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XFL 2023: Houston Roughnecks Week 2 Recap

In the first edition of what has been coined the “Texas Throwdown,” the Houston Roughnecks defeated the Arlington Renegades 23-14 in the closing game of the weekend. Although it may not have been as smooth a performance for the Roughnecks compared to week one, they still managed to put the league on notice yet again, soaring to the top of power rankings.

This was the second of three straight home games for the Roughnecks to open the season, with the San Antonio Brahmas coming to town next week. Thanks to Sunday night’s win, Houston now sits atop the South division at 2-0, in control of their own destiny and officially being the team to beat (besides the Defenders and BattleHawks in the North, that is). 

Top Performers (Offense)

Cole McDonald, QB, Hawai’i

Although McDonald is not the starter, Houston’s offensive staff are seemingly carving out a larger (and perhaps more efficient) role for him. In my week 2 preview article, I mentioned that McDonald’s appearances against Orlando were primarily on extra-point attempts, although he also closed out the game once the margins on the scoreboard had widened enough. However, it would make more sense to bring him in for longer stretches of game time to give the offense a boost, instead of having the pressure to score on each of his opportunities.

That’s exactly what ended up happening against Arlington, as McDonald would appear in up to three consecutive plays. He proved to be even more mobile than week 1, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on 7 attempts. While his single pass attempt of the night fell incomplete, things are trending upward early for McDonald, and his progress is something to monitor as the season continues.

Ben Putman, WR, Nevada

Putman was a pleasant surprise for the Roughnecks in week 2, stepping up in crucial moments of the game despite not being a starter. He finished the night as Houston’s leading receiver, catching 4 passes for 65 yards. Putman’s role was larger than normal due to the absence of Travell Harris, but in such a dynamic offense, there’s no reason why he can’t have similar performances over the coming weeks.

Jontre Kirklin, WR, LSU

Despite only catching 2 passes for 56 yards, Kirklin had the longest play of the night for the Roughnecks (40 yards), and was tied for the team lead in targets alongside Max Borghi. Even with limited opportunities, Kirklin was able to impress, and is continuing to make his case for a possible return to the NFL once the season is over. 

Top Performers (Defense)

Tim Ward, LB, Old Dominion

After a dominant performance in week 1, Tim Ward showed no signs of slowing down, recording 5 total tackles (tied for team lead), 1 sack, and 1 tackle for loss. Ward was added to the Roughnecks’ roster after the draft, and he already has other XFL teams feeling sorry that they passed up on him.

Emmanuel Ellerbee, LB, Rice

Ellerbee is a Houston native, and going into week 3, his homecoming is paying off big time for the Roughnecks. In the win over the Renegades, Ellerbee recorded 4 total tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss. As it currently stands, Ellerbee has the fourth-most tackles in the XFL, and is tied for second-most solo tackles behind Sea Dragons linebacker Emmanuel Smith.

John Daka, LB, James Madison

Despite being on the injury report leading up to the game, Daka didn’t look hindered in the slightest, recording 3 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. The Roughnecks linebacker room took a hit following an injury to Duke Ejiofor in week 1, but Daka proved that depth isn’t an issue for this team.

Honorable Mentions

Max Borghi, RB, Washington State (12 carries/27 yards/1 TD, 2 catches/20 yards)

Trent Harris, LB, Miami (5 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss)

Thoughts & Notes

As expected, this proved to be a much bigger test for the Roughnecks than what the Guardians presented in the season opener. After a fast start where it looked like Arlington was on their last gasp of air, a handful of lost fumbles by Houston allowed the Renegades to put together a three-point lead by halftime. Through the third and fourth quarters, it came down to whether or not the Roughnecks could forget their mistakes and face adversity. As it turned out, they seemed to have no problems getting back on track as soon as possible.

The Renegades defense continued to be a force, and the special teams unit capitalized on two muffed punts by returner Will Likely. However, their offense was rather disappointing for a second week in a row, and couldn’t keep up with what was a slow night for Houston’s aerial attack. Silvers still showed plenty of confidence taking deep shots, but only completed half of his passes and finished the game with 100 less yards than week 1. On the brightside, he didn’t turn the ball over, and was able to give different receivers more opportunities (Byrd, Holley, and Putman especially). 

Despite shining against Orlando, Houston’s defense may have been even better this time around, and were the leading reason why the undefeated streak stayed alive. The unit compiled three turnovers (2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery) to make up for Arlington’s three takeaways, including one on the first play from scrimmage by cornerback Ajene Harris.

Assuming the offense can hit on one or two more deep balls against the Brahmas, the Roughnecks should have no problem getting their eighth franchise win in week 3 with the level they’re playing at (more on that topic in the upcoming week 3 preview). On a final note, the “Texas Throwdown” drew a crowd of over 11,000 back to TDECU Stadium, and the atmosphere felt very similar to the opener. It was fantastic seeing that the level of interest is still high, and the fans are more passionate than ever. 

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

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