Blame game: Pep Hamilton is least at fault for Texans’ offensive woes

If there was any word to describe the Houston Texans’ offense entering the 2022 season, it was hope. There weren’t nearly enough guaranteed positives to enter the optimistic territory but the foundation was set such that people could reasonably see how the Houston offense might produce.

Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard would serve as bookend tackles while first-round pick Kenyon Green elevated the run game from the outside. Brandin Cooks was back to go for another hopeful 1,000-yard campaign and would be complimented by second year wideout Nico Collins. Preseason sensation Dameon Pierce would take pressure off the passing game and hopefully create favorable second and third downs.

Amidst all that hope though, two men were truly the crux of why people wanted to believe and of how Houston would perform: quarterback Davis Mills and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.

Hamilton was a highly desired coordinator around the league and Mills flashed potential starter qualities at the end of 2021. The two spent the off-season raving about each other and their relationship was at the center of any discussion for why the Texans may be competent offensively under Lovie Smith.

Four weeks into the 2022 NFL season and it’s safe to say the marriage is thus far a disaster.

Houston ranks 27th in total offense, 24th in passing yards, and 25th in scoring amongst the rest of the NFL. Mills appears to have taken a massive step back from last season as one of the least accurate quarterbacks in the league and Hamilton has come under fire for his lack of pre-snap motion and his responsibility in that regression.

Hamilton in particular has taken a lot of ire from the fanbase early as the easiest scapegoat for why the team remains as the only winless club in the NFL. However, there remains a huge problem with this discourse in how some are viewing the Texans.

It’s just not right.

Through 4 games into the season, Mills has left an impossible amount to be desired. There was major concern amongst the beat that he would struggle to throw the ball down field and those concerns have manifested themselves in game. Mills is dead last amongst qualified quarterbacks in accuracy percentage between 11-20 yards at 37.8% according to game charters, during passes over 21+ yards he ranks dead last again at 25%.

His overall completion percentage ranks 27th in the league at 62% but that number is clearly boosted by virtue of his propensity to throw short, Mills’ 6.4 yards per attempt rank 31st out of 42 qualified passers. The film paints a similar picture of Mills failing to locate his receivers down the field and having a sprayed accuracy when he does find targets where he’s comfortable to pull the trigger.

 

Mills has had some strong showings, particularly at the end of the 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but it’s seemingly no coincidence those come when the game is almost entirely out of reach. Quarterback play in the NFL is about making difficult throws both consistently and in the biggest moments, so far Hamilton’s quarterback has failed to do either of those.

Even when there are legitimate questions surrounding some of Hamilton’s personnel packages and play calls, they’re often completely ignored within the context of his superiors.

Coach Lovie Smith has preached that the team is a run-first offense many, many times. Hamilton’s offense, unsurprisingly, has been tasked to manifest the winning ideas of their coach. Hamilton often countered this with saying he wanted to be a “score-first” team, but at the end of the day Smith is the coach for a reason.

The philosophy has forced Houston into both conservative play calling for their young quarterback and personnel packages featuring full backs and multiple tight ends to try mask the deficiencies of the interior offensive line. It’s shocked Mills out of offensive rhythms that he appeared to best succeed in during last season.

For an offense that would want to lean so heavily on their running backs, it’s almost shocking that general manager Nick Caserio left Rex Burkhead as by far and away the team’s best passing back. Houston dealt out two of the largest running back deals in total money this off-season to Marlon Mack and Dare Ogunbowale yet neither ever took a carry for the Texans.

The deficiencies in personnel were nowhere more evident than in last Sunday’s loss. Multiple drops by receivers not named Collins or Cooks and penalties amongst the offensive line frequently killed momentum as Houston tried to score. Even when Mills broke through in moments to shine, the offensive supporting cast let him down.

Blame should be abound everywhere when it comes to the Houston offense. It’s certainly an odd picture when one of the local beat writers has to ask why the team’s best offensive player is primarily running only two different route patterns.

Collins genuinely does appear to be a much improved player from last season. Cooks, even if maybe a step slower, still looks like one of the most reliable weapons in the game. It’s Hamilton’s responsibility to find easier ways for Mills to get the ball to his best playmakers and that will have to improve as the season progresses.

However, an honest glance says that Hamilton is nowhere near the biggest problem facing Houston. Largely talent concerns across the board and the failure of their young quarterback thus far to deliver on the lofty expectations he set for himself stand out as to why the Texans have yet to explode offensively.

It’s only been a quarter season and the team improves every week. Hamilton, and even his young quarterback, deserve a little more grace as they settle into the year. Fans will have to watch and see how the offense improves.

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Story originally appeared on Texans Wire