Davis Mills is poised to tackle the entire Texans’ playbook, a nod of respect and trust from the coaching staff toward the rookie quarterback from Stanford.
It’s a vote of confidence the third-round draft pick has earned following a respectable performance during his first NFL start, a loss to the Carolina Panthers during which he completed 19 of 8 passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 95.5 passer rating.
The increased responsibilities and more aggressive game plan involving Mills is set to unfold Sunday on the road against a formidable Buffalo Bills defense.
The Texans acknowledged that it was an overly simplistic approach toward Mills as a precautionary measure against the Panthers' top-ranked defense.
“Well, he’s going to have a lot more put on him than we put on him last week,” Texans coach David Culley said. “I feel like he’ll be able to handle that. We’re just going to run our offense and let him handle it from there.”
Compared to how his struggling rookie quarterback colleagues, all of whom were drafted in the first round, performed this week, Mills was downright effective against Carolina.
Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields completed 6 of 20 passes for 68 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones competed 30 of 51 passes for 271 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick from Clemson, completed 22 of 34 passes for 219 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
And New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson completed 19 of 35 passes for 160 yards and two interceptions.
A lot of the conservatism stemmed from Culley wanting to make sure that not too much was being placed on Mills in his first start as the replacement for injured veteran starter Tyrod Taylor.
“I don’t think we went in thinking we just want to protect him,” Culley said. “There are certain things that they were going to do regardless of what we called, they were going to do it. We just felt like that we wanted to make sure we gave him stuff that he knew. That there was never any doubt about what he needed to do on these particular plays.
"Basically, what I did was I told Tim and those guys ‘Listen, just don’t make him uncomfortable and make sure he is doing the things that he is very, very comfortable with.’ That being said, there are some things that we probably didn’t do in that game that we probably would have done in other games if it was Tyrod.”
Mills’ best moments were orchestrating a crisp no-huddle offense capped by a touchdown pass to wide receiver Anthony Miller before the end of the first half.
Known for his intelligence and work ethic, Mills is earning the respect of his older teammates.
“I have all the confidence in him,” running back Mark Ingram said. “He’s just so calm. He’s smooth. He’s collected. It doesn’t seem like it is too much for him. So, I’m sure with a week to be able prepare, to watch film, to take the practice reps, be able to have the mental, emotional, physical preparation it takes to go out there on Sunday and have success. I think he’s going to do a great job. We open up the playbook, let him do his thing.
“I think he’s going to do a great job. We all just have to do our jobs and make it as easy on him as possible. And that just comes from us executing. Every man doing their jobs to the best of their ability. I think it’s important for us to make sure that we are staying on schedule, staying a head of the chains so he can operate and do his thing.”
Mills threw an interception against the Cleveland Browns when Taylor got hurt. Against the Panthers, he did a better job of reading the defense. He was sacked four times and hit nine times overall, though.
“He’s doing a tremendous job,” center Justin Britt said .”We had a couple hiccups in Cleveland. This last game, he called it pretty clean. There’s not much I need to do. Like I said, after the Cleveland game, I have a lot of trust in him, a lot of faith in his coaching and his ability. He’s here for a reason. I don’t want to make stuff up and get out of my way and press and do things that I normally don’t do, so I’m going to keep my job simple, do what I do and let him ball.”
“We feel very comfortable blocking the five. We feel very comfortable where we’re at with protection. There are times now where Davis (Mills) will have to make some calls, making sure we’re getting people going to the right place and the right side. But I feel real comfortable in what we’re doing protection-wise. You go back and you look at the five or six sacks that we’ve got, very few of those are on our offensive line.”
The Texans went 1 for 9 on third downs against Carolina.
“We got behind the chains,” Culley said. “We had more second-and-longs than we’ve had before because we weren’t able to get started off with the run game very well. And then when we were above the chains, then we end up having some mistakes that put us back behind the chains. We’re not a football team that can play from behind the chains.”
Now, Mills has extra time to prepare for a road start against the Bills and their stout defense.
“I know there was a few plays in the game when he goes back and he watches the video, he’ll sit there and say, ‘Man, I had that, I should have did this.’ Well, that’s part of the growing process that he’s had. But the beauty of that entire thing with him growing, it’s easier to grow when you protect the football from a quarterback position, and he did that.”
The faster Mills learns, the better off he and the offense will be.
“Definitely, there's a couple quick things that I can think of that I would like to improve on initially,” Mills said. “Going back, we'll see a lot from the film and also see the good in it that we can keep moving forward with.”
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.