ARLINGTON – Davis Mills delivered a convincing play-action fake Saturday night, standing tall in the pocket before firing an accurate spiral to wide receiver Chris Moore against the Dallas Cowboys.
The 26-yard pass represented Mills’ longest completion during a 20-14 victory at AT&T Stadium as he displayed signs of progress during his second NFL preseason game.
The strong-armed third-round draft pick from Stanford didn’t throw an interception after being picked off once against the Green Bay Packers and completed 10 of 16 passes for 115 yards and a respectable 84.1 passer rating. He has yet to throw a touchdown pass through two preseason games.
Although Mills didn’t have much of a running game to complement his throws and dealt with frequent blitz packages from the Cowboys that disrupted third downs to the point where the Texans finished 0-for-10 overall in that critical category, he didn’t get flustered and kept running the offense with solid fundamentals and mechanics.
“I think I’ve shown what I can do, at least a little bit so far,” Mills said. “ Obviously, there’s still a ton of room for improvement. I felt we had a really good team effort. The players around me were making plays, so it made my job a little easier.”
Mills, who also had a 25-yard completion to slot receiver Keke Coutee, was sacked once and had one intentional grounding penalty. Mills went 1-for-4 on third-down passes overall.
Pass protection was part of Mills’ issues along with simply processing quickly and finding an open receiver.
“What’s nice, it’s still preseason,” Mills said. “Dallas did a good job disguising some of their looks. But, that gives us a ton of really good practice for moving forward going into the season. Communicating with the line and protection, just making sure we are on top of everything. I think seeing some different things different ways. I think Dallas mixed it up a little bit, but I think we can still just go out there and execute, do our jobs.
“It kind of settles you in the game a little when you are getting hit early on, unfortunately. You don’t want to get hit as a quarterback. I think our offensive line and running backs did a good job in protection, but it is nice when a team is bringing stuff early in the preseason, because we get a chance to look at it, to talk about it. We will see it on film and be a lot better next week.”
Texans coach David Culley noted that the blitzes were more frequent than anticipated.
Of course, Mills and the Texans’ offense will have to handle those situations during games. Mills isn’t in a competition with veteran starter Tyrod Taylor, the replacement for embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson, but the Texans do want to evaluate if he can become a first-string passer in the future.
“We need to be more consistent,” Culley said. “It seemed we got a few more blitzes than what we got in the first game. We knew that could possibly happen, and I think it disrupted us a little bit, but for the most part, it’s going to be that way. We’ll get better at that.”
Texans left tackle Geron Christian Jr. had a rough game and, overall, the offense looked out of sync. The running game generated just 89 yards on 28 carries (3.2 average) with one touchdown run by Mark Ingram after Jacob Martin’s sack and forced fumble recovered by Charles Omenihu.
Mills looked much more comfortable than he did in Green Bay during his NFL debut when he was intercepted in the red zone.
“Obviously, my biggest priority out there is protecting the football and making good decisions,” Mills said. “Last week versus Green Bay I had a little screen pass that slipped out of my hand that I threw in the dirt. I obviously want that one back. That was a quick thought. Obviously the interception from last week, I had no interceptions this week, so I’m making improvements and I want to keep doing that.”
Signed to a four-year contract worth $5.22 million that includes a $1.157 million signing bonus, Mills had just 11 starts in college due to a knee injury. Playing in just five games last season, he was an honorable-mention All-Pac-12 selection who passed for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He set a single-game school record with a 504-yard performance against Washington State. As a sophomore, he passed for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“I’ve only been here for training camp so far and what we did in the spring,” Mills said. “There’s still time for me to learn the system and learn the players around me. I feel I can still build a lot of chemistry with continual reps. So far, everyone’s grown together, and I think we have done well as a team moving forward.”
Working with quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton, who coached Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert last season, Mills is focused on making steady improvement, communicating well and continuing to process how he reacts to defenses.
“A big thing we have worked on is just staying loaded at all times in the pocket, so whenever something pops, we are able to get the ball out in a split second,” Mills said. “ And then, a lot of the stuff he does on gamedays is just making sure we are prepared for everything the defense is showing us. We are coming back to the sidelines and talking through looks, and he is just getting us for the next drive and making sure we are on top of everything.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.