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XFL 2023: Houston Roughnecks (1-0) Week 2 Preview

After a dominant 33-12 victory over the Orlando Guardians last Saturday, the Houston Roughnecks are gearing up for what could be one of their best games of the season. The Arlington Renegades are perhaps the Roughnecks’ biggest rival, and they will be coming to town on Sunday night in hopes of taking control of the South division. While the Roughnecks ended up having plenty of fun in their opener, the atmosphere might be a bit more serious in week 2. Let’s take a closer look at how the Roughnecks can make another statement on their home turf.

Arlington Renegades (1-0) at Houston Roughnecks (1-0)

Time: Sunday, February 26th, 6:00PM CST

Location: TDECU Stadium – Houston, Texas (University of Houston campus)

Television Broadcast: ESPN2

Weather Forecast: 74°F with mostly cloudy skies expected, winds up to 18 mph

Betting Odds (per FanDuel Sportsbook)

Moneyline: ARL +160/HOU -190

Spread: ARL +3.5/HOU -3.5

Over/Under (points): 39.5

News & Notes

Before we do a full deep dive of the matchup itself, the Roughnecks made a couple of notable roster transactions this week. Linebacker Duke Ejiofor, who sustained an ankle injury on the first defensive series against Orlando, was placed on the reserve list. To fill the empty roster spot, Houston signed offensive tackle Ryan Pope. Pope played collegiately at San Diego State, and was signed by the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He has also had stints with the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, and Green Bay Packers since then (in no particular order). In 2022, Pope won the USFL championship as a member of the Birmingham Stallions, and was most recently in training camp with the Seattle Sea Dragons.

Injury Report

While a finalized injury report for the game itself will be made available on Twitter closer to kickoff (@evan_willsmore), a handful of players have been limited in practice this week or have not practiced at all. Wide receiver Travell Harris (groin) and linebacker John Daka (knee) were both listed as limited participants on Wednesday after being listed as non-participants on Tuesday. Offensive lineman Dareuan Parker (hamstring) was added to the injury report as a non-participant on Wednesday after not being on the list Tuesday. As of Thursday, February 23rd, both Daka and Parker are off the list, with Harris still being listed as limited.

Depth Chart

In comparison to week 1, there have been a handful of changes to the Roughnecks’ lineup. To start, both Nick Holley and Cedric Byrd are listed as receivers rather than “H-backs,” and Byrd now appears to be a starter with Harris’ injury concerns. Whether or not Harris plays is still to be determined, but expect Byrd to get a higher snap count either way. On the offensive line, Dareuan Parker has swapped places with Jack Snyder at guard. The newly-added Ryan Pope sits behind Tommy Champion at right tackle. 

There have been no changes to the starting 11 on defense, but looking further down the list, Deandre Johnson has moved to the #2 “Will” linebacker spot over John Daka (Daka was on the injury report this week). Chauncey Rivers also moves up to #2 at the “Sam” linebacker spot following Duke Ejiofor’s placement on the reserve list. 

Keys to Victory

Extra-Point Conversions: The Houston Roughnecks failed to convert any of their four PATs against Orlando, and all four plays featured Cole McDonald at quarterback. When he was at Hawai’i, McDonald gained experience as a short-yardage runner, and this seems to be the best way to get him involved in the offense as QB2. However, it might be time to start throwing the ball on these conversions, regardless of the points at stake (1,2,3) or who is at quarterback. McDonald would likely be a better fit for 3rd/4th & 1 sneak plays or designed runs that don’t involve scoring, despite getting a touchdown with his legs last week. Although this is a relatively small adjustment, the Roughnecks won’t be able to afford leaving the endzone with just 6 points on each try against the Renegades.

Tighter Coverage: While the entire defensive unit had a statement performance against the Guardians last week, if there is one area that could be called out, it would have to be the secondary. This was one of the few parts of the team that had been questioned before the season in terms of their capabilities, and while they were able to force turnovers, they also let Paxton Lynch and company drive down the field on their first possession with little sweat. Furthermore, they also gave up a couple of long-yardage plays (primarily to Andrew Jamiel) down the stretch. It didn’t end up being a big deal once the offense started moving, but similar play over longer periods of game time in week 2 could put the Roughnecks in a more dire position. 

Continue Offensive Diversification: This last talking point isn’t something the Roughnecks did a poor job of in week 1, but rather something that is starting to separate Houston from the rest of the league. In AJ Smith’s “Leach offense,” the ball has been spread around to multiple receivers, yet there are still more that need to be targeted given their potential. Of course, the ball wasn’t going to be in everyone’s hands after a single game, but seeing more passes thrown in the direction of Nick Holley and Cedric Byrd specifically could elevate this group to new heights. It was a good performance to start the season, but could be a great one this time against an even stingier defense. In simple terms, “the more the merrier.”

Game Prediction

The Roughnecks handled the Guardians with ease last week in what could be their largest margin of victory all year. That’s not to say Houston won’t be giving other teams trouble over the next couple of weeks, but rather that Orlando has a ton of work to do to stay competitive in the South (and perhaps the XFL as a whole). With the Renegades coming to town, the tables are completely turned.

The Renegades, despite needing two pick-sixes to win against Vegas (a home game they were favored in), showed that they have one of the deepest rosters across the XFL. Sure, the offense has some kinks to work out with Drew Plitt at quarterback, but they have all the pieces they need to get it done. This could be the best home game the Roughnecks have all season, from both an attendance and matchup standpoint. 

It’s hard to guarantee a Roughnecks victory in this one, although oddsmakers have them favored slightly with the home-field advantage. Regardless of who comes out on top, it’s a game that likely won’t be over until sometime in the fourth quarter, which isn’t a bold statement by any means given how close the rest of the XFL games have been so far. The next time these two face each other will be week 10 at Arlington, which happens to be the last week of the regular season. This is only the beginning of what could be the league’s best rivalry, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if these two meet in the playoffs at the end of April. 

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

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