49ers are equipped enough to defend Texans QB Davis Mills

Davis Mills #10 of the Houston Texans (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Davis Mills #10 of the Houston Texans (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

4-11. 10. CBS. Sunday, Jan. 2. 8-7. 42. 49ers -12.5. 4:05 p.m. ET

The 49ers are heavy favorites over the Texans in Week 17, but quarterback Davis Mills has emerged as a nice little story for Houston this season.

The San Francisco 49ers should have few concerns about wholly defeating the lowly Houston Texans in what should be considered a must-win game to ensure the Niners’ postseason chances.

Except for the fact Houston pulled off a shocking 41-29 victory over the playoff-hopeful Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16, the highest offensive point total first-year head coach David Culley’s squad has had this season.

That might be a point of concern, nearly as much as the fact the Texans have received quality play from rookie quarterback Davis Mills, now fully entrenched as the starter for Houston and steadily improving his capabilities as the year has gone forward.

Still, San Francisco should be able to frustrate him aplenty.

True, over 11 games played this season, nine of them starts, Mills has completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 2,200 yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12-to-9, all for a year-to-date passer rating of 86.2.

Not bad for a first-year player drafted in Round 3, especially one on an offense as bad as that of the Texans.

In parallel, the 49ers’ No. 1 defensive concern this season has been at cornerback. With Houston getting its No. 1 wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, back from the reserve/COVID list in advance of this game, the Niners should be concerned with the fact Cooks has registered back-to-back 100-yard games and is averaging 67.5 yards per contest.

That’s a potential problem, but it’s also one San Francisco should be equipped well enough to stop.

49ers won’t have to worry too much about Davis Mills passing deep

Mills isn’t exactly known for being a deep passer. Much like the 49ers’ own quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, the bulk of Mills’ passing attempts this season have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Using Mills’ efforts in the most recent win over the Chargers as an example, you can get an idea of his targeting tendencies from the Next Gen Stats chart below:

Three completions, one of them a touchdown, beyond 10 yards out from the line of scrimmage isn’t too much to handle. Also, much like Garoppolo, Mills appears to be happy targeting in between the numbers and within that 10-yard range from the line of scrimmage, a slight emphasis towards the weaker side of the formation.

Also, according to Next Gen Stats, Mills’ intended air yards this season is 7.1, seventh lowest in the NFL entering Week 17. While there are going to be concerns whether or not Mills will use Cooks to target one of the Niners’ weak links at cornerback, such as rookie Ambry Thomas, San Francisco can afford to make a simple adjustment.

How 49ers can counter Davis Mills, Texans offense

One of the growing pains for any first-year quarterback is learning how to mitigate pressure, not always an easy job behind a porous offensive line, and Football Outsiders ranks the Texans O-line 23rd in the league with 39 sacks given up, Mills having taken 26 of them.

This might possibly explain why Mills has been forced to rely heavily on short- and intermediate-area passing attempts instead of trying to go deep, yet it’s important to recognize he has a sack percentage of 7.3 on the season, ninth highest among all qualifying quarterbacks.

Read More: 49ers must let ‘Trey Lance show’ begin in earnest vs. Texans

The 49ers’ defensive game plan should be a simple one: Don’t let Cooks get into one-on-one matchups with players like Thomas, cover those intermediate ranges over the middle of the field and ensure the pass rush gets home as much as possible.

This is the kind of game where nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams and linebacker Fred Warner could provide massive contributions, while EDGE Nick Bosa delivers in the pass-rush department.

If the Niners get the positive kind of impact from those three, there’ll be few ways in which Mills emerges as a threat.

Next. 5 NFC West players 49ers would love to steal for playoffs. dark