The Texans (1-2) face the Bills (2-1) on the road this Sunday. It's their first meeting since the two clubs dueled in the Wild Card Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs at NRG Stadium. Houston won that overtime thriller, 22-19. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT in Highmark Stadium.
1) Mills, Part 2 – Davis Mills started his first NFL contest on Thursday Night Football in Week 3 against the Panthers. While he completed 68 percent of his passes, tossed a touchdown and wasn't picked off, the Texans still fell to Carolina, 24-9. Because he'd only played the second half in Week 2 at Cleveland and had just four days between the Browns and Panthers games, the Texans were conservative in their play-calling with the rookie, but according to Texans Head Coach David Culley, that'll change against Buffalo.
"He's going to have a lot more put on him than we put on him last week," Culley said. "I feel like he'll be able to handle that. We're just going to run our offense and let him handle it from there."
Mills, meanwhile, welcomes the additions.
"Whatever they are comfortable calling when I am in there, I'm ready to roll with it," Mills said. "There's no other way to gain experience than to go out there and get the live reps. I'm just grateful for every opportunity I have, every play I am out there because I can continue to learn more and more each play."
2) Ratchet Up the Run – Improvement in the run game would go a long way toward helping Mills be successful. The Texans have struggled to get a lot of yardage, per carry, from the running backs in 2021. As a group, the running backs are averaging 2.8 yards per rush this season, and their yards and carries have decreased significantly each game. At the high point in Week 1, the backs carried the ball 37 times for 110 yards. That number fell to 25 for 68 in Week 2 and dropped to 15 for 37 in the loss to the Panthers.
Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly explained "a bunch of reasons" for the struggles on the ground and said fixing mistakes will go a long way toward getting improved play.
"There have been times where we have been out leveraged, and I've got to do a better job of getting us into better plays," Kelly said. "There have been times where we've missed blocks, there have been times where we've missed cuts. From every room, every position room, every coach's room upstairs, we all got to do a better job of just making sure we're eliminating those issues from happening."
C Justin Britt reiterated that the Texans must "stay ahead of the sticks" and remain in favorable down-and-distance situations.
"We just need to stay at it, have a purpose at practice for what we're doing, have a game plan individually, group, offensively, to go out there and pick one thing to get better at and just work at that," Britt said.
3) Reinforcements on Defense – The Texans get a shot in the arm of sorts with the return of S Justin Reid, CB Terrance Mitchell and LB Kamu Grugier-Hill. All three missed last week's contest with the Panthers, as Reid and Grugier-Hill come back from knee injuries and Mitchell from an illness.
"We are different without them," Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith said. "Those are three good football players that we need to help us. We have a whole lot more success with them out there, but they are coming along and hopefully, that will be the case."
Reid picked off a pass and forced a fumble the Texans recovered in the first half at Cleveland. He picked off a pass against Jacksonville in Week 1. Reid's nose for the ball has been a big reason the Texans defense has come up with the five takeaways in 2021.
"When I see opportunities to make plays, I have the green light to go and do it," Reid said. "I love the system, I overall feel more healthy, and going into four years in the league, I just have a different level of confidence and maturity with being able to diagnose what's happening on the offensive side of the ball because you've seen it a couple years in a row. You just get to play a little bit faster."
The Bills have turned the ball over just three times this year.
4) Just Joshin' – Buffalo QB Josh Allen continues to impress, and he's thrown seven touchdowns this fall, with just one interception. Also, a threat with his legs, Allen is turning into the quarterback Culley believed he could. The latter coached the former when Allen was a rookie in Buffalo in 2018.
"You knew developmentally that he was going to become what he has become right now, just with time," Culley said. "There were some fundamental things that he needed to correct, and obviously, he's corrected those right now. He's playing at a very high level right now."
Smith said Allen "won't surprise us" because the Texans know he can do quite a bit of damage running the ball, too.
"We know what kind of athlete he is, got excellent speed, he's a big target, and he likes to run," Smith said. "Of course, he's a passer, but they have designed runs. We are going to see a quarterback draw different times in the game, and that's just what we have to prep and be ready for."
The Bills' record when Allen has started games is 30-16. His completion percentage has risen from 52.8 as a rookie to 69.2 last season. In 2020 he threw 37 touchdowns and was picked off just 10 times, and he finished the campaign with a 107.2 rating.
5) Dangerous Defense – The Bills have playmakers at every level of their defensive front, and in three games this year, Buffalo's allowed a combined 35 points.
WR Brandin Cooks is impressed with the Bills defensive backfield, which is headlined by All-Pro CB Tre'Davious White.
"They've got a great secondary," Cooks said. "They've been playing at a high-level year in, year out. The way that you prepare for that is just watching film, practicing, working on your craft and when it comes game time, you hope those things come to fruition."
Upfront, the Bills have amassed nine sacks through three games, and they've hit the quarterback 19 times in that span. OL Tytus Howard knows the Texans will get tested on Sunday in Orchard Park.
"It's going to be a battle," Howard said. "They got a pretty good front seven. They got a pretty good defense in general. I think the goal is for us is to improve, keep stacking on the good things we do and learn from the mistakes we make."
The Texans will face the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Week 4. Kickoff is set for Sunday at noon CT.
Want to watch the Texans at NRG Stadium? Click here for tickets.
Check out the best photos from the Houston Texans practice on Wednesday.