On Sunday, the Roughnecks will return home after a three game road trip, taking on the St. Louis BattleHawks. Houston has gone 1-2 since they were last at TDECU Stadium, demolishing the Guardians in Orlando before suffering back-to-back losses at the hands of the Sea Dragons and Defenders. At 4-2, the Roughnecks are far from struggling, but the pressure to keep winning builds with each passing week. The BattleHawks aren’t perfect either, but they still pose a threat as most of the North teams have. Let’s take a look at how Houston can advance to 5-2, increasing the odds of hosting a playoff game and making fans more comfortable.
St. Louis BattleHawks (4-2) at Houston Roughnecks (4-2)
Time: Sunday, April 2nd, 1:00PM CST
Location: TDECU Stadium – Houston, Texas (University of Houston campus)
Television Broadcast: ESPN
Weather Forecast: 78°F with scattered thunderstorms (60% chance of rain at kickoff), winds up to 16 mph
Betting Odds (per FanDuel Sportsbook)
Moneyline: STL +125/HOU -150
Spread: STL +3/HOU -3
Over/Under (points): 44.5
News & Notes
The Roughnecks made somewhat of a “splash” signing this week, grabbing free agent wide receiver Michael Bandy (our own Mike Mitchell reported the news first). I covered the signing in a separate article, but to recap, Bandy is coming off a year with the Los Angeles Chargers where he caught 10 passes for 89 yards. He previously spent time with the TSL Conquerors. In a corresponding move, the team released wide receiver Nick Holley, who caught 6 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown this season. It was a sad departure, as Holley was a fan favorite who also played for the Roughnecks in 2020. However, Bandy seemed to offer more upside, and there can only be so many receivers on the roster.
Holley was not the only player let go this week, as wide receiver Aaron Nelson, linebacker Aaron Donkor, and defensive tackle Josh Avery (reserve list) all said their goodbyes as well. Defensive tackle Scean Mustin, a Sam Houston State product who had spent the entire season on the reserve list, was activated and played Monday night against the Defenders.
As of Thursday, March 30th, the Roughnecks have three players listed on their injury report, all of whom were limited in practice. Edge rusher Tim Ward (shoulder) missed the game against DC, and it would be a shame for him to be out for a second week. New additions to the report include safety AJ Hendy (groin) and cornerback Raleigh Texada (back). Stay tuned on Twitter (@evan_willsmore) for more updates prior to kickoff.
As we’ve learned throughout the season, not all depth charts are official, so take the positional breakdowns with a grain of salt. On this version, Brandon Silvers is still the starting quarterback, but several sources say Cole McDonald will continue to get more playing time. Most of the changes are on defense, in part due to Scean Mustin returning to the team.
Jack Heflin is now the starting nose tackle over Glen Logan, who has been moved to the second-string defensive end spot behind Trevon Mason. Mustin then becomes the new second-string nose tackle. If Hendy and Texada end up missing the game, it will be up to Kary Vincent Jr and John Brannon to help out in the secondary (both played well against DC). John Daka has already done a fine job playing behind Tim Ward, so no need to worry there in the event he becomes a starter for week 7.
Keys to Victory
Air it Out: Houston is obviously not afraid to throw the ball, so this point is more of a reminder of the team’s power than anything else. The Roughnecks currently lead the XFL in “true” passing yards with 1,560, which does not include yardage lost from sacks. This is 49 more yards than what Seattle has (1,511), so even with the Sea Dragons playing before Houston on Friday night, the team seems determined to stay ahead in that race. Additionally, the Roughnecks recorded the longest play of the XFL season against the Defenders, an 85-yard touchdown pass from Cole McDonald to Deontay Burnett. This is an aggressive offense that will continue to look for big plays against St. Louis, with trust continually being built between quarterback and receiver.
Discipline: Week six saw some serious frustration brewing amongst Roughnecks players, as they received several penalties and behaved in uncharacteristic ways at times. As I mentioned in my recap article, it was mostly on the defensive side of the ball, and a lot of it can be attributed to the quick turnaround in score (up 8-0 to down 26-8). While Houston will have fans rooting for them rather than against them this time around, it’s still up to the players to maintain composure even if things aren’t going their way.
Efficiency: When I say efficiency, I’m referring to the run game. The Roughnecks averaged just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground against DC, and while the BattleHawks defense may not be as much of a challenge, any number less than 4 isn’t ideal. Had Brycen Alleyne not carried the ball once for ten yards, the average amongst the other running backs (Borghi and Lee) would have been just 2.08 yards on a combined 12 carries. Cole McDonald provided the spark that he always does, but assuming he starts to throw more, the running backs will have to carry more weight.
Houston has never been in a true “must win” situation this season, but this game could certainly make a noticeable difference. Arlington is just one game behind in the South standings, so if they beat Seattle and Houston loses, there will be a two-way tie for first place. Of course, Houston still has the advantage with their win over the Renegades in week two, but sole possession of that first spot would feel much better. Therefore, a win against St. Louis eliminates that issue for another week, regardless of what happens to the rival.
It hasn’t been too easy for the Roughnecks since they hit the road, losing back-to-back games after initially keeping a three-year undefeated streak alive through week four. However, with those losses comes motivation, and there’s no doubt the team is coming home at a good time. Many thought the Monday night matchup against DC would be the game of the year in the XFL, but this one could honestly have a higher chance as both teams hold the same 4-2 record.
St. Louis has been strong all year, with their only two losses being to the Defenders (both were close games). AJ McCarron can be considered a frontrunner for the MVP award, with help from targets like Hakeem Butler and Darrius Shepherd. They too have plenty of motivation, competing with the Sea Dragons for the second playoff spot in the North. A win for them would also be extremely helpful.
Expect both the BattleHawks and the Roughnecks to come out with passion on Sunday afternoon, in what should be a hot and muggy environment. Houston hasn’t played in many close games this year, but they could be fighting until the very end against a squad like St. Louis. All in all, this game will show whether or not the Roughnecks have what it takes to get things done down the line, and compete with teams outside their division.
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