TAKE TWO: 5 observations from the Texans 19-14 victory over the Titans

Dec 24, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) attempts a pass during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

TAKE TWO: 5 observations from the Texans 19-14 victory over the Titans

These were the five things that stood out most from the Houston Texans’ comeback victory, 19-14, over the Tennessee Titans:

Davis Mills saved his best for late: After playing well the past two games, Mills struggled with accuracy and decision-making again on Saturday. This was a game that going in, a resurgent Mills should have been the better quarterback over still-green rookie Malik Willis of Tennessee. Willis is still essentially a handoff machine and is not a threat to throw the ball downfield. Instead, Mills had stretches of woeful inaccuracy and a terrible interception in the third quarter. He also fumbled trying to run for a touchdown that he was fortunate that Rex Burkhead was able to recover for the Texans’ first touchdown. Then, late in the fourth quarter, Mills was at his best. Mills was 4-for-4 for 69 yards, with a 20-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett and a 37-yard connection with Amari Rodgers as the two key plays on the 5-play, 73-yard drive that gave Houston the lead 19-14 with under 3 minutes to play. Mills finished 17-for-28 for 178 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

The Texans’ run defense reverted to their early season struggles: After improved play against the run in the last few weeks, Houston got bulldozed by a one-dimensional Titans team on the ground. Knowing that Malik Willis is not a passing threat, the Texans failed to consistently stop the run when they should have been selling out for the run every play. Derrick Henry would not get his fifth consecutive 200+ yard rushing game against the Texans, but he still had a very productive game. Henry had 23 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Willis’ struggles as a passer ultimately cost Tennessee the game.

Texans special teams continue to perform: Tremon Smith capped a terrific special teams day by downing a Cam Johnston punt at the Tennessee 4 with just 1:17 to go. Desmond King had a solid game returning punts, averaging over 8 yards per return. Houston averaged over 25 yards per kickoff return. Johnston dropped two punts inside the 20, Fairbairn converted on every kick, including a pair of short field goals. Punt coverage was excellent once again.

The Texans cannot run the football without Dameon Pierce: Royce Freeman had 16 carries for 32 yards to lead the team. Dare Ogunbowale had eight carries for 28 yards. Granted, the Titans are the second-best run defense in the NFL, allowing just under 81 yards per game, but the Texans’ run game was utterly useless. Not only was it clear they couldn’t run, but they continued to force the running game on early downs into the fourth quarter. On the Texans’ game-winning drive, they threw on four of five plays. They averaged 6.8 yards per attempt passing and only 2.3 yards per rush.

The Texans’ offensive line turned in another strong performance in pass protection: Houston has allowed only one sack in their previous three games and allowed only one sack again Sunday. They allowed a total of six quarterback hits, several of which resulted more from the quarterback holding the ball too long than poor line play. The improved play of the line is directly proportional to the improved play of Davis Mills, most of which has happened without Brandin Cooks (who returned this week) and Nico Collins (now on IR). Laremy Tunsil was named a Pro Bowl starter and should be All-Pro. Tytus Howard has only allowed one sack all season, as he and Tunsil are two of only four tackles to have allowed less than two sacks this season.

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