Retooled due to a difficult health situation and frequently maligned even when at full strength, the Texans' makeshift offensive line delivered a sterling performance Sunday.
With Pro Bowl offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil still on injured reserve, and left tackle Tytus Howard, center Justin Britt and left guard Lane Taylor on the reserve-COVID-19 list after positive tests, the Texans' shorthanded blockers came up big during a 41-29 victory over the heavily favored Los Angeles Chargers at NRG Stadium.
Starting Geron Christian Sr. at left tackle, Cole Toner at left guard, rookie Jimmy Morrissey at center, Max Scharping at right guard and Charlie Heck at right tackle, the Texans rushed for a season-high 189 yards as running back Rex Burkhead rushed for a career-high 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Rookie quarterback Davis Mills had plenty of time to complete 21 of 27 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 130.6 passer rating.
“I think it all starts with our offensive line, not just Davis and our receivers," Texans coach David Culley said. "I thought our offensive line and our backs did a great job of protection and making plays when plays were there. When you do that and you protect him, you're able to run the ball, good things happen. Our quarterback was able to execute what we asked him to do, and that's what his job is to do.
"Protect the ball and get us in the end zone, and our offense did a good job of that today.The continuity was what was happening with our offensive line. Those guys stepped in there. We knew the situation. We weren't going to change what we were going to do."
Burkhead had a huge hole to bust through on his 25-yard touchdown run, following blocks from Christian and Toner and turning the corner to reach the left pylon.
“Offensive line did a tremendous job from the get-go," Burkhead said. "Really, first run of the game. Controlling the line of scrimmage, being physical. Not only at the first level, but the second level as well and made my job easy back there. Just running behind those, giving us clear holes and paths, and reading off their blocks. It's a lot of fun when that's happening. It really helped our offense get some momentum there early on.”
The Texans improved to 4-11, winning consecutive games for the first time this season. They matched last season's win total under Bill O'Brien, fired after an 0-4 start, and Romeo Crennel, who went 4-8 as the interim coach.
Mills was only sacked once. He was hit just twice.
“I mean, that's the mission every week, protect the ball, get the ball in the end zone," Mills said. "I felt like we did that today. And just the way I've grown in this offense, I feel like I'm able to make smarter decisions and not force footballs into tight windows and tight coverage.
"And our guys also – first off – protected me up front so I was able to have time see guys get open, and credit to the receivers for winning their one-on-ones and winning their matchups and getting open and allowing me to deliver the ball to them."