3 takeaways from Texans’ 24-9 loss to Panthers

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HOUSTON — The Houston Texans dropped their second consecutive game in a 24-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Thursday night, at NRG Stadium.

The Texans showed a lot of fight on both sides of the ball, but the plethora of injuries sustained the prior week was too much for Houston to overcome against Carolina.

As the Texans fall to 1-2 on the season, here are three takeaways from Houston’s 15-point defeat to the Panthers.

1. Houston's DL held their own vs. Panthers, but not the secondary

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Without top safety Justin Reid (knee) and cornerback Terrance Mitchell (concussion), the Panthers made easy work of what was left of the Texans' secondary. Lovie Smith's zone defense was not effective against Carolina, as it allowed four-year wideout D.J. Moore to record a season-best 126 yards on eight catches in the win. There were several plays where Houston's secondary had a late reaction to the play, which left Moore and several other receivers open for an easy find — normally killing the Texans in the short passing game up the middle of the field. With running back Christain McCaffrey leaving the game with a hamstring injury, Moore became Sam Darnold's primary offensive weapon, as he eclipsed 100 yards in receiving during the first quarter. But what kept the Texans in the game — especially during the first half —was the play coming from the defensive line. Houston's front seven kept the pressure on Darnold — which forced him into making several questionable decisions to avoid a sack. Darnold's attempt to get rid of the ball didn't always work, as the Texans sacked the four-year quarterback three times. Notable standouts from Houston's front seven were: Jonathan Greenard, Ross Blacklock and Whitney Mercilus — who all record sacks. And the on-field production from Jacob Martin.

2. Texans were too conservative in their play-calling

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

The Texans' offense was inefficient throughout the night. But their offensive struggles were based on the conservative play-calling from the coaching staff than the performance of rookie quarterback Davis Mills.

It appeared that Houston stuck with the run throughout the night, even though the Panther's front seven made the Texans' rushing attack ineffective. There were times Houston's coaching staff could have used Mills' arm to create momentum on offense — but still preferred to stick with the run. The conservative play-calling was most noticeable when the Texans ran the ball with David Johnson on third-and-16 midway through the second quarter. The play ensued in a punt after Johnson recorded just seven yards on the carry.

3. Mills looked decent, but has a long ways to go

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Mills was decent in his first NFL start against the Panthers. He showed some potential in his play. But overall, the third-round quarterback from Stanford has a long way to go before he can become a consistent starter. The primary issue with Mills, he appeared to be a one-read quarterback who already had his target in mind before the snap. This was evident early in the first half when Mills threw an incomplete pass to Brandin Cooks, who was in double coverage by the Panthers' rushing attack. Mills' best drive of the night came late in the second quarter, with 1:37 left in the half. The final drive prior to halftime was the only time the Texans were not conservative with their play-calling. The aggressiveness resulted in Mills leading the Texans down the field for their lone touchdown of the night, recording 64 yards on seven plays. Mills connected on his targets on several short passes, which seems to be his bread and butter when moving the chain from the pocket. Wide out Anthony Miller caught Mills' first career touchdown as a starter. Prior to the game, coach David Culley said the Texans will "wait and see" if they need to add another quarterback in the absence of Tyrod Taylor. And following several unconvincing drives from Mills, the Texans will be better off adding a new quarterback under center ahead of their Week four match against the Buffalo Bills.

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