To say things are bad for the Texans right now would be a massive understatement. After a dominant Week One win and going into halftime of Week Two tied with one of the top teams in the AFC, it seemed as though most of Houston’s troubles were finally fading.
However, almost immediately after this excitement, wave after wave of bad news has rolled in. Now the Texans have lost Tyrod Taylor to the IR, are down to just four wide receivers, and have no starting secondary members remaining from training camp. It’s not just bad, it’s a recipe for disaster heading into a tough Thursday Night matchup.
But unfortunately, that’s the way things are sometimes in the NFL. And true championship teams will go out and compete no matter what, which is exactly what Houston intends to do in front of their home crowd.
At the end of the day, it comes down to Davis Mills being able to rise to the challenge against one of the best defenses in the league. It will take a complete reversal of luck, but I do believe there are a few keys the Texans can execute well enough to set Davis Mills up for success and beat the Panthers. And, with even more luck, possibly turn him into the face of the franchise…
Protect Mills At All Costs
If there is a unit that deserves the most improved award this year outside of the defense, it’s the Texans’ offensive line. Things are finally gelling between Larmey Tunsil and Tytus Howard, and the new additions of Justin Britt and Marcus Cannon are also fitting in nicely.
Things were so good on Sunday, that Browns standout edge rusher Myles Garret recorded no sacks or QB hits on the day. Jadeveon Clowney managed just two QB hits. This performance alone is a huge improvement from a Houston team that allowed the fourth-most sacks in the league last season.
One of Davis Mills’ biggest weaknesses is being able to read the defense both presnap and during the play. His lack of ability to recognize the blitz was exposed last week when Browns’ safety Grant Delpit came off the edge and clobbered Mills near the end of the game. His inexperience in recognizing coverages has also shown throughout the preseason, as Mills has made several bad decisions on interceptions. And of course, Mills’ accuracy needs to be much better, as seen with his 44% completion last week.
So, with all this in mind, the Texans’ offensive line will need to continue their upward trajectory to at least give Mills a shot. It is also expected that Houston leaves its running backs and tight ends in on pass blocking situations for extra protection. If this protection holds Mills may be able to use his strong arm to generate plays down the field. This almost happened last week in Cleveland with a bomb to Brandin Cooks that just missed the mark. The point is, don’t let any pressure get to the rookie, or mistakes will begin to pile up.
Run It Early And Often
It’s no secret that the Texans will rely heavily on their rushing attack in this game. After all, even as well as Tyrod Taylor was playing, Houston still went on the ground a majority of the time these last two games. This has led to the team gaining 242 rush yards, the 11th best in the league. Not bad for a team that ranked 31st by the end of last year.
However, the biggest challenge Houston will face is being able to run the ball effectively right out of the gate. They struggled last week against Cleveland’s dominant front seven, gaining just 82 rush yards, and Carolina will present a similar challenge. The Panthers have sneakily managed to earn the top spot in run defense through two weeks.
It won’t be easy, however, the Texans can find success in their rushing attack if they simply stick with it. Houston will also need to showcase each of their three lead backs equally to keep the defense constantly guessing. And once again, things will fall on the shoulders of the offensive line to create holes. It doesn’t have to belong runs that break big, but if the Texans can do the above and gain at least a few yards on every play, they will slowly wear the defense down.
Being able to run the football will honestly be the make or break for Houston in this game. If there is a strong rush attack, it takes a huge amount of pressure off of Davis Mills. He won’t have to do too much or feel overwhelmed and can focus on doing his job at a high level. But, without a run game, Mills will be a sitting duck for the Panthers’ defense to rip apart.
With all the injuries, the Texans’ offense does not have the talent right now to move the ball against the Panthers. But oftentimes when skill can’t get the job done, coaching can. This means that offensive coordinator and play-caller Tim Kelly is going to have the biggest test of all this week.
With the number of injuries at the receiver position, and of course Davis Mills starting at QB, Kelly must constantly throw the defense curveballs throughout the night. Fortunately, Houston has a trio of running backs that each has unique skills sets and game-changing potential. This has already been seen in recent weeks with Kelly dialing up various screens, motions, and other routes to involve his backs outside of just the run game. Similar to how Carolina uses Christian McCaffery, Houston needs to do the same with their backfield throughout the game.
Another creative element will be Davis Mills himself. There is hardly any knowledge of his playstyle due to him not starting many games in college, and of course not in the NFL. While inexperience is more clearly a disadvantage to the Texans, it could be an advantage in that the Panthers won’t know what to expect, especially on a short week. Kelly needs to display trust in his guy and cater plays to Mills’ skill set.
The final form of creativity Kelly could use is straight-up trickeration. Backyard football rarely, if ever, works in the NFL, but again, Houston does have veteran guys with unique skill sets. Jeff Driskel has shown flashes of great mobility and may play if the situation is right. Mark Ingram has taken snaps at the wildcat. The point is, Kelly will need to pull some magic out of the hat if there’s hope of winning this game.
A Learning Experince
Overall, that’s all this is for Davis Mills and the Texans: a learning experience. Again, due to injury, the chances of Houston winning this game are slim to none. But at least Davis Mills, along with the rest of the backups, will gain valuable experience against a good team in the national spotlight.
Worst case scenario, the coaching staff will know where Mills is at and how to handle this extended period without Tyrod Taylor. And, who knows, maybe Davis Mills will shock the world and be the talk of the league this time tomorrow; crazier things have happened in the NFL. Go Texans!