After starting the year 4-0 and being one of the top teams in the XFL, the Houston Roughnecks’ season took a turn when it came time to play against the North division, and they have gone 0-3 since. Let’s take a look at how Houston can find their fifth win, a win that would officially get them a spot in the playoffs.
Houston Roughnecks (4-3) at San Antonio Brahmas (2-5)
Time: Sunday, April 9th, 2:00PM CST
Location: The Alamodome – San Antonio, Texas
Television Broadcast: ABC
Weather Forecast: 71°F with partly cloudy skies expected, winds up to 8 mph (teams will be playing indoors)
Betting Odds (per DraftKings Sportsbook)
Moneyline: HOU -205/SAN +175
Spread: HOU -5.5/SAN +5.5
Over/Under (points): 40
News & Notes
The Roughnecks have continued to be busy on the transaction wire through this week. To start, kicker Hunter Duplessis was added to the reserve list and replaced by Austin Jones. Jones played college football at both Temple and Alabama, later spending time with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL in 2022.
Losing Duplessis was unfortunate, but not as unfortunate as the fate of starting safety Sean Davis. The former Pittsburgh Steeler was added to the reserve list with a hamstring injury, and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Davis sustained the injury while playing against St. Louis. To help fill the void, Houston added Stephen Denmark off waivers from the San Antonio Brahmas. Denmark played collegiately at Valdosta State, winning a Division II national championship and later being selected in the 2019 NFL draft (7th round) by the Chicago Bears.
Finally, the Roughnecks released offensive guard Desmond Noel from the reserve list.
As of Thursday, April 6th, the Roughnecks had seven players on their injury report (Brandon Silvers, Ben Putman, Sage Doxtater, Tavante Beckett, Emmanuel Ellerbee, Tim Ward, and Kary Vincent). Putman, Beckett, and Vincent are close to full strength, while Ellerbee was a later addition and listed as a limited participant in practice. Silvers seems to be trending in the right direction with his arm/elbow, but it is still unclear whether or not he will start at quarterback this week.
As for offensive tackle Sage Doxtater, he remains limited with a shoulder injury and could miss his third game in a row. Star edge rusher Tim Ward, also on the verge of missing his third straight game, has not not practiced at all. Sources have told me they do not want to rush the process and hurt his chances of a NFL return. Therefore, it can be assumed Ward is more week-to-week rather than day to day, but has yet to be placed on the reserve list.
The only notable change to the depth chart is at the safety position, with Sean Davis now on the reserve list and Jordan Mosley taking his place. The newly-acquired Stephen Denmark is listed as CB3 behind Raleigh Texada and Kary Vincent. Keep in mind that the depth chart is not final, so stay updated on Twitter (@evan_willsmore) for possible updates.
Keys to Victory
Ground and Pound (again): I had this segment in another preview article a few weeks ago, and ironically, it comes after I said “air it out” just last week. There was a pivotal shift in the Roughnecks’ offensive philosophy against the BattleHawks, breaking away from traditional methods and relying on the run game for big plays. However, it wasn’t because the team had accepted defeat, but instead because they trusted the running back rotation more with Cole McDonald getting his first start at quarterback. It should hopefully be easier to throw the ball against San Antonio as well, but clearly, there is extra help available when needed.
A New WR1: Ever since Jontre Kirklin went down with a chest injury in week five, there have been several receivers who are trying to fill in that spot (Deontay Burnett, Travell Harris, and Cedric Byrd in particular). Burnett has probably done the best job, but there is no longer a clear top option on this team. Hopefully, week eight will give Houston a better opportunity to figure that out, since it would be helpful to find a consistent and reliable target before the playoffs. Perhaps more involvement from the newer wideouts (Michael Bandy, Tavonn Salter, and Jaquarii Roberson) could get things rolling again.
Defensive Adjustments: While Wade Phillips remains one of the greatest defensive masterminds in all of football, his unit (also led by Brian Stewart) has been giving up more and more plays in recent weeks, almost as if the rest of the league is starting to figure out Houston’s tendencies. Against St. Louis in particular, the Roughnecks gave up a 13-play, 96-yard drive that spanned much of the first quarter, and put too much wear and tear on the defense early. Fortunately, they have still been able to force turnovers, but a combination of staying together and reducing penalties can make a win easier to guarantee.
After dropping three straight, this should be a “get right” game for the Roughnecks, as they have yet to lose to anyone in their own division. San Antonio is arguably the weakest team left in the South (even below Orlando in my own opinion), and they would be lucky to win another game this year. Currently, it seems as if the Renegades will be the team that Houston hosts in the playoffs, but those two don’t face off in the regular season again until week 10.
As I mentioned in my recap article from last week, the team should have no problem going undefeated the rest of the way (until playoffs of course), but it will be interesting to see how exactly the team feels after their mid-season slump. It’s still difficult to separate whether or not Houston’s problems can be blamed more on themselves or the opponent, but the Brahmas game should settle that debate and hopefully put it to rest.
Simply put, there are no excuses left to be used. The Roughnecks faced the league’s toughest teams over the past three weeks, but now, it’s time to get back to the way things used to be. Most importantly, Houston should be having fun again, and reminding everyone that they’re not done yet.
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