The second week of the 2021 season saw the injury bug strike several quarterbacks, especially during the early games on Sunday. Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with a rib injury, the Chicago Bears’ Andy Dalton bruised his knee, Indianapolis Colts starter Carson Wentz sprained both ankles, and Houston Texans QB1 Tyrod Taylor pulled up lame with a hamstring injury.
The most intriguing of those four teams’ situations is that of the Texans. Miami’s backup, Jacoby Brissett, has been a serviceable backup for years; everyone expected Justin Fields to start in Chicago at some point this season; and Jacob Eason is in his second year as a backup quarterback for the Colts. With Mills, we’ll get our first look at one of the mid-round quarterbacks from this year’s draft. We knew that with the current situation under center in Houston that Mills had the best chance to see time on the field this year, but we just didn’t expect to see it this soon.
Mills played all of the second half on Sunday, and the Texans announced he’ll be the starter for their Thursday Night Football matchup with the Panthers. With Taylor missing around four weeks, we’ll be seeing lots of the rookie in the near future, so what can we expect to see from him?
It’s a tough question to answer since we don’t have much film of him. Mills only started 11 games for Stanford, with a big reason for that being the shortened 2020 season. As a junior, he began the season as a backup to K.J. Costello before starting the final six games when Costello went down to injury. Last year, the Cardinal played only six games, of which Mills started just five.
When Mills did play, he looked great. In his time with Stanford, he put up 3,468 yards on a completion rate of 65.5% and an 18-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He thrived in Stanford’s west coast, pro-style offense where he occasionally got to show off his strong arm. He was never a flashy quarterback, though. He doesn’t have the dynamic playmaking ability with his legs that Taylor does, and even with a good arm, his poor decision-making and forced throws found him more often in trouble than not. To continue to find success, he’ll need an offensive scheme that keeps him in the pocket and allows him to move the ball vertically downfield. Luckily for Houston, they have a sound offensive front and they could potentially take advantage of their solid pass protection with Mills.
The Stanford product didn’t have the most astonishing regular-season debut—finishing 8-of-18 with 102 yards, a touchdown, and an interception—but he did look like an at least serviceable quarterback with Taylor out. After throwing an interception on his second pass attempt, the rookie was able to get past it, settling in and leading a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on his next series to bring the Texans within three. He didn’t have many chances to show off his arm on deep passes, but we may get to see it in the coming weeks.
For now, the biggest question for Houston going forward is how much they’ll lean on the passing game with Mills under center. Through two games, they’ve had a relatively even split on pass versus run plays: 33 passes and 41 rushes against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and 29 passes to 28 run plays in Cleveland. It appeared the Texans wanted to stick to their run game primarily once Mills came in, especially after he threw the interception. Down a couple of scores later in the game, Houston began passing more and Mills was able to rack up some passing yards toward the end of the fourth quarter.
Thursday will bring an interesting test of Houston’s offensive game plan—especially in the passing game—against a stingy Carolina Panthers defense allowing the fewest yards per play so far this season. We’ll see how they might take advantage of a shift from a mobile quarterback to one that’s primarily a pocket passer, as well as whether they decide to show off Mills’ strong arm in his first NFL start.