Sean Pendergast

Texans QB Davis Mills Needs To Improve To Keep Job Long Term

Davis Mills has to be much, much better if the Texans are going to begin wining games.
Davis Mills has to be much, much better if the Texans are going to begin wining games. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Following the Houston Texans' 16-9 loss, after one of the most uninspiring offensive performances in team history — this just in, when you don't score a single touchdown, it automatically puts that game on the "most uninspiring" list of performances — here is what Davis Mills said about his performance through the first two games:
"Solid. I mean, obviously, I want to go see the film.  I know there's missed opportunities that we had, and some missed throws that I gotta be better with. I think, as a team, we are putting ourselves in a situation to win these games, we just got to take advantage of it."
SOLID? Yes, he said "solid." If you've watched the Texans this season, particularly, if you've watched from any point after Mills was stripped on a sack that led to a short fourth quarter touchdown drive for the Colts in Week 1, you know full well that one of three things is at work here — (a) Davis Mills is delusional, (b) Davis Mills is trying to downplay his poor performance, or (c) Davis Mills doesn't know the meaning of the word "solid."

Because Mills went to Stanford, I don't think it's option "c," and because Mills seems pretty self aware and levelheaded, I don't think it's "a." Thus, let's assume that Mills knows he's been largely underwhelming this season, and he is trying to downplay that fact. The problem there is he plays for a fan base that is scrutinizing his every move this season, with the Texans holding four first round draft picks in the next two drafts. Chances are better solutions than Mills are playing in college right now.

As I've pointed out many times in this space, Mills was borderline outstanding over the final five games of the 2021 season, garnering a 102.4 passer rating, which extrapolated out over a full season, would have been just ahead of Tom Brady! This season, though, it's been a struggle. Here are a few statistical nuggets that back that up:

Davis Mills has struggled in clutch situations
In the first two games of this season, the Texans weren't asking for much from Mills in the fourth quarter of the two games. In the opener against the Colts, a field goal at any point in the fourth quarter would have secured the win. Against Denver, the Texans led 9-6 in the fourth quarter, and lost by seven. A touchdown is not asking too much. Instead, Mills has gone a combined 5 for 16 for 75 yards and ZERO points in the fourth quarter this season, and many of the incompletions have been off target by an almost comedic level. Mills has skippered five late game drives in two games, and scored no points.

In fact, it seems like one particular play has had lingering effects
If you're wanting to divide this season into two distinct halves, with a turning point in the middle, look no further than the strip sack fumble caused by the Colts on Mills early in the fourth quarter of the season opener, with the Texans leading 20-6. The Colts scored just a few plays later, and would go on to tie the Texans, 20-20. Prior to that sack, Mills was 20 for 29, for 214 yards, two TD passes, and a 114 passer rating. Since then, Mills has gone 22 for 46 for 203 yards, no touchdowns, and a 66 passer rating. That play seems to have put Mills into a prolonged funk.

Davis Mills struggles overall on the road
Unfortunately, Mills' pedestrian performance on the road in Denver has been par for the course for the early stages of his career. While his record as a starter is a nearly identical 1-6-1 at home and 1-6 on the road, his splits in other categories are startling:

TD to INT RATIO: 14/1 at home, 4/9 on the road
PASSER RATING: 108.0 at home, 63.1 on the road
YARDS per ATTEMPT: 7.7 at home, 5.2 on the road

Basically, at home he is a Pro Bowler. On the road, he is a practice squad player.

The other stats (regular and advanced) aren't friendly to Davis Mills either
Mills has had a really hard time pushing the ball down the field, particularly in "gotta have it" situations like third down. Against the Broncos, on third down, Mills led the Texans to just a 2 for 13 conversion rate, and a 0 for 6 conversion rate on third downs of seven yards or longer to convert. Mills' yards per attempt for 2022, thus far, is a wretched 5.6, which is 31st among qualifying quarterbacks. The most daring advanced statistic is his completion rate above expectations, which is the third worst in the league at -11 percent.

Mills is in no danger of losing his starting job this season, in large part because the Texans set this up to essentially be a 17 game tryout for him. There is no completion on this roster for Mills. The competition for Mills are guys playing at Alabama and Ohio State right now, Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud. If Mills doesn't get things going, the drumbeat to take one of them with one of those first round picks will get really loud.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast