4th and a mile with Paul Muth

Here's what to expect at a socially distanced Texans game

Things look just a bit different from a typical Texans game. Photo by Paul Muth

The Houston Texans play host to the New England Patriots this Sunday in a battle to decide...nothing.

The Patriots are bad. The Texans are bad. The only thing this game offers in utility is something to nap through while nursing a Saturday night hangover.

If ever there was a season to avoid watching or going to a Texans game, this would be it.

Also 2013.

Also 2005.

The only reason this season could be worse is that it is being played in the middle of a pandemic. To be fair though, their on field performance warrants even less fan attendance than the current 13,000 allowed.

In spite of their current Masterclass season of ineptitude, curiosity got the better of me a few weeks back. I had to see what a socially distanced NFL game felt like. So I grabbed a ticket to the Jacksonville game and did just that.

It already felt weird before my buddy and I had even made it to the stadium. We knew something was off when we were able to pull up and park without wading through the infamous soul-crushing Texans traffic. Be it known that my super secret off property parking spot was utilized in conjunction with a quick METRORail ride up to NRG Park. There was absolutely no justification to spend money on gameday parking passes considering that tailgating was forbidden.

With tailgating out the window and stadium beer prices still ridiculous we were forced to watch an 0-4 Texans team face the Jaguars sober. Coincidentally this was also the first in-person Texans game ever that I had actually watched sober. I didn't know that was allowed.

Security checkpoint? Walk right through. Ticket scan? Breeze on by, buddy. Food and beer? Come and get it. It had shades of 2007-2016 Astros-level entrance efficiency, mainly because no one was going to those games either. You can skip and twirl with your arms outstretched throughout the concourse all the way to your seat with nary a chance to bump into other fans.

Once we were inside, though, the mask went on and stayed on. They're serious about it, too. So much so that they've deployed roving bands of mask police in red polos to patrol the concourse. Armed with a sign that says "Please wear your face mask. Thank you!" These sentinels have been deployed to root out problem makers and ruthlessly point at their sign until compliance is achieved.

We reached our section and headed down to our own personal row behind the goal post. That's right. When we purchased the seats, they were being sold in groups of four. Since we were the only two that purchased any, the other two were discarded. When we arrived I had expected to have at least two empty seats near us to stretch out as a result. Wrong.

Every seat not sold is strapped shut with steel strapping typically reserved for bailing machines. They were definitely not playing around with enforcing the distancing.

At the bottom of each row you'll find another mask monitor, back turned to the field. They will harass your section the entire game to make sure everyone complies by passive-aggressively pointing at the person and then pointing at their "Please wear a face mask. Thank you!" sign. It's merciless.

Once we settled in, I had the pleasure of listening to the man with the toughest job of all: the PA announcer trying to hype up an empty stadium.

It's "Texans tradition" during the player entrances that the PA announcer says the player's first name, and the normally packed crowd yells out the player's last name. This crowd certainly did not pull their weight.

PA: "DESHAUN"

Crowd: [incoherent mumbling]

I'm not going to bother talking about the game because it was terrible. But the game experience itself? It was weird. The timeout productions were all on the video board, the cheerleaders were sequestered into different corners of the stands on makeshift stages. Toro the mascot donned a mask. Even with the manufactured crowd noise on loop, it was uncomfortably quiet.

Then came the bombshell.

"ALL RIGHT TEXANS, IT'S TIME TO GET LOUD FOR YOUR HOUSTON TEXANS!"

"This should be great," I thought to myself.

The video board then switched to a graphic of a decibel meter, while the cameraman struggled to find a rowdy crowd big enough to zoom in on. The decibel meter read 105 dB.

I pulled up the decibel meter app on my phone to compare (don't ask why I have a decibel meter on my phone), and my heart sank.

70 dB. We were being deceived. The app equates the decibel level to similar noise levels, with 70 dB equating to "busy traffic." In lieu of "Go Texans!" or "Let's go!" during key situations, we resorted to just yelling "BUSY TRAFFIC" for the remainder of the contest. Our trust had been broken.

Final verdict?

Watching sports in person truly lacks a critical dimension without a crowd. It was uncomfortable and eerie, and the Texans just aren't good enough to merit a trip to Kirby Drive, even if you don't have to worry about lines or crowds. I did the work so you don't have to. If you simply must watch the Texans, stay home, and stay comfy.

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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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