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Texans ready for "Hear-itating" Metrodome


The Texans appreciate all the support from Texans fans on the road. At the Metrodome, the team will need all the help it can get.

The Texans could have found a more hospitable place for their first road game in a month. Instead, they're off to Minnesota on Sunday to play the Vikings in the ear-splitting, brain-rattling Metrodome, where the overhead speakers are considered a 12th man on the field by visiting teams.

Is the Metrodome the loudest NFL indoor facility? It doesn't matter to Texans coach Gary Kubiak. When the decibel level reaches a point where you can't hear, that's all that matters.

"Loud is loud," Kubiak said. "Those domes tend to get a little bit louder. That one is pretty darn loud."

The Texans always work at least once weekly with speakers blaring crowd noise while they practice silent counts and hand signals. They'll probably ratchet up the sound this week, trying to simulate the Metrodome.

"From what I've heard, Minnesota is probably, if not the toughest, one of the top-three toughest places in the league to play," rookie left tackle Duane Brown said. "So I'm sure we're going to get a lot of work this week with some crowd noise."

The Texans are trying to win their fourth game in a row and even their record at 4-4. The four-game home stand has been kind. It could have been four victories in a row if the Texans hadn't blown a late lead to Indianapolis. Now they must make a domed noise factory feel like a warm ride in the sun up to Reliant Stadium.

"It's just a different environment," tackle Eric Winston said. "Instead of 70,000 people behind you, you have 70,000 people against you. We've got to keep that away from us. We've got to just do our job. We've got to carry the same kind of momentum, the same we've been playing with here, up to Minnesota."

Kubiak doesn't want his players preoccupied with thoughts of going into a reverberating wind tunnel where calling plays is impossible.

"The bottom line is, they're a dang good football team," Kubiak said. "They're a heck of a defense. I think they're ranked seventh or eighth in defense in this league and llth or 12th on offense. That's about as balanced as you can get as a football team. A lot of people picked that football team to be there at the end of this year. They're a very good group."

{QUOTE}Hurricane Ike caused a major glitch in the Texans' schedule. Their game against Baltimore was rescheduled following the hurricane, and that resulted in the Texans playing four consecutive home games. Now, three of their next four games are on the road.

Getting used to the road, more than the throbbing Metrodome, has Kubiak concerned.

"Yeah, that was unusual but after what (the players) went through the first month, it helped them get back into a routine," Kubiak said. "I like their work habits right now, their routine. They're real upbeat. We've still got a lot of things to work on against this group because they present a lot of problems."

After a horrendous 0-4 start, the Texans have recovered nicely. Their three-game streak is the longest in franchise history. Now, they have a new challenge. No more friendly crowds or sleeping in their own bed and brushing their teeth in the quiet confines of their own homes.

Quarterback Matt Schaub is talking up ignoring the crowd as much as possible.

"The thing about playing on the road is, it's just handling the game situations and taking care of the ball and especially early, handling the noise and the crowd because everybody is amped up and ready to go," he said.

"Just get into a rhythm and let the game come to you as a player and as a team."

It's more difficult to audible.

"It's tough, that's why you have hand signals," Schaub said. "You have a lot of non-verbal communication. That's what you have to do on the road, whether offensively or defensively, you have to have hand signals and be able to still do the things that you do as an offense to be successful whether you're at home or on the road."

Schaub knows the best way to quiet any crowd is a quick scoring drive.

"Depending on how we can go about that, whether it's three plays and get a big play or just a 15-20-play drive, whatever you can do," Schaub said. "I've never been there, so I don't really know how loud it is. I've been in places that have been loud. But it's going to be exciting, a good challenge for us on the road, so we're excited about it.

"Whenever you can put a drive together and quiet a crowd that can get loud, that's good for a road team."

The chaos of a game often makes it difficult to get signals or assignment changes, at home or away.

"It's not very easy even sometimes at home you don't get the right calls or anything," Winston said. "I think you need to prepare a little harder even if you're going on the road because you've got to anticipate the call coming out and if you don't hear it, you've just got to assume the call's been made."

Brown will get helpful advice from veteran Ephraim Salaam about hostile environments. Brown already has had a taste of going on the road to Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

"It's not like he hasn't been there," Kubiak said. "He just hasn't been there in a month and he'll find out real quick in this game how difficult it's going to be from a noise standpoint. So Ephraim will get him ready to play and Ephraim will spot him."

Brown acknowledges playing so many home games in a row can become a comforting routine.

"Me personally, I kind of got used to playing at home and having the fans supporting you," Brown said. "But back on the road against a very raucous crowd, it's going to be tough for us. We have great veterans on this team that have been there and done that.

"Communication is going to be key for us and just stick to what we've been doing these past few weeks and just try to keep the ball rolling."

The Texans have built momentum at home. Now they've got to learn to deal with their road demons. They've lost six consecutive road games, including all three road games this season.

"We have to be able to take our show on the road and get it done against a good team like Minnesota," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "They play well on defense and they run the ball well. It's a great challenge for our team. For us, it's a challenge to go on the road, our backs against the wall, everybody against us.

"We'll see if we can bring a win back to Houston."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports.

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