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The Film Room: A Closer Look At Davis Mills’ Performance Against The Chargers

How well did the rookie QB really play on Sunday?

Los Angeles Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Last week, there was not a lot of fanfare about the upcoming Los Angeles Chargers vs. Houston Texans game. One of the worst, most uncompetitive teams in the NFL hosting a playoff-caliber team with an MVP-caliber quarterback had blowout written all over it. After Houston lost several of their best players on both sides of the ball to COVID-19, another loss seemed certain. But, to those few that prepared for this game, an opportunity lied nascent for the Texans.

The Chargers defense has been putrid against the run all season, currently ranked 29th in the league in rush defense. For most of the season, they’ve been able to stay afloat with good defensive play against the pass. However, without Derwin James floating around the backfield, maybe Davis Mills could hang in there and make things interesting.

Nothing could have prepared us for what was about to happen.

In the first half, Davis Mills was absolutely deadly. Getting the ball out with rhythm and accuracy, spotting openings in coverage and squeezing the ball into tight holes with stunning frequency, Davis Mills finished the first half 11 of 13 for 131 yards and 2 touchdowns.

With Philip Dorsett taking the place of Brandin Cooks this game, there were expectations that Davis Mills would crawl into the shell of handing the ball off and checkdowns of minimal enthusiasm. Instead, Davis Mills took full advantage of the mid to long range one-on-ones the Chargers kept teasing him with, with the best resulting in a 46-yard touchdown to Chris Conley.

I mean, it’s a perfect throw. It’s too good. It’s so good that I had to show it twice.

A fantastic first half, already the best showing of Davis Mills’ rookie campaign. But, one half of solid play foreshadowing collapse had become a calling card for the Texans this year, did Davis Mills have it in him to buck that trend as well?

He sure did!

In the second half, the Texans could have lost their momentum and predictably collapsed to the whim of a much more talented and experienced opponent. Instead, the Texans held the Chargers to field goals, executed two long and suffocating touchdown drives, and forced costly turnovers that ended up sealing the Chargers’ fate. Mills continued his hot streak and just kept on nailing his receivers for first downs. He wasn’t just completing passes today, he was throwing guys open.

How is this possible? How could Davis Mills exhibit this much improvement this quickly? Well, let’s try to break it down, first.

What elements to an offensive are the greatest aids to young NFL passers? While it’s impossible to narrow it down to one thing, there are three elements that are often referenced as essential ingredients to foster a growing quarterback: a good offensive line, a complimentary rushing attack, and a big, playmaking tight end. The more time a young quarterback is given and the more easy completions the offensive scheme can provide them, the better off they will be in their formative years.

The Texans, for most of the season, have not had any of these things. But, for one week, against the Los Angeles Chargers of all teams, they had all three. A patchwork offensive line somehow gave Davis Mills one of the cleanest games of his young career, Rex Burkhead ran through the entire Chargers defense many times over, and rookie tight end Brevin Jordan proved to be an essential safety valve to the Davis Mills offense.

Jordan’s 4 receptions for 56 yards doesn’t scream off the stat line, but how those yards came to be certainly do. Three of these four receptions to Jordan were on third down, all of which being converted to keep scoring drives alive. One of which, a 27-yard gain on 3rd and 6 late in the third quarter, ranked among the highest in “Game Swinging Plays” in Football Outsiders’ index of the game.

Taking Jordan in the fifth round appears to be paying dividends already, and with a connection like this with Davis Mills, he could become a reliable starter. Coupled with Rex Burkhead’s career game and the Chargers’ pass-rush completely tranquillized, Davis Mills was able to operate Tim Kelly’s offense with full confidence. With time in the pocket and one-on-one coverage, Davis Mills exhibited the arm and touch on sideline routes that made him a top quarterback in high school and a third round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. In fact, I wouldn’t have blamed you if those sideline routes reminded you a little too much of Mills’ Stanford highlights, maybe begging the question why it took this long for them to feel familiar…

Better late than never, right?

In addition to Davis Mills’ play being elevated by a rookie tight end, receiver Nico Collins also proved to be a valuable asset to the passing attack on Sunday:

Again, 4 targets for 3 receptions, 33 yards and a touchdown aren’t going to blow the nails off of Easterby’s door, but the quality of those yards and Collins’ growing role as a target for Mills are nothing but encouraging. Nico Collins was the rookie I was by far most excited about, appearing to be a perfect blend of size and speed. Collins has the size and strength to win one-on-ones and the acceleration to get open downfield. He takes advantage of every inch of his wingspan, and knows how to use his 4.45 speed to find open hole on time. He’s everything you could want in an NFL wide receiver, and in the last few weeks, it’s finally starting to show.

When Houston drafted Davis Mills at the top of the third round in the 2021 NFL Draft, I was heartbroken. Not because we drafted Mills, but that we had missed the opportunity to draft Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. I saw Kellen Mond as a high-ceiling prospect that had shown progression from a competent to an excellent passer at the collegiate level, with plenty of speed and athleticism to boot. With David Culley coming in from Baltimore, I saw a chance for Mond to fit the Lamar Jackson sized hole in his offense. While it would be a lot of responsibility for a rookie quarterback to assume, Mond has both the arm and the legs to become a one-man offense in a similar light as Jackson.

But then, the Vikings happened.

The Vikings, out of nowhere, jumped up the draft and stole Kellen Mond ONE PICK before the Texans could have their chance. We had made it the whole way to pick 66 and Mond was still available (a surprise given that a handful of analysts had put Mond in the late first to second round window right before the draft). He was right there, and the Vikings stole him.

Instead of him, Houston got Davis Mills.

Davis Mills was not Kellen Mond. Davis Mills was not that. Davis Mills was the unknown, long-necked Stanford project that had more high school tape than college tape. The quarterback that you heard more about how he should have stayed in school for another year than try to make the NFL jump this early. Davis Mills was the weird, half-busted consolation prize I got because they were sold out of the toy I really wanted for Christmas. After the Vikings jumped the Texans to steal Mond and we were left with the second coming of Josh Rosen, I threw my hands up in despair and saw nothing but disaster for an offense where David Culley and Tim Kelly would try to figure out what the hell they even have in Davis Mills. What in the world could a quarterback like him do in a offense like this? What could he even do?

After Sunday’s game, Davis Mills proved to me exactly what he could do. In just his rookie year, Davis Mills showed progression, accuracy, poise, touch, and the processing speed to play at a high level in the NFL. He’s throwing with stunning accuracy at all levels of the football field, throwing receivers open (making them look better than they really are), finding the tight end open in space, buying time in the pocket…This is a quarterback that will have played an equal amount of NFL and college games by January 2nd when he faces fellow rookie Trey Lance and 49ers. In the span of 22 football games, Davis Mills has gone from his first college game as a nationally hyped high school prospect to a NFL-caliber passer that appears to have a higher ceiling every time he takes the field. In short, Davis Mills proved me wrong, and I couldn’t have asked for a better rookie quarterback.

Los Angeles Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

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