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Preseason Problems: Is Houston Offense In Trouble?

Outside of the team's final drive, the Texans struggled passing downfield against the Los Angeles Rams.

Preseason games are meant to show, diagnose and fix issues. And while the Houston Texans might be resting one-third of their starters, that’s not an excuse for the minimal execution from the two-thirds of talent taking the field with the first-team offense.

One drive from Friday’s 24-20 victory against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium isn’t enough to make up for the other six led by quarterback Davis Mills and Co. In back-to-back weeks, Houston has stumbled out the gate, averaging 1.96 yards a play through its first eight preseason drives.

The Texans fired offensive coordinator Tim Kelly after the team averaged 4.7 yards per play in 2021, third-fewest in franchise history. In practice, new coordinator Pep Hamilton has seen progress from the second-year quarterback, especially in terms of building chemistry with receivers not named Brandin Cooks.

In a sense, those plays were evident Friday. Mills connected four times with second-year receiver Nico Collins. He found training camp standout Brevin Jordan twice for seven yards. The play of the game came to potential starting slot receiver Phillip Dorsett in the second quarter.

Outside of a handful of snaps, Mills struggled with consistency. Plays that seemed easy in practice were problematic. Drives culminated in punts instead of points during the first half.

“We’re just trying to get that spark going,” Collins said postgame. “Don’t worry, we’ll find it.”

One of the biggest flaws for Houston’s offense last season remains an issue entering the preseason finale matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. Negative plays and pointless penalties often ended positive drives on the spot.

Five plays went for negative yards in the first half, Three came on runs by either Marlon Mack or Rex Burkhead. Two came on sacks to Mills thanks to sub-par protection.

One can’t blame the offensive line for everything. Mills missed receiver Chris Conley on a six-yard slant that would have gone for a first down. He sailed a pass over the head of Chris Moore on second-and-9. A play later, he threw into double coverage toward Collins, but the ball was nearly picked off by Rams safety Terrell Burgess.

“There were some throws I would’ve liked to have had back and another chance at,” Mills said. “I’m confident I can make them.”

Hamilton and Mills will be reviewing the first six drives, with the seventh and final one being what Houston hopes will translate into the regular season.

Mills connected on third-and-10 with Dorsett down the sideline with 14 seconds remaining for a gain of 32. A toe-tapping grab from the speedy receiver overturned the ruling of an incomplete pass. Thanks to an illegal hit by Rams safety Russell Yeast III, Houston tacked on an extra 15 yards.

Like he did all night, Mills targeted Collins as the clock ticked away. This time, Collins leaped over Los Angeles cornerback Derion Kendrick for the 18-yard touchdown, giving Houston a 7-6 lead at the half.

Through Mills’ first six drives, he finished 6 of 10 for 33 yards. On his final possession, Mills went 4 of 7 passing for 60 yards and a score.

“It’s all about how you finish, not how you start,” Collins said. “We started slow.”

Perhaps we’re being too critical of Mills and the offense as the team returns home. Texans coach Lovie Smith elected to rest Cooks, Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil and starting center Justin Britt for the second consecutive week.

Smith also sat rookie offensive lineman Kenyon Green after missing a majority of camp due to a concussion. Both starting tight end Pharaoh Brown and rookie running back Dameon Pierce were also healthy scratches.

Six starters out? Six reasons to say the offensive struggles will go away by Week 1.

“We want to win,” offensive lineman AJ Cann said. “If we’re out there, we want to compete the best we can, win every battle we’re in and win every game.”

Smith said the third preseason game is where starters should see an extended amount of reps. Does this include players like Cooks, Britt and Tunsil suiting up? If so, Thursday will mark the first time the projected starters are set to take the field outside of practice.

It’ll also be the first time where one can truly judge what type of offense the Texans will have in 2022. 

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