ONE OF A KIND

Here are 5 reasons that Houston sports will never see an epic stretch like this again

Photos by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

You know, there's no need to curb your enthusiasm, this season of COVID-19 could turn out pretty, pretty, pretty good for sports fans, especially in Houston, where all three of our major pro teams could make deep playoff runs (don't let me down, Texans).

We won't be able to attend games in person, but between July 23 opening day of baseball and February 7 Super Bowl of football, there will be so many games on TV, in the words of Clark Griswold, we'll need plastic surgery to remove our smiles. With the perfect storm of baseball, basketball and football in full swing at once, there will be double, triple, quadruple and quintuple-headers on TV. Rocket Mortgage may have to open a division just for cable bills.

1. A 60-game baseball season

For years critics have said the baseball season is too long – 162 games is too many. Early games in April, May and June don't seem important. This year there'll be only 60 games, and they're not starting until late July, when baseball usually gets serious. If you crunch the numbers, each game will be 2-2/3 times more important than the "old normal." Note to MLB: I watched a couple of summer training games this week – the humdrum buzzing of pre-recorded, non-existent crowd noise in the background is annoying and very stupid. We can see there are no fans in the TV shot.

2. Rockets have already clinched a spot in the playoffs in July

Basketball should be long over, but now the NBA will play eight "seeding games" to complete the regular season and head straight to the playoffs. The Rockets already have a playoff spot clinched, no worries there. There will be tons of NBA on cable.

3. No meaningless Texans pre-season games

The NFL is planning to start and complete its season on time. It looks like teams may not play those boring, meaningless and worthless pre-season games. Well, worthless unless you're a season-ticket holder and the NFL makes you pay for those exhibition games. Especially in the case of Game 4 where you have as much chance of playing as J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson.

4. The viewing experience will remain strong despite no fans in the stands

We don't know how performing in front of empty seats will affect the players, but it won't be much different for ordinary fans. Pro sports are made-for-TV. Baseball tickets are still reasonably priced. Football tickets are still in the ballpark, but the games are sold out. Rockets tickets are crazy expensive, except for a couple of sections next to the drum-banging Red Rowdies. We're fine watching at home. Houston announcers are excellent.

In a related stock tip: since COVID-19 has closed many restaurants' dining rooms, we've grown accustomed to cooking at home. And by cooking at home, I mean drive-through lanes, take-out and delivery. Domino's stock is $391 a share – up 33 percent so far this year, and it's not even football season. I watched one of those "business week in review" shows last week. The host said "Cheetos and Lay's potato chip sales are booming."

"COVID 15?" I'll take the over. Good thing you were smart this time and didn't throw out your old "fat clothes."

5. You will be able to watch NBA, MLB, and NFL games on any given night

Let's take October: on any given day, we'll get to pick from several baseball playoff games, same with the NBA. Every NFL game is a big deal. We could get 10 games on Sunday. Not to mention college football and basketball and that game played on ice that Charlie Pallilo can't stop yapping about.

Realistically, every sport is skating on thin ice this year. A couple of coughs and a few 102-degree fevers could shut down a team faster than the fire marshal telling a strip club "no, you're not a restaurant, tell Destiny and Cinnamon to get dressed and go home."

It looks like the NBA is a go, the protective bubble in Orlando is working. The league tested 384 players and personnel for coronavirus this week with no positives. Baseball and football are not operating in a bubble, however. Players will come and go and live somewhat normal lives. They've been told to knock off risky behavior.

Fans will see things they've never seen, like batters hitting home runs while wearing Jesse James face masks. A 79-year-old, diminutive doctor will throw out the first pitch instead of the president in Washington and get a record-breaking standing ovation. Basketball players will arrive at arenas already dressed in their uniforms instead of those outfits Russell Westbrook wears and return to their hotels sweaty and un-showered. Note to James Harden: there are no 4 a.m. VIP rooms at Disney World.

We will survive this zany season of sports on TV without fans in the stands. The Blue Jays will wear "Toronto" on their jerseys, even though they're not allowed to step foot in Canada. The Astros will play only the American and National League West teams, so lots of late-night games on TV in Houston. One bonus: there'll be nobody to do the wave in Minute Maid Park.

According to an ESPN poll, 64 percent of fans appreciate sports now more than pre-COVID outbreak, and 78 percent of "avid sports fans" really, really miss sports. It's time to play ball. Is the pizza here yet?

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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