HOUSTON – Texans coach Lovie Smith was noncommittal Monday on having Davis Mills remain the starting quarterback and foreshadowed potential change at the position one day after indicating the former third-round draft pick from Stanford wasn’t being replaced.
The Texans are contemplating having backup Kyle Allen step in for Mills following another lackluster performance Sunday, according to league sources.
Smith didn’t indicate anything definitively, citing the need to inform players before making public announcements, but hinted strongly that change is coming.
“Have I watched the video a few different times? Yeah, and made some decisions on how we’re going to go forward,” Smith said during a press conference at NRG Stadium. “But you can probably understand, with all changes and anything that we do from week to week, we talk to the players first before we talk to you. We’re not pleased with where we are. Do we need to do some things differently? Yes, and we will.”
And Mills’ shortcomings provided another snapshot of his season-long struggles and the problems facing an unproductive offense engineered by offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. The Texans mustered just five yards of total offense in the first half, their fewest net yards in a half in franchise history, during a 23-10 loss to the Washington Commanders. They had eight yards in the first half of a 40-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills last season. This marked the fewest net yards by an NFL team in a half since the Raiders’ minus-12 yards in a win over the Denver Broncos in 2015.
When asked for his evaluation of Mills, Smith reiterated that it would be difficult for any quarterback to perform well while being sacked five times. However, he didn’t attribute all of Mills’ issues to the heavy pressure generated by a talented Commander’s defensive line.
“That’s a question I’m asked quite a bit, and I don’t know how to answer it anymore except for, I think he’s grown, too, since the early part,” Smith said. “It’s pretty hard to talk about how much somebody has grown after yesterday. If you look at the game from the quarterback play, we didn’t play as well as we needed to in the first half. Second half, I think we started, had a drive going down there, couldn’t cash in on it, and that’s been our season so far. There have been some rough spots but there have been some moments when we’ve shown a lot of promise but we haven’t made it to the promised land yet.”
Mills stared down his primary read, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, and was intercepted by Commander’s cornerback Kendall Fuller as he undercut the telegraphed pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown on the second offensive play of the game. The miscue, a pick-six, was the first of Mills’ two interceptions Sunday. Although the game was sparsely attended, the Texans’ ineptitude was repeatedly met with loud boos.
“It’s tough,” Smith said. “Any quarterback, it would have been tough for them to perform with some of the pressure that we got, not always, though. For the quarterback, for us to have success passing the football, it does start up front with protection, feeling that comfort, to be able to go through the progression of your reads. Most of the day that wasn’t the case. I’m going to say that that’s been the case for a few weeks. A little of that is you have to give the credit where it’s due, too, that’s with the teams that we’re playing. They’ve been very strong inside. Hopefully, that won’t continue throughout the rest of the year.”
Mills completed 19 of 33 passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 46.1 passer rating. He rushed for a late touchdown, the first rushing score of his career.
Mills has 11 interceptions this season and 11 touchdown passes. He has clearly regressed since his rookie season when he had nine touchdowns and two interceptions during the final five games of last year.
Allen, a former University of Houston and Texas A&M quarterback who has previously played for the Washington franchise and the Carolina Panthers, has a 7-10 career record. He has passed for 4,318 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions with a 63.1 completion percentage.
Allen was signed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with a maximum value of $3 million during the offseason. He played in two games last season and completed 12 of 19 passes for 120 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He rushed for 11 yards on two carries.
“Kyle can make all of the throws,” Smith said. “He has a history of good play in the NFL. He’s a veteran who’s been in situations. He gets rid of the ball quickly. There’s a lot of things to like about what Kyle has done. When he played in the preseason, with a limited amount of time, I thought he did a pretty good job.”
Smith was asked if he believes a team can get a spark from a personnel change. He sounded like a coach who’s ready to try something new with the Texanas off to a 1-8-1 start.
“When you’ve lost as many games as we have, you’re searching for ways and things that may get the best out of that person or the team in general,” Smith said. “I think there’s a place for that. Whether it’s a spark or not. What we look at is if the effort is not what you want it to be, we look to see if there’s a better option.
“Sometimes we look to that better option a little bit earlier than others. Position-wise we look to that option maybe a little bit quicker than others. That’s a part of the process that you go through. And where we are in our process, we’re in the second half on the season now, it’s a little bit different now. We should know about, I mean, what’s been put on video is probably who we are now. I acknowledge that.”
Texans left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, defended Mills and emphasized his resiliency after a mistake.
“That’s one thing about Davis, he gets ready for the next one,” Tunsil said. “That’s one thing we appreciate about him. I don’t think no change should happen. It’s just growing pains.”
The pick-six was an example of Mills’ lack of progress.
“Good play by the defender,” Mills said. “Might have left the ball a hair inside, and he had a really good jump on it and ended up getting away and making a good play. Not many emotions after the play. Got to flush it really fast and go back out there because you’re about to get the ball right back.”
For the season, Mills has completed 61.9 percent of his throws for 2,144 yards for a 78.1 passer rating. He’s averaging an interception on 3.4 percent of his throws.
“It was tough from the jump,” offensive guard A.J. Cann said. “They got the pick-six. When you start a game like that, it’s tough. I don’t think we were able to figure out how to turn it around.”
The Texans have lost five consecutive games. Arguably, they don’t have a lot of players who would start for the majority of the other NFL teams.
Smith was asked if there’s enough talent on the roster to be competitive.
“As I look at our success and what’s happening with us right now, when we haven’t gotten the job done, we’re not where we need to be at all those areas,” Smith said. “First, start coaching-wise, are we going to do a better job, and do we need to do a better job coaching? Absolutely. Player-wise, do we need to play better? Could we use more talent? Yes. I think it’s yes to all of those things.
“I think we all realize that, too. That’s just a part of it too. I still go back to how the season has turned, on where we are. Have we had opportunities to win more games so far in the first half of the season? Yes, we have, with the personnel, with the coaches we have. I just still feel like we’re going to get a chance to prove that we have made progress with the teams that we have coming up the second half of the season.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to KPRC 2 and click2houston.com