MEET THE SABERCATS

New rugby team offers Houstonians a fun night out with family and friends

The Sabercats offer a great fan experience. Courtney Sellers

Many wondered if Houston would be able to support another professional team. We’ve got the big three teams, plus a men's and women’s soccer team, a minor league baseball team, and now a rugby club drawing the attention of Houston citizens. The Sabercats first game was a sellout – drawing over 5,000 fans in a blowout win over the Seattle Saracens. It was a fun night full of Rugby fans young and old, both new to the sport and veterans. There was a group of young English Rugby fans – living in the States who were excited to watch Houston’s first professional game. A father with his two young sons sat right on the pitch (just behind home plate if you’re thinking of Constellation Field like a baseball diamond) to watch their first match ever. An exciting time out with dad, they were eager to see how the game was played. A father who played rugby in high school watched with his parents, girlfriend, and young daughter explaining the game to the girl while she ate a box of Mike and Ikes on the grassy hill behind the Sabercat’s first half goal.

What draws people 17 miles from the city center to watch the sport? Billy, Tom, and Alex -- three guys I met on opening night -- all played rugby growing up and Tom has two caps with the English National Team. For them, it was exciting to watch the sport they grew up playing and missed here in the states live and in person right in the town they now call home. For Nick and his sons Oliver, 3 and Mason, 6 it was an opportunity to spend quality time together and see a new sport they had never thought of previously. Dane Butterfield enjoyed explaining the game to his girlfriend Taylor and daughter Zoe. His parents were also in attendance. Dane played football in the States before the family expatriated to England for his high school years. Football isn’t an option at the schools there, so Butterfield decided to join the Rugby team instead – its similarities to football the main draw. He played hooker – one of the front line positions -- until the family moved back to the States where he played for the inaugural Katy Barbarians club team – which is still in existence today as one of two rugby clubs in the West Houston/Katy area. Having the opportunity to enjoy a game with family while also passing on the love of the sport to his young daughter is exciting and the family plans to attend as many games at Constellation Field as they can. On opening night, they sat on the grassy hill but by game three they had moved to stands right on the 50-meter line – where the best action is.

Games two and three – both losses – had lower turn outs. More than 2,600 fans still came out for game two on January 13th, the freezing temperatures a deterrent to some, but not all as fans watched the Sabercats take on the Vancouver Ravens in a close loss. A crowd of 3,000 showed up for game three where the Sabercats again lost, this time to the Uruguayan National Team. With any new team, they’ve got some kinks to work out, but the atmosphere alone is enough to sustain the fan experience for a while longer. With football ending in just one week, that need we have for contact will be satisfied with the Sabercats.  

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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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