The Texans (1-6) host the Rams (6-1) this weekend at NRG Stadium. Here are five things to watch when Houston and Los Angeles kick off at noon CT.
1) Mills Back Home – QB Davis Mills will start for the sixth straight game on Sunday. He and the Texans are looking for a performance more like the one Mills had against the Patriots than he's had on the road. In that close loss at home, Mills completed 72 percent of his passes for 312 yards, didn't get picked off and tossed for three scores.
Tyrod Taylor practiced this week, but Mills got the bulk of the work under center.
"He's taken most of the reps in practice all week, just like he has been," Head Coach David Culley said. "Tyrod took some reps, but he's prepared just like he's practiced any other time as the starter."
Although Mills and the Texans have struggled, OL Justin Britt has been impressed by the rookie's mental fortitude through the tough results.
"You see, the confidence never waivers," Britt said. "He's going out there week in and week out, trying to be aggressive, trying to go win the game for us and do what he needs to do. Being the center, blocking for him, I've appreciated how he's gone about it and how he's approached each week with the mindset of, 'Let's get better, let's execute and let's go win the game.'"
2) RB Shakeup – The Texans' 2021 rushing leader is no longer a Texan. The team dealt RB Mark Ingram ll to the New Orleans Saints earlier in the week. The only other running backs to log carries this season are David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead. They've combined for 200 yards on 66 carries.
Scottie Phillips is also on the 53-man roster but hasn't been active this year for a game.
"All those guys have to do a good job of picking it up," Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly said. "Just due to numbers, there is going to be more carries for those guys, more opportunities to be able to go out there and make plays. With guys who still have different skill sets. It's our job to find different ways to get the ball to them and to put them in a spot to help us move the football and score points."
Johnson thinks if Phillips gets a chance, good things will happen.
"Scottie is always ready, man," Johnson said. "He showed out really well in the preseason. I think he just needs his opportunity, and I think he's going to do well for us when he does have the chance to run the ball or catch the ball or pass pro. I think he's a good player."
Phillips rumbled for a combined 155 yards on 25 carries in three preseason games this August.
3) Greenard Going Off – DL Jonathan Greenard leads the squad with six sacks in 2021, and he's only needed five games to do so. That season total is already better than anyone on the club had last year. Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith has liked what he's seen from the second-year pass-rusher and thinks there's much more to come from Greenard.
"He comes to work every day, and he plays hard," Smith said. "He's coachable, and he's a young player that's developing his game still. I'm anxious to see how far he can go with it."
Greenard is also top for the Texans in tackles for loss and quarterback hits with seven apiece.
"He's been a bright spot," Culley said. "He's making some plays, he's playing hard, and I think that whole group is playing hard there. Basically, he's been the one that has been able to make a few individual plays, but I think, for the most part, that whole group has been playing well. He's just been the guy that's been able to make a few more plays."
4) Weapons Abound – QB Matthew Stafford has the Rams offense humming along, and Los Angeles has scored 26 points or more in every one of their six victories. He's thrown 19 touchdown passes and been picked off four times, and his favorite target this year has been WR Cooper Kupp.
The fifth-year pass-catcher already has 809 receiving yards in 2021 and has been targeted 81 times this season. He's been good for 14.4 yards per reception and has found the end zone nine times, but he's not the only threat.
"Receiver-wise, tough matchups, of course," Smith said. "You talk about Cooper Kupp, but (Robert) Woods, (DeSean) Jackson has been in the league for a long period of time. They use their tight end well. It's one of those games, we played a similar team last week, that I would say is a passing football team that causes a lot of trouble. It'll be the same this week."
5) Donald's a Destroyer – The Texans offensive linemen will face one of their greatest tests of the season on Sunday in blocking DT Aaron Donald. He's been the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year three times and will one day be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A Pro Bowler in every season since entering the NFL in 2014, and an All-Pro in each of the last six campaigns, Donald has 10 quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss in 2021. OL Tytus Howard is excited for the challenge.
"Looking forward to the matchup," Howard said. "He's a great player, and they've got a great defense in general. We're looking forward to stopping him, so our offense can do good this week."
Johnson, though, said Howard and the linemen won't be alone when it's time to block Donald.
"Get as many bodies on him as possible, get as many guys blocking him as possible," Johnson said. "He's a disruptor, for sure. I played against him twice a year back in Arizona. I think the biggest thing is you never know what you're going to expect with him."
The Texans will host the Los Angeles Rams on October 31 in Week 8. Kickoff is set for noon CT. Click here for tickets.