McClain: Texans offense needs Davis Mills to bounce back

(SportsRadio 610) - Here are some weekly observations on the Texans as they turn their attention from the 16-9 loss at Denver to Sunday’s game against the Bears at Soldier Field:

PIERCE ONE OF FEW OFFENSIVE BRIGHT SPOTS

When an offense fails to score a touchdown, a problem that plagued the Texans at Denver, there aren’t a lot of bright spots at the skill positions. Quarterback Davis Mills had one of his worst games, but rookie running back Dameon Pierce stepped up when given the opportunity.

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Pierce carried 15 times for 69 yards, a 4.6-yard average. When the Texans play the Bears, Pierce needs to get at least 20 carries, perhaps even more depending on how the game is going. He showed he can run between the tackles.

The Chicago game might be an opportunity to get him involved in the passing game. Mills should look for Pierce swinging out of the backfield or in the flat. The idea is to get him the ball between the tackles and in space.

“A running team will get opportunities to make some big plays in the passing game,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We’re not getting off the bus passing the football. We want to be a running team.”

Interestingly, Rex Burkhead didn’t carry the ball after rushing 14 times for 40 yards and a 2.9 average in the tie with Indianapolis.

OFFENSE NEEDS MILLS TO BOUNCE BACK

Anybody who watched the Denver game saw Davis Mills be off target too many times. He overthrew and underthrew receivers. He was out of sync with his receivers, and that can’t happen as much as it did against the Broncos. Mills has to play better at Soldier Field.

Mills threw for 177 yards and completed 50 percent of his passes. His 63.2 rating was his lowest since the Texans lost 31-3 to Indianapolis in October of last season. His rating for that game was 66.5. In his 13 starts, only two times has Mills finished with a rating lower than the one he compiled against the Broncos.

“What we would like to get accomplished in our passing game is just production,” Smith said. “We had a few drops. Get the running game going and get those one-on-one matchups.”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR STINGLEY

A big part of Denver’s game plan on offense was to go after rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Russell Wilson completed seven passes for 122 yards (17.4 average) to veteran receiver Courtland Sutton, most against Stingley.

Stingley made a few terrific plays and broke up two passes intended for Sutton, including one in the end zone. He was called for interference twice and finished with eight unassisted tackles. The game was a good learning experience for Stingley, who’s loaded with the talent to become a lockdown corner, which the Texans envisioned when they used the third overall pick in the draft on him.

Because Stingley didn’t play much in preseason while recovering from foot surgery last year, he’s having to learn on the job in regular season.

“We’ve steadily increased his load,” Smith said. “Part of that is continuing to put him in positions that we did (Sunday). Matching him up a lot of the times, putting him in tough situations.

"When you’re a cornerback in one-on-one situations, (that’s) a lot. You’re going to win some of the battles. Some of them you aren’t going to play as well," Smith said. "It’s how you respond. He competed hard. He tackled well. He made some plays, and we’re excited about that growth continuing."

COLLINS NEEDS TO BE MORE INVOLVED IN PASSING GAME

Against the Broncos, Mills targeted starting receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins a combined 19 times. They combined for eight receptions for 112 yards. That’s not proficient enough.

After catching only two passes for 26 yards against the Colts, Collins had four receptions for 58 yards against the Broncos. His 14.5-yard average included a 29-yard catch. Obviously, the offense needs more of that kind of production from Collins, who’s playing in his second season.

“Nico’s a big target (6-4),” Lovie Smith said. “I thought Nico did some good things when we featured him. When we do go to him, it seems like he’s been a playmaker. We need to be able to get Nico more involved.”

GREEN SOLID IN HIS STARTING DEBUT

The Texans knew it was only a matter of time before left guard Kenyon Green, a first-round pick, would be elevated to the starting lineup. He came off the bench in the tie with the Colts and impressed the coaches enough that they made him a starter in place of Justin McCray against the Broncos.

Green did a good job of run blocking, which is his strength. But he also played well in pass protection, especially for a rookie making his first start.

"We’ve seen signs, but I thought (give) him the reins (and) go with it," Smith said. "I thought he was physical. He did some good things in pass protection. He was having fun doing it. He’s a good player. I’m excited about the growth he’s going to make. He’s going to help us win a lot of games."

QUESSENBERRY IMPRESSES IN PLACE OF BRITT

Speaking of offensive linemen, backup center Scott Quessenberry also made his first start with the Texans. He was elevated in place of Justin Britt, who continues to be away from the team because of personal reasons.

Quessenberry is a five-year veteran who made his 11th career start. He got experience playing in preseason when he took over for Britt, who was kept out to protect him from injuries. Like Green, Quessenberry did an impressive job.

“I thought Scott did an excellent job,” Smith said. “We didn’t feel like we missed a beat as far as a player that hadn’t gotten a whole lot of reps stepping up and giving us a great chance.”

Like Green, when Pierce got yards between the tackles, Quessenberry was helping clear paths for him.

RASHEEM GREEN BOLSTERS THE PASS RUSH

Smith’s defense plays a lot of zone coverage and relies heavily on the linemen to generate a pass rush. After missing the Indianapolis game, end Rasheem Green came off the bench and recorded a team-high 1.5 sacks.

Green, 25, was signed as a free agent from Seattle, where he played four seasons and registered a career-high six sacks last season. The coaches are hoping he combines with starters Jonathan Greenard and Jerry Hughes to provide more pressure off the edge.

“You notice the flash plays (and) the big sack trying to get the football out,” Smith said. “His play against the run was also pretty good. There’s a reason he’s been in the mix.”

John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read four times a week on GallerySports.com.

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