The Texans (0-1-1) travel to Chicago this weekend for a Week 3 matchup against the Bears (1-1). Both teams are coming off their first loss of the season, and it's the first meeting between the franchises since 2020. Houston's won four of the five matchups between the two teams. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at Soldier Field at noon CT.
1) Mills Moves Up
After firing a third quarter touchdown pass in the season-opening tie with the Colts, Texans quarterback Davis Mills and the offense have now gone five quarters and an overtime period without finding the end zone. They need to score more points, and Mills explained what he must do.
"Just got to execute once we get in the games," Mills said. "It starts with me. I've got to make all the throws, and I know that. Just got to keep pushing for what we've been training for. I think we're ready to perform. We've just got to do it."
Mills, who completed 66.8 percent of his passes in 2021, only went 19-for-38 in last Sunday's loss at Denver. He ended the game with four straight incompletions. But while he pointed out that it's still a small sample size after just two games, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton took some of the responsibility for that offense's struggles by pointing to his play-calling.
"Obviously it's not good enough because we haven't been able to score enough points," Hamilton said. We're looking at all of the above. You always go back and you self-evaluate, that's what we all do. There are some situations where, of course I would like to have the opportunity to call a different call but I think we're a few plays away from having the opportunity to feel different after two games."
Hamilton's correct: if three plays had different outcomes in the first two contests, the Texans would be gunning for win number three this weekend, but they aren't. Hamilton and Mills recognize that and are optimistic about better results in the near future.
2) Pummel with Pierce
Rookie running back Dameon Pierce got four more carries last Sunday than he did in the opener, and he finished with 69 yards on 15 rushes. He also caught a pass for eight yards. Good things have generally happened when he's gotten the ball, and Head Coach Lovie Smith paid the young ball-carrier a big compliment earlier this week.
"What we saw this past week I think is what we've seen throughout," Smith said. "Guy gets the ball, he's a tough guy to bring down. Talk about finish, we as a football team need to finish. I haven't said that an awful lot to Dameon. He finishes plays. What we want to be, that toughness, extra effort, all those things you talk about, that's exactly what we see from him every time he gets the ball."
After he was dropped for a loss of four yards on 3rd-and-1 early in the game last week, Pierce went on a tear. His next eight touches went for 12, seven, eight, four, seven, five, 11 and 11 yards, respectively.
The Bears are definitely aware of what Pierce can do.
"Really, really good player," Bears Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said. "Quick. Spins. Can jump cut. Has some explosiveness in him. Good contact balance, which means on contact when he's getting hit, he doesn't stop his feet and he just keeps going. We're going to have our hands full, again."
Pierce said the Bears "have a good front seven", and that they'll be ready for him and the Texans' desire to run the ball.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they stack the box and try to take away some things that we do offensively," Pierce said. "As an offense, we've got to be able to react and use it to our advantage."
3) Wideout shuffle?
Last week against the Broncos, the Texans had three tight ends and four receivers active. Phillip Dorsett and Tyler Johnson, both wide receivers, were inactive in Denver. The former is one of the fastest players on the roster, while the latter was acquired off the waiver wire between the preseason and Week 1.
The Texans might shuffle the deck and have one or both active this week, and if it's Johnson, the Texans coaches described some of the third-year pass-catcher's strengths.
"Just a young player that's physical, built well, can play in tight spaces," Hamilton said. "He's built for contact, but he's quick, he's elusive and he's shown some toughness so we'll see what his role will be moving forward."
While he wouldn't say Johnson would definitely hit the field this Sunday, Smith explained why Johnson hasn't yet been active.
"When you come onboard a little bit later, you just start the process as much as anything," Smith said. "Some things you have to wait a little bit longer for your opportunity based on what's happening with the other guys at the position. He's progressing and eventually we'll get him up on the roster and he'll be able to play, eventually."
In 38 career regular season and playoff games with Tampa Bay the last two years, Johnson's caught 55 passes for 605 yards and a pair of scores.
4) Manage Montgomery
Two years ago the Texans went to Soldier Field and were dominated by the Bears, 36-7. On Chicago's first offensive play, David Montgomery took a handoff and went 80 yards for a score. He would finish the day with 11 carries for 113 yards, and three catches for 42 yards.
In last week's loss at Green Bay, Montgomery picked up 122 yards on just 15 carries, and also caught a pair of passes for 14 yards. Texans Defensive Line Coach Jacques Cesaire explained what Houston's front seven must do to limit the "elusive" and "tough" Montgomery.
"We're going to do everything that we can to make sure we get as many hats on him as we can," Cesaire said. "Population to the ball. That's one of the main things we're focused on is stopping the run."
Defensive back Jalen Pitre respects Montgomery's capabilities, and outlined what the defense as a whole must do.
"He's always looking to get the extra yards," Pitre said. "I love football players that are feisty like that and very physical. So we look to bring it to him early and just do our assignments, staying in our gap and running through our fits."
5) Get a takeaway… or 3
Through the first two games, Houston is plus-2 in turnover differential, while the Bears are plus-1. Chicago Quarterback Justin Fields has thrown an interception in each of the first two weeks, while Mills has yet to be picked off.
Pitre and the Texans defense have come away with a pick in each of the first two games, and also recovered a fumble in Week 1. Pitre hasn't recorded a takeaway, and that's a target area for improvement with him this week.
"I want to make some impact plays," Pitre said. "I want to get some turnovers and improve on my tackling. I think I can be able to shoot gaps and play my assignment and when I do that, just making sure that I wrap up and make the tackle."