On Saturday, the Roughnecks are scheduled to play an early game (11:30am kickoff) against the Vegas Vipers, a game where Houston has the opportunity to be crowned South division champions. Let’s take a look at how they can get their sixth win of 2023, and continue to prepare for the playoffs.
Vegas Vipers (2-6) vs Houston Roughnecks (5-3)
Time: Saturday, April 15th, 11:30AM CST
Location: TDECU Stadium – Houston, Texas (University of Houston campus)
Television Broadcast: ABC
Weather Forecast: 76°F with cloudy skies expected (30% chance of thunderstorms), winds up to 11 mph
Betting Odds (per FanDuel Sportsbook)
Moneyline: VEG +210/HOU -250
Spread: VEG +6.5/HOU -6.5
Over/Under (points): 43.5
News & Notes
The Roughnecks made a few significant changes regarding the roster leading up to week 9, starting by releasing offensive lineman Tommy Champion and cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. Shortly after, Houston added offensive lineman Ja’Chai Baker off waivers from the Brahmas. Baker, who spent time in college between Southeast Missouri and South Alabama, will be playing for his third XFL team this season after originally being drafted by the Orlando Guardians.
Additionally, the Roughnecks signed running back Jeremy Cox and released wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson in a corresponding move. There were high expectations for Roberson initially, but he didn’t end up catching a single pass during his stint in Houston. On the other hand, the Roughnecks had been eyeing Cox since the pre-draft process, and still wanted him on the team with two regular season games left. The Old Dominion product went undrafted in 2019, and has spent time in the NFL with both the Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos.
As of Thursday, April 13th, the Roughnecks have ruled out three players for Saturday’s game (OL Sage Doxtater, EDGE Tim Ward, RB Dejoun Lee). Michael Bandy was a late addition with a hip injury, but is listed as probable after a limited day in practice.
There are no changes to report on the depth chart this week, other than some new additions filling in reserve roles. Ja’Chai Baker gets the backup right tackle spot behind James Moore, and Jeremy Cox will likely replace Dejoun Lee as RB3 assuming he is active.
Keys to Victory
Big Plays: As I discussed in my week 8 recap article, the Roughnecks are still having trouble hitting longer plays downfield with the absence of Jontre Kirklin. While it’s hard to think the Roughnecks can fully recover from the loss at this point, all it could take is one of those plays to give Houston a lot less to worry about. Whether that comes from Burnett, Bandy, or someone else, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed on gameday. Additionally, it’s important that the offense doesn’t “stall” as they’ve done several times this season, rather they need to stay consistent for long enough to even have a chance at one of these plays occurring.
Efficiency: I’ve talked about efficiency in both the pass game and the run game. Now, I’ll take about them both as a whole. Houston was simply not very efficient on offense against San Antonio, which made putting the game away much harder than it should have been. Furthermore, this offense is designed to be relatively efficient in the first place, even with a typically high number of pass attempts. The Roughnecks’ average yards per play probably won’t keep them from winning against Vegas, but it might not be so pretty once the playoffs roll around. Similar to the previous point about big plays, there are still some things the team has to discover before they’re fully prepared for a championship run.
Pressure: One of the things that’s continuously worked for the Roughnecks this year is their ability to bring pressure up front, with some talented edge rushers and other defensive linemen having shined since week 1. That strategy should not change against Vegas, and ironically, they have one of the top edge rushers in the league themselves (Pita Taumoepenu). Not much else to be said here, other than that the Vipers will need to look out for players like Trent Harris and John Daka.
While the Vipers are only 2-6, they are part of a fierce North division, and have been heating up in recent weeks. In other words, the Roughnecks won’t be able to count them out, even though this should be an easy win on paper. Assuming Houston does come out on top, it will be their first victory over a North team all season, which would feel a bit more comforting even though Vegas has already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Vegas’ two wins came against the Brahmas and the Guardians, so while they haven’t made a true statement yet, their game against St. Louis last week showed that they’re still not giving up. Jalan McClendon has been one of the bigger surprises of the entire XFL season, and may honestly be better than any quarterback that Houston has faced in the South division, and McClendon has only been starting since week 7.
Because the Roughnecks were able to pull off an overtime victory in San Antonio last week, they’ve already clinched a playoff spot, but a win against Vegas would clinch the entire South division (guaranteeing that playoff game would be at home). There’s still a decent amount on the line here, even though the biggest hurdle has already been surpassed.
All in all, Houston is going to need to put in some work to take down Vegas, who can be called a “tough out” despite their situation. If they were able to do it against San Antonio (a team with the same record) while on the road, it should be relatively painless at home, but no one should be too relaxed yet given the Roughnecks’ 0-3 record against the North.
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