Analysis

Coach ‘Em Up: An Open Letter to Texans QB Davis Mills

Dear Davis Mills,

I am writing because I am a big fan of yours. During your senior year in college, I spent a considerable amount of time evaluating your play on tape and was excited when you became the third-round pick I had projected you to be.

Let me remind you: There have been some great NFL quarterbacks drafted in the third round who are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Dan Fouts and Joe Montana, as well as future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson, who you will play against this week. There have also been many greats drafted in lower rounds — or who fell out of the draft altogether — who are now enshrined in Canton.

In your college games, I saw your NFL arm talent, ability to extend plays, high-level functional intelligence (the ability to quickly process and make decisions) and inherent pocket awareness. Your leadership as a team captain and your mental and physical toughness both showed up as well.

I also loved the way you took control at the line of scrimmage, changed protections and plays and worked through your progressions.

You’ve now started 12 games in the NFL and had a tough act to follow in Houston with a whirlwind of noise around the organization since you arrived. I believe during that time you have been a calming force in the locker room as well.

Davis, as you well know, you have been presented with an opportunity of a lifetime that has changed your journey from a projected backup in your first season in the NFL to a legitimate starter in Year 2, working each day to get better and earning the trust of your coaches and teammates. You are to be commended for doing this in a year where you have a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator, as well as many changes to the team’s roster.

In Week 2, you and the Texans have a tremendous challenge after coming off a tie against a very talented Indianapolis Colts team. Now you step into the fire on the road Sunday vs. the Denver Broncos, Russell Wilson and a fan base coming off a devastating loss — a challenge I know you and your team will embrace.

After completing 23 of 37 passes for 240 yards, 2 touchdowns and no turnovers, you put your team in a position to win in the fourth quarter and overtime. But, I think we can both agree, you left a ton of production on the field during the game.

To get the job done both on Sunday and as you move forward in the season, you will need to convert the passes you failed to complete last week. I believe you turned in a winning performance in spite of that, but looking back, if you make those plays you expected yourself to make, there might not have been a need for overtime.

Let’s take a quick look back:

In last week’s first quarter, you only threw four passes. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton started you out with some easy opportunities for completions. A sprint right pass that you completed in the flat, followed by a “stick” route you quickly hit to Brandon Cooks and a bubble screen to Chris Conley.

But the play you needed to make (shown above) was the third-and-5 from your 30-yard line.  You easily escaped to your right with space to make what I think you would consider an easy throw to Conley, but you delivered low and away and Conley couldn’t make the catch in the open that would have converted a third down and more. As you know, Davis, this was a huge miss that would have extended the drive and kept Matt Ryan off the field.

In the second quarter, there were a few plays I am sure you were disappointed in not completing.

Good job extending the play (above) with the opportunity to deliver on the outside number of the receiver.

Poorly located back-shoulder throw (above) prevents your receiver from turning up field.

As a result of this back-shoulder location (above), Hairston caught the ball off-balance, forcing him to go out of bounds. This turned a catch-and-run for a first down into a minimal 5-yard gain. This could have proven costly, but you were able to convert on third-and-2 with a lightning-fast throw to the sideline.

In the second quarter, you missed a wide-open comeback to Chris Conley on the left sideline (above). Great protection and an opportunity to step and throw, but the ball was high and uncatchable. We both know that with a firm pocket like that and the ability to step, throw and complete a throwing motion, that must be a completion.

Finally, in the second quarter from the Indianapolis 29 (above), you needed to climb the pocket and have the discipline to kick the ball out to your flare control running back, Rex Burkhead, instead of forcing it deep into coverage. This was a great call by Pep, but with your wide receiver covered and an underneath defender there as well, you needed to climb and kick it out. It would have been a significant gain and a very positive first-down play. That was a big miss that led to a third-and-8 and failure to convert another first down.

I may be beating you up with these minus grades, but I also believe that because of the leader you are and your desire to continuously improve, you were vulnerable to own it and agree in your meetings. I know that because we are not in the room together, there might be reasons to disagree with me, and that’s completely understandable. I’d hope you revisited the plays I’ve discussed here in pre-practice drills throughout the week.

As I reviewed the game, there is so much good to discuss as it relates to your play. One of the most revealing and encouraging aspects of the game is that coach Lovie Smith did not play conservatively in the second quarter, two-minute drill that started from your own 14.

This, to me, says a lot about the way the coaches trust you.

With 33 seconds left in the half, Lovie could have elected to sit on your 10-3 halftime lead, yet the coaching staff believed in you to take care of the football, allowing you to aggressively throw up the field. Boy, did you cut it loose to Nico Collins from your 25, splitting five Colt defenders (above). This is a big deal and a credit to the work you are doing on and off the field.

There is so much to be excited about. In the second quarter, you throw a play-action laser on a corner route to your tight end Pharaoh Brown (above).

That play was followed by another bullet accurately thrown on a deep curl route to Cooks, displaying your courage and toughness to deliver with an oncoming lineman in your face.

And later, you completed a back-shoulder seam route beautifully placed for a TD in the red zone to O.J. Howard (above).

Davis, these three plays clearly validate your accuracy, toughness, overall arm talent and why the Texans are lucky to have you as its new team leader.

In the second half, there were great throws, including a flea-flicker bomb of more than 50 yards, another great throw under duress and a very well-placed seam route for a TD in the red zone.

But, yes, there also were some inconsistent throws littered across the tape as well. You threw a wide receiver screen into the ground and a go-route that was thrown too deep and out of bounds despite good protection. But, man, there are so many positives jumping off the tape and so much to build on for Sunday against the Broncos and for the remainder of the season.

You clearly understand when the quarterback takes care of the ball, other mistakes are minimized, and you have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. You did exactly that last week against Indianapolis, and this gives everyone in the organization hope.

The tape doesn’t lie. You clearly made some exceptional plays against the Colts. But the way to get better this week is to handle the noise in Denver, continue to stay calm in the storm, make the kind of plays you made last week and complete the passes you missed when you had space and the ability to complete a throwing motion, whether in the pocket or extending the play.

Enjoy the trip to the Mile High City. Take care of the ball, live for the next play and have fun!

With respect and humility,

Marc Trestman

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