The result is one that Mills is excited to show off to the world.
“When you have Brandin lined up out there, especially if he gets one-on-one, there’s not really anybody in the league who is going to be able to match up with him,” Mills told ESPN. “His speed and his ability to start and stop is at such a high level. You always can go there and count on him getting open.”
Cooks finished last season with 1,037 yards and six touchdowns, taking part in 16 out of the Texans’ 17 games. He also finished with a career high in receptions (90) and targets (134).
And even though Cooks was held out of the team’s three preseason games, the chemistry that was displayed throughout camp is a reason why new coach Lovie Smith is confident in what the Texans’ passing attack will look like.
“It’s good excitement that I have about where we are offensively. … The chemistry that I’ve seen throughout, it’s been really good,” Smith said a day after Thursday’s preseason finale. “They like playing together, and that’s gonna lead to positive results.”
Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. ET on Sept. 11, CBS) at NRG Stadium will be the first chance to show off this potentially potent connection. And the chemistry between them could lead to Cooks’ seventh 1,000-yard receiving season in Year 9 and potentially a big jump in Year 2 for Mills.
But the duo is never satisfied as they constantly challenge each other, even off the field.
There are times when Cooks and Mills will text each other at night to discuss ways to attack defenses, and Cooks will lean in on what he sees when he runs a specific route against a certain coverage.
There are other moments when offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton installs a new concept into the passing attack, the two will discuss the best ways to execute the plays before the next day of practice.
“The communication is huge, especially post-practice, watching the film together in the offensive room,” Cooks told ESPN. “Being able to get feedback on what he wants or what I’m looking for.”
The growth of the chemistry stems back to last season in Mills’ rookie year, when he threw for 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns and produced a passer rating of 88 in 11 starts.
Mills took over the starting job after replacing Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury, in a Week 2 loss against the Cleveland Browns. Mills started the next six games before Taylor returned in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins.
Taylor started the next four games before being benched in the third quarter in Houston’s Week 13 loss to the Colts, although he did tweak his wrist in the game.
Regardless, Mills took over for the rest of the season as former Texans’ coach David Culley decided Mills gave the club “the best chance to win.”
During that stretch after Mills received that vote of confidence from Culley, there was a moment when the connection between the third-round pick out of Stanford and Cooks went to a new level.
With 10:26 remaining in the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15, and the Texans facing third-and-5 on the Jaguars’ 47-yard line, the Jaguars were ready to send extra heat at Mills.
When Mills dropped back, defensive end Dawuane Smoot came barreling in as a free rusher, but Mills was able to get a pass off to Cooks on a slant route before Cooks could even turn his head around.
The pass hit Cooks for a 6-yard gain and a first down.
Seems minuscule, but in Mills’ eyes, it did wonders internally.
“I knew exactly where he was gonna be, and he was expecting the ball out of his cut,” Mills said. “When you have trust in somebody that they’re going to be in the right spot at the right time, and they trust you to put the ball out there, it’s tough to stop. … It really boosts your confidence knowing that you got a playmaker like that on the edge that’s gonna win his job on every play.”
Six plays later, Mills hit Cooks for a 22-yard touchdown on another third down.
Cooks finished the day with 7 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns — his only multi-touchdown game of the season — as the Texans finished off a season sweep of the Jaguars.
On third downs last season, the duo produced a 125 passer rating and connected on four touchdowns, third and fourth highest, respectively, among duos that had at least 20 attempts, according to Next Gen Stats.
The perfect summation of their connection through camp was during a Monday practice following their second preseason game, against the Los Angeles Rams.
During team drills, Mills ran a play-action fake. Cooks sprinted off the line towards rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who was the No. 3 overall pick in April, and quickly cut outwards at 10 yards, which turned Stingley’s hips.
In a quick instance, Cooks cut up-field to create separation down the sideline, and before Cooks could finish his cut, Mills floated a deep pass that landed in Cooks’ bread basket for a 40-yard gain.
The chemistry was built in 2021, the goal for the duo is to continue that trend in 2022.
“We’re obviously thinking perfection,” Cooks said. “Will we get it? I don’t know, but that’s what we’re striving for.”