Despite the loss in Las Vegas, Sunday was undoubtedly Mills best performance of the year and perhaps of his career. As the Texans host Nashville and the undefeated Eagles on Thursday night football, Mills faces an uphill battle against a common strength.
What was different in Vegas, post bye-week?
Third down efficiency was the standout from the box scores, going 9 of 12 before the late 4th quarter failings that plague this offence. It was a season high of 404 yards on offence, 296 coming through the air. Mills’ footwork, pocket presence & touch was flowing freely. It looked smooth and confident to heights that were reminiscent of last years performances. A blemish of throwing a pick-six, showed a lack of elite resilience that is reserved for only a few. But it was his first serviceable road display & one that could be given pass-marks at this level.
The success was largely supported by a growing run game, as the Texans O-Line improves under the stewardship of coach Warhop, they have become a far more proficient & willing run-blocking line. Their ability to clear lanes, with the emergence of Dameon Pierce, who’s reached over 500-yards through 6 games, is a major factor in team progression. The jump from blowouts to a series of close losses has been fulled by the run-game, requiring a true team effort.
A Far Sterner Set of Tests Await
The Texans are a self proclaimed “run-first team” but they are also a run dependant team. The Titans and Philadelphia are superior defences, ranked 3rd versus run and 4th overall, respectively by DVOA (footballoutsiders.com). Therefore, the glaring question will be answered: when limiting the run game, can the Texans continue to raise offensive performances & be competitive with two division leaders? It may appear rhetorical but will it provide a clearer barometer of Mills & team progression, rather than any potential post bye-week exceptions.
The comparisons of Mills versus his draft class need to be abdicated, as it’s entirely irrelevant as he steps under-centre each week. As tests against upper-end teams is a truer test of his viability. Rather than 400 yards against Raiders 3rd-worst passing defence in the league (DVOA), who have given up 7th most points per game, to date.
Underpowered Weapons, That May Weaken?
The time length of Nico Collins’ absence remains uncertain. A groin injury may prohibit him from meaningful action over these closely placed games. Further the questions around Cook’s drops, loss of form or reported trade-block status may leave the Texans without their top two wide-receivers. The undoubted impact of Jordan Atkins, who’s provided significant after-the-catch ability, will need to be relied upon. The recent signing of Tyron Johnson, who’s calling card is speed, combined with Phillip Dorsett may provide an avenue to stretch the field and alleviate some pressure off the run game.
It can’t be argued that Mills was left under-served by the front office in terms of skill position talent. But what may just be a narrowly un-settled debate, is if Mills can elevate others, rather than being reliant upon them.
A Texans Sized Hole That Can’t be Covered
Mills cannot be simply judged on wins. This team’s deep flaws on both sides of the ball, exclude that from being a fair judgment. Particularly, as Houston’s run defence continues to be an abysmal line that opposing running-backs and motioning receivers break through with relative ease. They’ve already recorded a dizzying per-game average of 164.7 rushing-yard conceded, prior to meeting the proverbial buzzsaws of Philly & Tennessee. Neither will be a welcomed sight.
Derrick Henry has 263 yards & 7 touchdowns in last three games against Houston. Stacking the box with 7 or 8 defenders and hoping the day’s of AJ Brown & anonymous tight-end’s being the resulting punishment are gone. The turnover at Titans skill positions have undoubtedly weakened them but it presents a faint hope to predicate Sunday’s game plan.
A Cross-Roads In The Season and Future Outlook
If the Texans are to lose, as expected, to Titans & Eagles, then the outlook on their flaws may have worsened. But in doing so this may give the whole team some freedom to experiment and understand every player in the building. As what they can offer in two years time becomes more important than the now. So development becomes paramount, even more so than it’s been.
Similarly, if Davis can come out of this double-header, playing on a short week, in a growing positive light, then it might be time to re-evaluate. But form what we’ve witnessed to date, the debut of the battle red helmet is a more probable highlight than any on-field success, beyond more rookie development & future hope.