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Houston Roughnecks (4-1) XFL Week 6 Preview/Prediction, Depth Chart

On Monday night, the Houston Roughnecks will take on the DC Defenders at Audi Field, a highly anticipated matchup between two of the best teams in the XFL. While the Roughnecks had set the standard for a long time, DC now holds the best record in the league, having yet to lose a game. These two have what it takes to face each other again in the championship, and it could easily be one of the best showings of the year. Let’s take a look at how Houston can rebound from the week five loss, and get their first win against a North division opponent.

Houston Roughnecks (4-1) at DC Defenders (5-0)

Time: Monday, March 27th, 6:00PM CST

Location: Audi Field – Washington D.C.

Television Broadcast: ESPN2

Weather Forecast: 54°F with partly cloudy skies expected, winds up to 8 mph

Betting Odds (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Moneyline: HOU +125/DC -145

Spread: HOU +2.5/DC -2.5

Over/Under (points): 42

News & Notes

The Roughnecks have been busy on the transaction wire since they last played over a week ago, which started by getting some help in the wake of Jontre Kirklin’s injury. Kirklin will not return this season after suffering a chest injury against Seattle, but is already working towards a full recovery and should get some NFL interest.

To start, the team signed wide receiver Tavonn Salter, who had initially joined the Roughnecks late in training camp and was part of final roster cuts. Salter, who played collegiately at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State), is most notable for his stint with The Spring League (TSL) Conquerors in 2021. He has also spent time with the Atlanta Falcons and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their camps.

Additionally, they acquired former Wake Forest wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson, who had been waived by the Los Angeles Rams just days prior. Roberson spent time with four different NFL teams during the 2022 season after going undrafted, and will now get his first true playing time as a pro. In a corresponding move, the Roughnecks placed offensive lineman Desmond Noel on the reserve list.

Finally, in a somewhat unexpected turn of events, Houston traded quarterback Kurt Benkert to the San Antonio Brahmas in exchange for linebacker Drew Lewis. Benkert had been assigned to the Roughnecks back in December, but decided to take a break from football and spend more time with his family. It now appears that Benkert had a change of heart, and although he never actually signed a contract with the team, they were able to keep his rights and get compensation.

In five games with the Brahmas, Drew Lewis recorded 16 tackles (9 solo), 1 sack, and 3 tackles for loss. He will be a nice addition to the Roughnecks linebacker room, and becomes the third player on the roster (after Ajene Harris and Nick Holley) who was also a member of the 2020 team. Lewis originally played college football at Colorado, and signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted free agent in 2019.

Injury Report

At the time this article is being written (Friday, March 24th), the Roughnecks had no injured players listed on their report.

Depth Chart

The only notable change for the Roughnecks is Justin Smith starting at receiver, which again is a result of the Jontre Kirklin injury. Smith caught his first touchdown as a pro against Seattle, and will look to build upon that production in week six. Backing up Smith is the newly-acquired Tavonn Salter, and the status of Jaquarii Roberson is still unclear. More updates to come on Twitter (@evan_willsmore). 

Keys to Victory

Limit Turnovers: This is an obvious one for any team coming off a loss (at least in most cases). The Roughnecks had two turnovers against Seattle, one in the form of a lost fumble and the other being an interception at the end of the game. Ironically, the Sea Dragons had double the turnovers and were still able to win, but just one mishap against DC could be disastrous. One of their defensive backs, Michael Joseph, already has two pick-sixes this season, and Houston can’t afford to make it three. 

Next Man Up:  Without their top receiving option in Jontre Kirklin, the Roughnecks are going to have to make some adjustments. In AJ Smith’s offense, that won’t be a difficult task to complete, but there’s one player who has the potential to outright replace the production. Justin Smith, who is now in the starting rotation, will be asked to do a lot more compared to his typical workload over the past five weeks. However, the hype has been building around the Norfolk State product, and he has received praise in the past. As I mentioned when talking about the depth chart, Smith got his first big play of the season last week, and looks to be ready for a breakout performance. 

Stop The Run: One of DC’s biggest strengths this season has been their ground game, led by Abram Smith and D’Eriq King. Smith in particular is coming off an outrageous performance against the BattleHawks, where he recorded 23 carries for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns. As long as Houston stays locked in up front, they should feel pretty comfortable, since the Defenders’ passing attack leaves some things to be desired.

Game Prediction

While the Seattle game could have gone either way, the Roughnecks are really going to have to be on their toes Monday night. The Defenders have asserted their dominance across the rest of the league, and are intimidating even for a team with only one loss. Sure, Houston has the tools and experience to get the job done as they always have, but this game will ultimately be decided by whoever can limit the other’s strengths.

Maybe that sounds generic, but it’s true. Both of these teams have the top defenses in the league, and that goes without question. However, it’s on offense where the differences can be seen. The Roughnecks and their “Mike Leach” system will always throw the ball first, while DC’s ground-and-pound methodology tries to wear the opponent down over longer periods of time. Both have proven to be winners in this league, but the cracks will show in one of them by the time the clock hits triple zeroes.

If the Roughnecks want to be victorious, a majority of the pressure falls on the defensive line, whereas the Defenders should focus more on their secondary. It will once again be up to guys like Trent Harris and Tim Ward to make a difference, while the offense handles their business. That wasn’t exactly the case last week, as Brandon Silvers and company struggled for the first time all year, while Harris did not play in the contest. However, the defense as a whole was able to make the game competitive, and they will look to bring the team within even closer reach this time around.

Nothing seems to be getting easier, with this being the first matchup where the Roughnecks are not favorites (according to gambling sites, that is). Of course, there’s not much that gets easier in the sport generally, and Houston has yet to deal with a ton of adversity. If they can pull off a victory in the nation’s capital, it would be a pinnacle of the season, and help fans remain confident that this squad can ride with those above them. 

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Football journalist/scout/future coach covering the Houston Roughnecks. Air Raid/Run-and-Shoot enthusiast.

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