Houston Texans 2021 Team Study

Part 20 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 19 on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Part 21 now available: Atlanta Falcons.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
4.12 -0.79 32nd


Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and red) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
30th 32nd 27th


It’s really incredible that the Texans won 4 games in 2021 considering the shape they were in heading into the season. They paid Deshaun Watson to be inactive every week after he tried to stiff-arm his way out of the organization and faced numerous lawsuits. They had all new leadership and had traded away most of their draft capital so they populated the roster with cast-offs from other teams. Even veteran Tyrod Taylor disappointed. They were so bad on offense that they were seemingly at their best with third-round rookie Davis Mills running the show.

But that’s a low bar. The Texans’ pass game was bad in every way. They did not utilize a viable deep threat, finishing with the 7th-lowest average depth of target in the NFL. Typically, teams that opt for a short passing game will offset this with yards after the catch. But the Texans had the 10th-lowest yards after the catch per completion. These short passes were also inaccurate, with the 7th-lowest on-target percentage. When they weren’t throwing short, inaccurate passes, they were taking sacks at the 6th-highest rate of sacks per pressure. Yikes.

They didn’t get much help at all from the run game. They finished dead last in yards per carry, yards before contact, rushing DVOA, adjusted line yards, and overall rushing EPA/play. It was pretty much a disaster from start to finish on offense, although they did shockingly piece together those four wins.

Houston was a run-heavy team that played its best football when they managed to run the ball successfully. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it made a huge difference. Davis Mills was simply not good enough to carry the team. So when they hosted the Chargers, who fielded the 2nd-worst run defense in the NFL, Rex Burkhead ran for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries (yes, you read that correctly) and the Texans sprang their biggest upset of the year, which ended up being enough to keep the Chargers out of the playoffs. Chart A shows the direct correlation between the Texans’ offensive effectiveness and their opponents weakness versus the run, ranking each opponent by EPA/play allowed on the ground over the course of the season. They generally struggled even relative to their low expectation against good run defenses but performed better against poor run defenses.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent run defense rank in EPA/play.

Despite this offense’s struggles, we saw some hot takes about Davis Mills late in the season, arguing he was the second-best rookie quarterback behind Mac Jones. These surface-level takes were wrong, in my opinion. Davis Mills’ stats were inflated by garbage time. For example, against the Rams he was 12/18 for 91 yards and an interception while the Rams took a 38-0 lead. From there he poured on 17/20 for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns without ever being within one score in a 38-22 loss. Against the Titans, he was 7/14 for 61 yards while the Titans took a 21-0 lead. Then he went 16/19 for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns in a futile comeback effort that never saw them with the ball and a chance to win.

Now, garbage time is somewhere between meaningful and meaningless. He still put up those numbers and showed the ability to capitalize against soft coverage, even with less than optimal weapons around him. That counts for something. But it’s tough to draw the conclusion that he can be a reliable starting quarterback in this league. It is a starting point, and it looks like the Texans will give him another year. Overall, I’m not optimistic.

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