Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 8: Rams-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

A handoff to Mark Ingram II in the Patriots game.
A handoff to Mark Ingram II in the Patriots game. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Since taking over as the starting quarterback of the Houston Texans in Week3, rookie Davis Mills has had to face the Buffalo Bills (AFC finalist in 2020), the New England Patriots (some guy named Belichick), the Indianapolis Colts (division foe on the road), and the Arizona Cardinals (the only remaining undefeated team).

Someday, life in football will get easier for Davis Mills. Unless Tyrod Taylor, who returned to practice from the injured reserve list this week, is going to start on Sunday, this will not be the week that things get easier for Mills. The Los Angeles Rams, 6-1 with their only loss to the aforementioned 7-0 Cardinals, come to town. They have the 2nd best offense and 4th best defense in football, according to the Football Outsiders website.

As they've been in most of their games lately, the Texans are underdogs by double digits, with Vegas settling in at around a 14-point spread. With the trade deadline upon us next week, and with the season circling the drain, there's as much to watch off the field as there is on the field. So let's get to four things to watch for, and a prediction for Sunday:

4. Is the "culture mutiny" upon us?
On Wednesday afternoon, Texans GM Nick Caserio decided to begin the fire sale, and trade starting running back Mark Ingram to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a swap of late round picks. Ingram won't be the last Texan to get traded between now and Next Tuesday, but he might wind up being the most popular Texan to get moved. Here was Ingram mic'd up for the season opening win over the Jaguars:
Seems like a pretty crucial piece there. The trade left some Texans players dumbfounded, most notably wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who did not mince words:
This is noteworthy because Cooks is viewed as one of the team leaders and one of EVP of Football Operations Jack Easterby's "guys." Easterby's bio on the Texans' website says he is in charge of the culture of the team. The culture just became very shaky. Well, shakier than it already was.

3. Texan under center
Back to football on the field — it seemed like head coach David Culley was announcing Davis Mills as the starter for this game, when he said this on Wednesday:

“Davis will get the reps today. Tyrod, we are just easing him back into practice, just to see where he is at. Tyrod is a veteran. He’s been around here. He doesn’t have to have all the reps. Davis need the reps. If Davis is going to be playing this week, as our starting quarterback, and right now he is. As we move into the week if we feel good about where Tyrod is at, we will give him some of his reps. But, him being a veteran quarterback, that’s not an issue.”

So "right now" Mills is the starter, which is probably a great thing if you're rooting for the Texans to continue losing and getting in position for the first overall pick in the draft. It's bad news if you're hoping to watch competent football for a few hours on Sunday. In his five starts, Mills has been the steward of a Texans team that's been outscored 151-39 in his five starts. So ugly, and on Sunday, he will be chased around by....

2. Aaron Donald, the new J.J. Watt
Peak J.J. Watt was probably the best defensive player that I've watched over the last 20 years, but Donald is close, and he has the same number of Defensive Player of the Year awards as Watt. Where Donald surpasses Watt is in the overall resume, as he's been first team All Pro every year except his rookie season in 2014, and he's missed just two games in seven-plus seasons. By the time J.J. Watt was halfway through his eighth season, he'd missed most of the previous two years with back and leg injuries. Donald is an absolute machine, who has a chance to be in the argument for greatest defensive player ever. Have fun with that, Tytus Howard.

1. Matthew Stafford, the QB cautionary tale
Perhaps when Deshaun Watson demanded to be traded by the Texans, he had just finished perusing Stafford's career bio on Pro Football Reference, and seen that, despite piling up yards and touchdowns by the bushel, he had only made the playoffs three times, and had never won a playoff game. It has been widely believed through all that failure that Stafford was far from the biggest problem with the Lions teams on which he played. It was the front office and supporting cast that was a far bigger drain on the organization. It took 13 years, but Stafford finally asked out, the Lions obliged, and now Stafford is in Los Angeles, with a bright young coach, a roster full of weapons, and a real shot at a Super Bowl. The Texans' defense will be little more than a speed bump on the next step to Stafford's flourishing career second act.

SPREAD: Texans +14.5
PREDICTION: Rams 34, Texans 10
SEASON RECORD: 7-0 SU, 6-1 ATS

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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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 afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast