Texans rookie Dameon Pierce injures ankle, to undergo MRI

ARLINGTON -- Texans standout rookie running back Dameon Pierce jammed his cleat into the ground at AT&T Stadium as he limped off the field Sunday after being attended to by trainers and team medical officials.

Once Pierce went to the sideline, his left ankle was quickly retaped and he went back into the game. It was clear, though, that his ankle was preventing him from operating normally as he gained one yard on his final carry. 

Pierce was ruled out for the remainder of a 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, and his absence was felt. Especially during a pivotal red-zone opportunity when the Texans had a chance to put the game away in the final minutes. Veteran running back Rex Burkhead was stuffed twice during that sequence for total losses of three yards and quarterback Jeff Driskel was stopped on fourth down shy of the end zone, leading up to the Cowboys' game-winning drive.

Pierce was limping in the locker room after the game and wasn't made available to reporters. He indicated optimism to others that it's not a long-term injury. There is hope that it's not a long-term injury and that it's a normal sprained ankle, not a high-ankle sprain. Pierce will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday to determine the severity of the injury, according to a league source.

Pierce rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries with one lost fumble, including one run where he bulldozed safety Malik Hooker by lowering his right shoulder. Pierce has rushed for 939 yards, the most among all NFL rookies, and four touchdowns.

Not having Pierce in the red zone impacted the Texans' play-calling and effectiveness.

"It affected quite a bit," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "First-and-goal inside the five, the plan would’ve been a little bit different, but nobody wants to hear about injuries. We’ve had quite a few. If Dameon would’ve been healthy and ready to go, of course he would’ve been in there."

Pierce is the Texans' most dangerous and productive offensive player on a 1-11-1 team. He runs with a punishing running style. Just ask Hooker.

The fourth-round draft pick from Florida has four games with 75 rushing yards and one touchdown this season, the most since retired Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster had five in 2014.

In other injury updates, cornerback Steven Nelson injured his ankle and didn't return with Tremon Smith intercepting the first two passes of his NFL career in his place. 

Rookie offensive guard Kenyon Green injured his ankle,but was able to return after being replaced by backup center Jimmy Morrissey. Green was limping badly after the game.

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys

Photo: Getty Images

ARLINGTON -- Jeff Driskel delivered a quick play-action fake, rolled out to his right and lobbed a perfect spiral to leaping wide receiver Amari Rodgers for a touchdown pass.

The Texans' backup quarterback, elevated from the practice squad for the third time, threw his first touchdown pass since Sept. 27, 2020 when he was playing for the Denver Broncos.

Splitting time with starter Davis Mills, Driskel helped the Texans' usually sluggish offense click Sunday. It was an effective strategy designed by offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton intended to breathe some life into a dormant offense. Although the 1-11-1 Texans still wound up losing 27-23 to the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, the two-quarterback collaboration contributed to them leading throughout in arguably their best overall offensive performance of the season.

"We looked for a spark," Texans coach Lovie Smith said. "I thought Davis did some good things passing the football, made some good throws. Made some good decisions. I liked things he did. And the combination with Jeff Driskel. Early in the week we decided to go with this plan to use Jeff. I thought he did some good things, too."

Mills and Driskel equally split the offensive snaps, 50 percent apiece with 33 plays each.

Mills, back in the starting lineup after being benched for two weeks and replaced by Kyle Allen, who was inactive, completed 16 of 21 passes for 175 yards and one interception on a desperation Hail Mary heave to end the game.

“That was something that we worked on all week, a nice little package for me in there," said Driskel, who was converted to tight end last season because of his athleticism before breaking his collarbone and going on injured reserve. "I was excited to get out there and help the team win and, obviously, it was not what we wanted to do at the end of the game. We’ve just got to execute a few more times and punch the ball in the end zone, but it was good to get back in the game.”

