Friday, June 2 2023

It feels inevitable that the Texans will use their 2023 top pick, currently and expected to be No. 1 overall by season’s end, on a quarterback. Davis Mills‘ benching in Week 12 confirmed that reality. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud figure to be at the top of the list.

At least for now, though, the Texans (1-10-1) must find a way to get better quarterback play, to finish strong in a forgettable 2022 season. Houston was officially eliminated from playoff contention after Week 13, the first team to know it wouldn’t be playing meaningful football in January.

Believe it or not, the Texans have reason to be optimistic about their play at football’s most important position to finish the year. It’s by going back to Mills. 

“I know he’s excited about another opportunity,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday.

Smith said that Mills, who’d been benched the last two games, will be the starting quarterback against the Cowboys (9-3) this week(Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX).

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This was a no-brainer decision, of course. Mills struggled in the Texans’ first 10 games of the season, but backup Kyle Allen looked even worse in two starts — a 59% completion rate for 416 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions, plus a lost fumble — as Houston suffered double-digit losses in consecutive weeks for the first time this season.

The last time Mills was benched, he became the quarterback that the Texans were willing to gamble on as their starter this year. 

As a rookie, he had started five games while Tyrod Taylor was injured, went back to the bench for three games, then started the final five games after Taylor struggled. In that span to finish 2021, he completed an impressive 68.4% of his passes for 1,258 yards (7.36 yards/attempt) and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions and a 102.4 passer rating. The Texans had two of their four wins in that stretch. 

Now, Mills is once again taking over as the starter with five games left in the season (though Smith stressed that each position is evaluated on a week-to-week basis).

Smith is expecting that the two weeks on the sideline to have helped Mills, who has taken a step back from his promising rookie season. 

Seeing the game from the sidelines, Smith said, gave him a different perspective.

“Sometimes you need a relief pitcher to come in, and that’s what it was,” Smith said. “I know how he handled (being benched). He was a pro about it. He switched roles with Kyle and did whatever he could to help as a backup quarterback.”

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In film study as the backup, Mills said he went through the fundamentals in his mind. Went through the pre-snap checklist of plays. Saw the shell of the defense. Reminded himself that if there’s nothing downfield when the ball is snapped, find the check down instead of forcing a deep ball. He still prepared like he was the starter. 

And during games, he’d rewatch plays in between drives to confirm what he was seeing from the sidelines. He was simplifying everything.

Mills is hopeful for “similar results” making his return after his success as a rookie in his second stint as a starter.

“Early on in the season and as the season progresses there’s a whirlwind of everything, as you play a game, watch the film immediately after the game and then you’re quickly on to the next opponent. There’s not really a time to sit there and evaluate what you’re doing,” said Mills, who’s completed 61.9% of his passes this season for 2,144 yards and 11 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. 

“You’re just trying to progress as the season goes, but these last two weeks really allowed me to sit back and start piecing some more things together in my mind of what it takes to be successful out there. Hopefully we can fall back to those fundamentals that I’ve been doing my whole life and as (offensive coordinator) Pep (Hamilton) has taught me since I’ve been here in Houston, to go out there and play some successful football.”

In Smith’s experience, players are usually at their best after taking a step back, too. 

“That’s what we need right now,” Smith said. “It’s just not about the quarterback position, but there’s something, starting off with ball security. We’re losing too many games just based on giving them the ball. It starts with that position.”

Mills said he’s a very confident football player. That his confidence didn’t wane in the two weeks he was benched. Asked what’s realistically in his future, he kept it simple.

“Winning games,” he said. “Playing good football.”

That would give Houston something positive heading into an offseason that has hope.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur

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Source: FOX Sports


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