Texans QB Davis Mills has crisp performance against Patriots

Texans quarterback Davis Mills knew immediately where he was going to go with the football, lobbing a pinpoint back-shoulder throw to rookie wide receiver Tank Dell.

Dell bobbled the accurate throw before ultimately securing the pass for a touchdown at Gillette Stadium.

In his third NFL season and no longer the projected starting quarterback with the arrival of second overall pick C.J. Stroud, Mills reminded the league and the Texans about his skills Thursday nightagainst the New England Patriots.

Mills was precise and relaxed as he completed 9 of 12 passes for 99 yards and the one score for a 126.7 passer rating.

“I thought Davis did a really nice job of executing,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “He was efficient with the ball. He moved us down in two-minute. Very effective there making plays. I thought Davis did a really nice job for us.”

While Mills excelled after substituting after two series, Stroud struggled mightily behind a makeshift offensive line as he threw an interception when he stared down Dell instead of checking it down to an open Dalton Schultz in his NFL debut.

Although Stroud is still expected to eventually be named the starter and has exclusively taken all of the first-team offensive snaps for several days, Mills did give the Texans something to think about. What if Stroud doesn’t give the Texans coaching staff enough of a comfort level that he’s ready to become the full-time starter? What if they entertained the idea of having Mills play until they deem Stroud ready?

That’s an unlikely scenario given the Texans’ investment in Stroud with such a high draft selection, but nonetheless it was an extremely solid performance from Mills. Should Stroud be sidelined for any reason, the Texans have a highly competent backup in Mills.

Mills, who went a combined 5-19-1 as a starter during his first two seasons in the league, had 15 interceptions last season with three returned for touchdowns. He’s had a positive offseason, though. And when NFL teams have inquired about his availability for a potential trade, they were informed that the former third-round draft pick from Stanford is not available, per league sources.

“I don’t think my approach has changed at all,” Mills said. “I’m just trying to be the best player and best person I could be for this team...every rep I get is making me better as a player, so it’s exciting. I’m coming in, putting my head down and showing what I can do.”

Mills was crisp, and his connection with Dell and tendency to look for him was on display.

Mills had some low throws to Dell, including an incompletion on his first throw. Other than the low trajectory, Mills had good ball placement and a fast release. He averaged just under two seconds for time of release per snap.

“It was exciting,” Mills said. “Obviously I think we spread the ball around really efficiently on offense. I’m pretty sure all our receivers who suited up and played today got a catch, so that was awesome to spread the ball around. It was fun getting out there and putting together a couple of really good drives down the field, spreading the ball around to different guys, and letting people make plays.”

Mills showed a good working knowledge of offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik’s thick playbook. He ran the offense adeptly. It was a smooth performance.

“Throughout OTAs and training camp, I started to take a good grasp of the offense, and everyone out there has done the same,” Mills said. “I think we’re executing at a pretty high level. There were different nuances that we got to and different personnel groupings, making sure guys are getting in different spots and different positions. We were motioning to different things to keep the defense on edge.”

The highlight of the game was definitely Mills’ touchdown pass to Dell as the rookie third-round draft pick from the University of Houston shined, catching five passes for 65 yards on eight targets.

“Yeah, he’s great, electrifying,” Mills said. “I think that’s the best way to describe him. He’s going to make guys miss in tight windows and when he catches a short pass, he’s going to try to score anywhere he gets it on the field, I think.

“Just thinking in my head, I know there were a couple more plays where I could have given him a better, accurate ball that, if it was a catch, he might have fallen down. But, if I can bring it up six inches, he can catch it, hit him in stride, and who knows what he’ll do with the ball in his hands.” 

Mills passed for 3,118 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season with a 78.8 passer rating. He had the third-lowest quarterback rating ahead of New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Mills went 3-10-1 as a starter last season, completing 61 percent of his throws.

Mills’ performance, shaky at times and sharp at others, and the Texans’ record led to the organizational decision to draft Stroud.

“A big learning experience,” Mills said. “Obviously, the record was what it was. We wanted to win more games, and I think it led to some of the decisions that we ended up having to make as an organization this offseason. I mean, it’s another day, another day to get better for me personally. I’m looking at it as another learning experience that’s going to add to my ability to go out there and play quarterback at a high level.”

Mills has 33 career touchdown passes and 25 interceptions.

Eventually, this will be Stroud’s offense. It’s Mills’ job to hold him off for as long as possible. Once he’s relegated to backup duty, then it’s his responsibility to mentor Stroud in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

“The big thing is trying to focus on myself: trying to get better every day,” Mills said. “Trying to put a lot of work in. Some of my weaknesses from previous years, trying to make those my strengths now. Biggest thing is kind of putting my head down and getting better each day.

“Different things I pointed out. I don’t want to say anything in particular. Don’t want to clue any defenses across the league. Just different things that I know I need to work on to make myself a better player.”

What happens next with Mills isn’t entirely under his control. What he does to keep striving for improvement is, though. And he expressed confidence that he has become a better quarterback.

“Definitely,” Mills said. “Every year in this league, you feel more and more comfortable. Obviously, the hunger and the drive to become better is still there. It’s definitely a different feeling from when I was stepping in here as a rookie, not knowing anything to where I am now, having all that built-up experience from my starts over these past two years. I mean, it’s exciting. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to come in here and compete for another job. I’m ready for the year.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Houston Texans v New England Patriots

Photo: Omar Rawlings / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

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