 yards, including a 44-yard run that boosted his average to 5.5 yards a carry.
“Teams are going to gang up on us and make us throw the ball and try to do whatever they need to do to stop the run,” Smith said. “We have a balanced attack, and we try to run.”
When the Texans were trying to rally in the fourth quarter, Pierce had a crucial fumble – the first one he lost this season.
Down 21-10 early in the fourth quarter, Pierce fumbled at the Giants’ 8. Mills threw his end zone interception on the next possession.
The Texans have been pathetic in the first and fourth quarters. They’ve been outscored 115-47 in those two quarters, including 72-30 in the fourth.
“It is frustrating,” Smith said. “You can only talk so much about, ‘Hey, we’re close, and keep going (because) we’re going to get over the hump.’ Normally, when you’re close, you do eventually get over the hump.”
The Texans can’t get over the hump because they place too many bumps in the road. “Eventually” might be next year when finally getting “over the hump” is more reality than fantasy, especially if the Texans have a new franchise quarterback like Young or Stroud.
(John McClain writes four columns 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).