With all the emphasis on the first-round quarterbacks this season, it’s often forgotten that there’s another rookie QB who’s getting the majority of snaps for his team: Houston’s Davis Mills. Mills was named by head coach David Culley as the Texans’ starter for the remainder of the season, so let’s take a look at the tape of his most recent start, a 33-13 loss to Seattle.
First Drive: Starting on own 25, 15:00 left in first quarter, Tied 0-0
Houston starts the game with the ball, and they begin with a run for a short loss. Mills’ first pass attempt comes on second down, a quick WR screen to Brandin Cooks that sets up 3rd and 4. Mills gets good protection, but his first read is covered, and he hits Davion Davis past the sticks and a nice YAC brings them into Seattle territory. A Rex Burkhead run is followed by a rollout to the right and another quick pass, this one to Chris Conley, with more YAC to the Seattle 35.
On 1st and 10 from the 35, Houston goes with play-action and Mills has all day to throw, finding an open Nico Collins down to the 5-yard line. The very next play, the protection breaks down, but Mills escapes out to his right and finds a wide-open Brevin Jordan in the back-right corner for an easy score. A nice drive for the Texans and a strong showing from Mills out of the gate, who completed all five of his attempts.
Second Drive: Starting on own 25, 6:20 left in the first quarter, Texans lead 7-3
Houston starts with a short run, again, followed by a completion to Jordan for a first down on a quick out-route. Another short gain on the ensuing first down run leads to Mills’ seventh-straight completion, a seven-yard connection with Collins along the right sideline on a designed rollout. Now 3rd and 2, Houston runs a quick swing pass to Jordan, but Seattle immediately makes the tackle and forces a punt.
Third Drive: Starting on own 25, 14:55 left in the second quarter, Seahawks lead 10-7
Two run plays collect a first down, but the next run is blown up in the backfield, bringing up a 2nd and 16. Mills connects with Cooks just short of the marker; a nice play from Mills, who was initially looking to his left, then to his outlet (RB in the flat), and then all the way back to the right hash to squeeze one into Cooks. They get the first down on 3rd and short with a run and a screen to Cooks goes for eight. Burkhead gets another first with a 10-yard run, bringing Houston into Seattle territory. 1st and 10 from the 45, Mills is sacked as the protection breaks down quickly. A Burkhead completion for 11 brings up 3rd and 8, and Mills makes a nice throw to Cooks for a big gain, but Cooks is called for pass interference. On the third-and-long, Mills hits Collins on a quick slant to give them a chance for a field goal.
On the FG attempt, Seattle commits a personal foul that gives Houston a first down from the Seattle 16-yard line. Another play-action rollout and a quick pass to the tight end goes for six yards, followed by Mills hitting Cooks on a quick slant, and he takes it down to the 1. After a Houston penalty that pushes them to the 5, Mills throws his first incomplete pass of the game on a throw-away; he began the game with 14-straight completions for 150 yards. A short Burkhead run is followed by a second incompletion, leading to a field goal that caps off the 16-play drive.
Fourth Drive: Starting on own 2, 1:56 left in the second quarter, Tied 10-10
Just after the two-minute warning and backed up deep in their own territory, Houston runs twice, and then Mills scrambles for a short gain on a third-down. However, he runs out of bounds which allows Seattle to save their last timeout. Either way, Houston is forced to punt.
Fifth Drive: Starting on own 42, 52 seconds left in the second quarter, Seahawks lead 16-10
Mills nearly throws an interception on the first play with a poor throw, but it falls incomplete. With all day to throw on second down, he eventually finds Cooks down the middle for 18 yards and into Seattle territory and then spikes to stop the clock. His second-down pass is batted down at the line and the Texans are called for holding on third down, making it 3rd and 20 from midfield. Mills squeezes one into Burkhead for seven yards on a back-foot throw that allows Houston to attempt a 61-yard field goal … and Fairbairn hits it. It’s 16-13 Seattle as we go to halftime; Mills is 16-21 for 175 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INT in a strong first half.
Sixth Drive: Starting on own 25, 13:27 left in the third quarter, Seahawks lead 16-13
The Texans start their first drive of the second half with two runs and an RB screen to gain 22 yards. However, the next two run plays and another RB screen lose 5 yards, and they are forced to punt.
Seventh Drive: Starting on own 25, 4:32 left in the third quarter, Seahawks lead 19-13
Mills tries to hit Collins on a deep out-route but throws off his back-foot and leaves it short. On second down, they set up another WR screen to Cooks and he gains 19 yards. They follow that with another RB screen to Burkhead, which picks up another 10 yards just past midfield. Seattle blitzes on first down, forcing Mills to get rid of it quickly, and he tries to hit Collins deep but misses a little long. They attempt to set up another quick pass to the RB, but this one is knocked down by the defensive line. 3rd and 10 from the Seattle 46, Seattle brings the blitz, and they get to Mills, but are called for defensive holding. The Texans are unable to take advantage, though, as a short run is followed by two incompletions and another punt.
Eighth Drive: Starting on own 29, 43 seconds left in the third quarter, Seahawks lead 19-13
Houston starts with three runs for 16 yards and then Mills hits Conley on another WR screen for seven yards and another first down just past midfield. The ensuing first-down run is stuffed for -4 yards, followed by a sack of Mills where he had no chance. 3rd and 19 from the Houston 43, pressure forces Mills out of the pocket and he hits Jordan for a short gain, which leads to another punt.
Ninth Drive: Starting on own 28, 7:28 left in the fourth quarter, Seahawks lead 27-13
Now down two touchdowns with under eight minutes left, the Texans have to start opening up the offense. Mills hits Phillip Dorsett across the middle for nine yards, which is followed by a defensive penalty on Seattle and a Royce Freeman run for seven yards. Now 2nd and 3 from the 50-yard line, Mills is unable to hit a covered Freeman on a flat route, followed by failing to connect with Cooks on a designed rollout just past the sticks on the right sideline. 4th and 3, Houston has to go for it, but Mills can’t find anyone and eventually throws over the middle incomplete. Turnover on downs.
Tenth & Eleventh Drives: Seahawks lead 33-13
Seattle scores another touchdown, effectively putting the game out of reach with under six minutes to go. Houston would fail on another fourth-down try and then the clock would run out on their final drive. Seattle backed off their blitz and their coverages with the massive lead, so there’s no need to break down Mills’ performance on these drives, though he did some stat-padding by going 10-13 passing for 91 yards on the final two drives.
Final thoughts: Mills had an impressive first half, showing an ability to navigate the pocket and make throws to second and third reads when the first option was covered. Seattle got almost no pressure on him in the first 30 minutes, and he showed poise and an ability to make some throws. But when Seattle started to get pressure and bring the blitz in the second half, the Houston offense came to a screeching halt. Speaking of the Houston offense, it is heavily based on the short passing game, as nearly all of Mills’ completions were within 2-3 yards of the line of scrimmage.
It’s hard to say how strong his downfield passing ability is since I only saw about five throws travel more than 10 yards, despite Mills attempting almost 50 throws. He did attempt some deeper passes toward the end of the game, but they were mostly desperation heaves. He did connect with Collins a couple of times and the arm strength appears to be there when it’s needed, but not something that Houston leans on. Overall, I’d give Mills an incomplete grade. He did some good things and showed promise, but the vanilla nature of the Texans’ offense makes it a difficult evaluation. He struggled with pressure at times but seemed to do fine recognizing blitzes and coverages and didn’t make very many mistakes. If Houston really wants to see what they have in this kid down the stretch, they need to open up the offense and give him a chance to prove himself – or not.