The Texans' pending quarterback decision between veteran Tyrod Taylor and rookie Davis Mills hinges on a few key elements: a video evaluation, and Taylor's health.
Taylor was benched Sunday during a 31-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts during which he slightly hyperextended his left wrist, his non-throwing hand and had difficulty gripping the football with swelling in his hand. He is undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday.
Now, Culley and the Texans have a decision to make in the wake of replacing Taylor after he completed just 5 of 13 passes for 45 yards and a putrid 16.5 passer rating. Does he give Taylor another shot after he has struggled since returning from a Grade 2 hamstring injury? Or does he go with Mills, a third-round draft pick from Stanford who completed 6 of 14 passes for 49 yards and a 52.4 passer rating Sunday in relief of Taylor.
"We're still evaluating it," Texans coach David Culley said Monday morning at NRG Stadium. "It will be a football decision. We'll know later on in the week. We'll keep evaluating what we're doing and see where we need to go and what gives us the best chance to win."
The decision was prompted by Taylor and the entire Texans offense's ugly performance, which included Taylor being intercepted by Colts safety Kenny Moore on the first play of a 31-0 defeat at NRG Stadium that represents the first shutout at home in franchise regular-season history.
Culley said that the decision was his alone and that general manager Nick Caserio was not involved.
Taylor threw three interceptions during a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
"That hasn't been his M.O.," Culley said. "Those aren't things he's done in his history. In the past, he would run the ball (Moore interception). This time, he passed the ball and it was a bad decision. The only expectation I have of him is taking care of the ball. When he's done that, he's been a good quarterback. That hasn't happened the past few games."
Culley was asked if this will be a tougher decision given his previous stance that Taylor would be the quarterback for the remainder of the season, barring an injury.
"Not when you're looking at the way our offense has been playing," Culley said. "Obviously, the job of our quarterback is to score points and get us in the end zone. We haven't done that very well. That's why we're doing the evaluation."
Culley emphasized that Taylor didn't return too soon from the hamstring injury.
"The hamstring is no issue at all," Culley said. "He's been healthy."
A third-round draft pick from Stanford, Mills wasn't intercepted Sunday. He did have an intentional grounding penalty and nearly threw one interception that wide receiver Chris Conley prevented.
"I think he did a good job," Culley said. "I think he made one bad throw. He handled things well. I thought he did a good job and I thought he threw the ball well."
The Texans have the lowest scoring offense in the NFL.
Their drives on Sunday unfolded this way: Interception, fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, turnover on downs, turnover on downs. Seven of their 11 drives generated less than 10 yards.
Seven days ago, Culley said that Taylor would be the starter for the remainder of the season, barring an injury to Taylor.
Now, Culley is rethinking the situation after the offense had just nine first downs and 141 yards of total offense and averaged just 2.8 yards per offensive play. The Texans went 3 for 12 on third down and Taylor and Mills combined for 11 of 27 passing for 94 yards as both were sacked four times.
Taylor has completed 60.7 percent of his passes, producing 966 yards, with five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Mills went 0-6 as the starter when Taylor was sidelined previously.
It's been the usual up-and-down progression of a rookie quarterback.
Mills has passed for 1,406 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Now, Mills may be needed to start again.
“I think as a quarterback now, I'm better player than I was earlier in the season,” Mills said. “I wouldn't say more prepared, but I know more of the offense now, being in it for longer. I think the comfort builds as you get more playing experience out there. Unfortunately, went down today, and I was ready to step up.”
“Definitely more comfortable. I think the experience that I've had earlier in the season affects that and helps with that. Moving forward, it's the coach's decision to make. I'll just be ready when my number is called, if it does get called.”
Mills learned quickly after Taylor went into the blue medical tent that he was going to be pressed into duty.
“It was right in that moment,” Mills said. “ Right when he went into the tent, he came over and basically, where it was up to see how he was feeling, to see if I would go in or not. But they ended up making the call.”
Overall, the offense is horrible. The Texans have no real threat downfield outside of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. He was the only wide receiver to catch a pass Sunday for the Texans, finishing with three catches for 38 yards on six targets. Chris Conley was targeted four times and had no catches.
“You got to play better football,” Culley said. “You’ve got to look at it even more closely than we have and make necessary productions.. We’re playing with who we're playing with.
“We don’t have the consistency. We’re still having some breakdowns. We’re not good enough to play from behind the chains. I don’t think it’s in the game plan. It’s us executing. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching.”
Texans veteran center Justin Britt said he’s witnessed progress from Mills since his first game against the Cleveland Browns when Taylor injured his hamstring while running for a touchdown.
“Obviously, we don't want Tyrod to go down, and I'm not going to speculate or talk about injuries, but when Davis stepped in, there was no waver,” Britt said. “The confidence is up there. We know that he can play. We know that he can command the offense, and he did just that.
“You could tell it in his eyes, his belief in himself and the offense, his job, what he's got to do. He's more comfortable, more poised. It speaks volumes to who he is, how he prepares. And I thought he came in and, commanded the offense and did all he could to try to get us in the end zone.”