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

The Houston Roughnecks moved to 2-0 on the season last week with a 23-14 victory over the Arlington Renegades. Now, for the third week in a row, the Roughnecks will be facing a division rival at home. While the Renegades were originally thought to be the toughest opponent that Houston would face during this early stretch, the San Antonio Brahmas seem to be getting in their groove, and have the potential to end the Roughnecks’ three-year undefeated streak.

San Antonio Brahmas (1-1) at Houston Roughnecks (2-0)

Time: Sunday, March 5th, 7:00PM CST

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

Television Broadcast: ESPN2

Weather Forecast: 72°F with partly cloudy skies expected, winds up to 13 mph

Betting Odds (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Moneyline: SAN +160/HOU -190

Spread: SAN +4/HOU -4

Over/Under (points): 36.5

News & Notes

Leading up to the game this week, the Roughnecks added linebacker Aaron Donkor to the roster. Donkor is an alumnus of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (IPPP), and spent the 2021 and 2022 seasons on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad. Born in Göttingen, Germany, Donkor originally began his professional career with the Düsseldorf Panther of the German Football League (GFL) at the age of 21. After a stellar 2016 campaign, he then came to the United States to play junior college football at the New Mexico Military Institute. Following three years at NMMI, Donkor transferred to Arkansas State where he played two more seasons. 

In a corresponding move, the Roughnecks placed linebacker Nate Wieland on the reserve list. Wieland, a Grand View (NAIA) product who previously spent time with the New England Patriots, logged 4 total tackles over the previous 2 games with Houston.

Injury Report

As of Thursday, March 2nd, the Roughnecks have no new injuries to report. On Wednesday, linebackers Tavante Beckett (hamstring) and Emmanuel Ellerbee (illness) were listed as limited participants in practice, but were upgraded to full the following day. Make sure to follow me on Twitter (@evan_willsmore) for possible updates and changes to the injury report leading up to kickoff. 

Depth Chart

There are very few changes on the depth chart when compared to week 2, with the only one of note being that wide receiver Cedric Byrd has maintained his starting job over Travell Harris, who started in week 1. Byrd caught a touchdown from Brandon Silvers in the victory over Arlington, and his stock seems to be trending upwards. Additionally, Nick Holley and Ben Putman are listed as “H-backs” on this version of the depth chart, whereas last week they were listed as wide receivers. Really, they can be both in this offense (especially Holley), but distinguishing the two is still worthwhile.

With Wieland gone and Donkor just being signed, there is no one behind Tavante Beckett at the “MO” (weak inside linebacker) spot for this week, but the defensive staff can shuffle a deep linebacker unit around if needed.

Keys to Victory

Ball Security: While the Roughnecks were ultimately victorious over the Renegades, they had an early lead quickly vanish as a result of three lost fumbles in the first half, two of which came from punt returner Will Likely on special teams. While there is no doubt Likely is still a good return man who just had an off night, the pace of the game completely flipped each time the ball was given back to Arlington. The Renegades did little in the second half to build on their momentum, but San Antonio’s offense is really starting to heat up with Jack Coan at the helm, and the Roughnecks might not get the time they had in week 2 to make up for similar mistakes.

Keep McDonald Involved: McDonald was one of my three offensive standouts from week 2, featured in my recap article. His usage is increasing, and his ability as a runner proved to be extremely effective in putting the game away. While it would be nice for McDonald to get more passing opportunities, as long as he stays efficient and is used at the right times, he could easily be one of the best (and most unique) weapons in the XFL. 

Pressure Up Front: So far, the Roughnecks defensive line has been a menacing force through two weeks, thanks to a combination of talent and the Wade Phillips/Brian Stewart coaching duo. Sacks have been a category that Houston has excelled in, and they will need to continue working hard this week if they want to win. The Brahmas offense is coming off a 30-point game against the Orlando Guardians, and with the Roughnecks’ secondary showing that they have an eye for the ball, it comes down to the defensive line forcing a quicker release on the quarterback. Once again, it’s not a concern given that this has arguably been the Roughnecks’ strongest position group, but rather added motivation to get to 3-0 before a long road trip through March. 

Game Prediciton

The Brahmas can definitely be viewed as a “dark horse” to take down the top-ranked Roughnecks, but while they certainly pose a threat, they still have some kinks to work out as Arlington did. While the Brahmas got their first win in franchise history last week, many fans have not forgotten about their week one blunder against the St. Louis BattleHawks, where they watched a 12-point lead disappear at the end of the fourth quarter thanks to some AJ McCarron heroics (shoutout to Austin Proehl and Hakeem Butler, too). 

While the Brahmas have taken a bit longer to “mesh” than the Roughnecks, they still have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. The Roughnecks should theoretically have an easier time with this team than they did with the Renegades, but it’s only week three, and there are still plenty of things to prove. For the Brahmas, they appear to have a revived sense of hunger after their game against Orlando, making up for their embarrassment in week one with a huge crowd watching at home. From Houston’s perspective, it’s more about maintaining the highest quality of play available in the XFL, or “taking care of business” as I would put it.

If the Roughnecks can pull off yet another win, it would be a major confidence booster heading into a nearly month-long road trip. Houston has been fortunate to play in front of a very consistent home crowd so far, but they will soon experience the “away” atmosphere for the first time. Going into that road trip undefeated would be incredibly intimidating for the home squad, but a loss on Sunday would make the Roughnecks a bit more vulnerable. Either way, Houston comes out of week 3 above .500, and there’s little concern about this team’s abilities as we get deeper into the XFL season. 

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

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