Texans’ Nico Collins looking for more after striking deep against Chargers

HOUSTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 26: Nico Collins #12 of the Houston Texans celebrates with Pharaoh Brown #85 after catch a pass for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at NRG Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) (Bob Levey, 2021 Getty Images)

HOUSTON – Nico Collins struck deep, creating separation with a crisp post route behind Los Angeles Chargers’ $82.5 million cornerback J.C. Jackson as Texans quarterback Davis Mills heaved the football over half the distance of the football field.

Collins gathered in a 58-yard completion that set up a touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks on Sunday, catching the longest pass of his NFL career.

“It was a simple little post route, man coverage,” Collins said. “Davis trusted me and I trusted him. It was the perfect coverage for the opportunity to throw the post route and Davis let it rip.”

One of the largest wide receivers in the NFL at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds with 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash, Collins piled up a career-high 82 receiving yards on three catches during a 34-24 loss at NRG Stadium.

“It’s funny because we’ve repped that play to Nico so many times in practice, and I think we’ve only really thrown it one or two times,” Mills said. “So it’s awesome to come out and see him make a huge play, and we know what he is capable of.”

A former third-round draft pick from Michigan, Collins has considerable potential. And he’s starting to see an upward trend in his production.

Four games into the season, Collins has caught 11 passes for 207 yards. He’s averaging 18.8 yards per reception after catching 33 passes for 446 yards and one touchdown as a rookie last season and averaged 13.5 yards per catch.

Why haven’t plays like the 58-yard bomb become more commonplace for Collins.

“It’s different in game-time,” Collins said. “You’ve got to adjust to the defense. When the defense shows the coverage for the opportunity to throw the post route, you got to take it. That’s what Davis did. We were talking about it on the sideline, what defensive scheme we thought was going to happen and it was the perfect opportunity. It showed the right coverage and he took a shot downfield.”

Collins had just two catches for 26 yards on three targets in a season-opening tie versus the Indianapolis Colts.

Against the Denver Broncos, Collins was significantly more involved and that led to an uptick in production.

Collins tied Cooks for the most receptions on the team with four catches. He led the team with 58 yards, four more than Cooks, on nine targets as Cooks was targeted a team-high 10 times  And Collins had a 29-yard reception, Mills’ longest completion of the game.

Big plays like the 58-yarder can lead to more breathing room for the entire offense.

“Big-time, man,” Collins said. “I feel like the team needed that spark, a little juice. We needed that. Davis trusted me. He took a shot and he came back to Brandin with the slant route in the end zone. I feel like that momentum set us up for a great opportunity to come back and score the ball. I feel like for that situation we need to start like that and finish like that.

“The game is starting to slow down a bit for me, but I feel like there’s still a lot of room for improvement on my game. I feel like you can never stop working on your game. I feel like that’s my goal. My focus is to continue to work on things that I feel like I need to work on and be a big player for the offense and team. I feel like I’ve got a little routine down.”

Collins has the requisite size, speed, leaping ability and route-running skills and hands to be a higher-volume contributor as a complementary No. 2 presence working in tandem with Cooks.

“Nico is a big target,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “When we do go to him, it seems like he’s been a playmaker.”

Mills went back to Collins after overthrowing him in the first quarter on the Texans’ initial drive for an interception.

The connection Mills and Collins, both second-year pros, is building can provide a boost to an offense searching for points and a strong identity.

“Mills is an athlete,” Collins said. “We’ve known he can make those type of throws, his accuracy. It was a great coverage for the defense, a great play. Davis trusted his arm strength and trusted my catching ability. He knew I would be down there to make a play for him, so that’s what happened.”

Of course, the Texans are off to a 0-3-1 start. That’s hard to deal with.

“Nobody wants to lose,” Collins said. “We’re right there. I mean yes, it’s a little bit frustration but you can’t let that kill the rest of the season. Game over now. Last week’s over with. It’s on to another week, another opportunity.”

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.

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