The quarterback platoon worked until a pivotal red-zone sequence as the Texans failed to put the game away after getting a first-and-goal after a Tremon Smith interception. Rex Burkhead was stuffed twice for a total loss of three yards. Driskel was tackled on an option run on fourth down, and the Cowboys drove 98 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

“It was a play to get out on the edge and they had more bodies out there than maybe we wanted," Driskel said. "It was fourth down and I tried to put my foot in the ground and get vertical and they beat us on that step.”

Driskel completed 4 of 6 throws for 38 yards and the 28-yard touchdown. He also rushed for 36 yards on seven carries. The teamwork between Mills and Driskel was evident.

"Props to Davis for being able to play the game like that," Driskel said. "That’s not easy to come in on third down a lot of times and drop back pass, but I thought he handled it well. I think the game was called in a way that both of us were able to help. We came up short and have got to be able to execute a few more times.”

“I think Davis handled it really well. There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t be too excited about coming off the field, but that’s just not who he is. He’s about winning the game. We thought that was the best strategy. I think we knew going in that’s how this game was going to be played and we have a really good quarterback room and nothing selfish from anybody.”

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that the two-quarterback system was difficult to defend.

From series to series, from play to play, the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn didn't know which quarterback would be in the game.

With Driskel, the Texans had a more mobile quarterback. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds for NFL scouts coming out of college.

With Mills, the Texans have a more of a traditional pocket passer.

"I think Houston, I thought they played well, they’re a challenge to play with two quarterbacks," McCarthy said. "There’s some herky-jerkiness to that. They hit their big plays. We transitioned very well. We’re familiar with Jeff Driskel, we actually brought him in for a free agent visit a few years back. 

"I thought Dan and the staff and the players handled it seamlessly on the communication. You know every time they swapped, communication was clean. I didn’t see the substitution of it as the issue, but it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge because you know it is concept thinking as far as your play call and staying on your script, getting into your rolodex and all those things."

Playing without injured wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins, the Texans still hit some big plays.

Wide receiver Chris Moore caught a career-high 10 passes for 124 yards on 11 targets, including a one-handed sideline grab.

“It was seamless," Moore said. "I feel like we did a good job of practicing that all week and we went out there and executed the game plan pretty well.”

The communication in the huddle didn't suffer with the constant changes.

“It was effective," offensive guard A.J. Cann said. "The communication wasn’t different at all. They did a good job communicating when they were coming in and when they were going out. It seemed to be working. We were moving the ball with it. Hey, look, it might be something we use in the future.”

Rodgers caught the first touchdown of his NFL career from Driskel on the play-action pass.

"I just ran a wheel route," Rodgers said. "I was really just supposed to clear out the safety. It wasn’t supposed to come to me, but I was playing fast and was ready for the ball. He threw it to me, and I just made the play. He was supposed to check it down to the tight end, but he saw the safety wasn’t looking. If the defender’s back is turned to you, you’re open. So, that was a great throw by him. I just happened to come down with it.”

Playing with two quarterbacks represented something of a foreign concept, but it worked.

"As a receiver, you just get open and if the ball is around you, you’ve just got to catch it," Rodgers said. "To me, it doesn’t matter who’s out there at quarterback. I’ve got to do my job and get open. If the ball comes my way, I’ll make the play. 

"Driskel and Davis, they did a great job handling the game management and keeping the offense rolling. They did a great job. Maybe we will keep rolling with that because they did a great job.”

Mills finished with a 80.5 passer rating, but it was clearly an improvement from the shaky performances against the Washington Commanders and Tennessee Titans that got him benched.

“I played well for the most part," Mills said. "Obviously, I want to go back and see a couple of things, but there might have only really been one throw that I missed to my standards. 

"I thought we were moving the ball pretty effectively all day. Jeff’s a great athlete, a great quarterback. Any time we can mix it up and keep the defense guessing, we want to utilize that as much as possible so we can keep moving the ball.”

Smith didn't commit to going forward on the rotation at quarterback next Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, but he didn't rule out continuing to utilize the strategy.

"We’ll evaluate it," he said. "If we like what we’re able to do with it, we'll keep it. We’ll see what gives us the best option to give us a chance to beat Kansas City."

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys

Photo: Getty Images

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