Davis Mills Drive Analysis – Week 14, 2021

By Dan Zaksheske – Dan Z.
Updated Dec. 16, 2021.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

First off, let me just give a big thank you to WalterFootball.com for giving me a platform to share my thoughts and experience. I’ve been a big fan of this site for a long time, and to be able to actually contribute content is an incredible honor.

Quick background on me: I spent nearly a decade working at ESPN producing audio content, mainly focused on college and NFL football. After leaving ESPN, I joined a sports research company called STAT Factor, where I am the Director of NFL Content and the creator of the “STAT Stack,” where you can find more of my work.

With all the emphasis on the first-round quarterbacks this season, it’s often forgotten that there’s another rookie quarterback 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 The Texans start 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 wide recceiver 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 some nice nice yards after the catch (YAC) brings Houston 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. On the 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 of the end zone for an easy score. It was 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 Brevin 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
Following a 97-yard touchdown drive by Seattle, Houston faces its first deficit of the contest. 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 again, this one to Cooks just short of the marker. A nice play from Mills, who was initially looking to his left, then to his outlet – the back in the flat – and then all the way back to the right hash to squeeze one into Cooks – there was good protection again from the offensive line. The Texans get the first down on 3rd-and-short with a run and then a wide receiver screen to Cooks goes for eight yards. Burkhead gets another first down with 10-yard run, bringing Houston into Seattle territory. On 1st-and-10 from the 45, Mills gets sacked as the protection breaks down quickly. It’s 2nd-and-19, and Mills finds Burkhead for 11 yards. Now 3rd-and-8, Mills makes a nice throw to Cooks for a big gain, but Cooks is called for pass interference, and Houston is backed up to 3rd-and-18 from the 43. On the third-and-long, Mills hits Collins on a quick slant to give Houston a chance for a field goal.

On the field goal attempt, Seattle commits a personal foul, giving Houston a first down from the Seattle 16-yard line. Another play-action rollout and quick pass to the tight end goes for six yards, followed by Mills hitting Cooks on another quick slant, which is initially ruled a touchdown, but changed to down at the one. Houston commits an illegal formation on 1st-and-goal at the one, backing them up to the five. From the five, 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 a 16-play drive.

Fourth Drive: Starting on own 2, 1:56 left in the second quarter, Tied 10-10
Just after the 2-minute warning and backed up deep in their own territory, the Texans run twice and then Mills scrambles for a short gain on a third down. He runs out of bounds, however, which allows the Seahawks 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
It turns out the timeout was irrelevant because the Seahawks scores on the first play of their drive. Houston gets a good kick return, allowing the offense to try for points with less than a minute left in the first half. Mills nearly throws an interception on the first play with a poor pass, 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. Mills 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 after a very 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 running back screen to gain 22 yards. The next two run plays and another running back screen lose together all lose five yards, forcing Houston 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 he throws off his back-foot and leaves it short. On second down, the Texans set up another wide receiver screen to Cooks, who gains 19 yards. Houston follows that with another running back screen to Burkhead, who picks up another 10 yards just past midfield. Seattle blitzes on first down, forcing Mills to get rid of it quickly, which he does, trying to hit Collins deep, but Mills just misses a little long. The Texans attempt to set up another quick pass to the back, but this one is knocked down by the defensive line. On 3rd-and-10 from the Seattle 46, the Seahawks bring the blitz and get to Mills, but they are called for defensive holding, giving Houston a first down. The Texans are unable to take advantage, though, as a short run followed by two incompletions lead to another punt. Seattle is starting to get pressure on Mills, and it is affecting his ability to make good throws.

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 wide receiver screen for seven yards and another first down just past midfield. The ensuing first-down is run is stuffed for negative four yards, followed by a sack of Mills where he had no chance. Now at 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 Brandin Cooks on a designed rollout just past the sticks on the right sideline. It is 4th-and-3, so Houston has to go for it, but Mills can’t find anyone and eventually throws over the middle incomplete. The ball turns over on downs.

Tenth and Eleventh Drives: Seahawks lead 33-13
Seattle scores another touchdown, effectively putting the game out of reach with under six minutes to go. The Texans would fail on another fourth-down try and then the clock would run out on their final drive. The Seahawks 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 those were mostly desperation heaves. Mills did connect with Collins a couple 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 he didn’t make very many mistakes. If the Texans really want 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.

Dan Z. is a writer for STAT Factor, a dedicated sports research company that provides many high-profile broadcasters with detailed information on some of the biggest events in sports. To read more of Dan’s work, please subscribe to STAT Stack here.

2024 NFL Mock Draft - April 9

NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

Fantasy Football Rankings - Feb. 19

NFL Picks - Feb. 12