BROKEN BITS: 5 Observations from Roughnecks’ stunning 26-11 loss to Renegades in South Division Championship game

Feb 26, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks quarterback Brandon Silvers (12) passes against the Arlington Renegades in the third quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports The Roughnecks won 24 to 17.

BROKEN BITS: 5 Observations from Roughnecks’ stunning 26-11 loss to Renegades in South Division Championship game

These five things stood out the most from the Houston Roughnecks’ stunning failure against the Arlington Renegades, losing at home 26-11 in the XFL South Division Championship game.

Brandon Silvers broke the Roughnecks. From the very first game of the season, it was apparent that this offense would only go as far as Brandon Silvers could carry them. His lack of arm strength was always the weakest link on a unit with tremendous speed all over the field. Silvers missed a critical fourth-and-3 pass in Renegades territory on Houston’s opening drive in horrific fashion. His throw was 3 yards behind a wide-open receiver, resulting in a turnover on downs. He also telegraphed a throw to Brycen Alleyne that nearly got the running back decapitated. Silvers was benched after going 3-for-6 for 22 yards. The air raid offense was catered to Silvers, he was the only quarterback on the roster who could run it, and he broke it in the postseason.

Houston was unable to fully implement an offense suited to Cole McDonald on the fly. McDonald is a mobile quarterback who excels in the RPO game. Houston implemented more of that with him in the game after benching Silvers, but they couldn’t completely change their identity. It cost them, as McDonald just cannot run the same kind of offense as Silvers. McDonald’s lack of experience showed. Houston has deep threats in Deontay Burnett and Justin Smith, but the play calls had them running shorter routes. McDonald was able to give the offense a boost with his scrambling ability. Trying to force the issue late in the game, McDonald threw a bad interception into double coverage on his only deep throw of the game. His receivers didn’t help him with a lot of drops. McDonald finished 9-for-25 for 82 yards and an interception and seven carries for 47 yards.

Houston’s league-best pass rush was held in check. The trademark pressure of the Roughnecks’ defense was completely negated by the Renegades. Luis Perez had clean pocket after clean pocket and was rarely under any duress at all. Perez was able to carve up the Roughnecks’ secondary with all the time he could ever want to throw. The defense couldn’t get pressure, couldn’t consistently stop the run, and couldn’t come up with the crucial turnovers that they generated throughout the season. Many times this season, the defense carried the team when the offense stalled; it was unable to in this game. Houston managed just one sack in this game after posting a league-high 35 sacks this season.

Houston’s receivers may have had their worst game of the season. While Cole McDonald has more velocity on his throws than Brandon Silvers, Roughnecks receivers uncharacteristically had the dropsies. Justin Smith dropped a pass that would have been a first down, Deontay Burnett had a drop, Travell Harris had a bad drop, Tavonn Salter had two drops. Too many of these drops were drive killers, and the Roughnecks couldn’t put together enough drives. Burnett’s 57 yards led the team; no other receiver had 20 yards.

Arlington used a power run game that had the Roughnecks’ defense back on their heels. De’Veon Smith had a terrific game, asserting himself early with strong runs and gaining yards after contact. Houston struggled to stop the Renegades’ running attack all game long, as what had been a strength became a weakness. Arlington couldn’t run the ball at all a week ago, yet they were controlling the line of scrimmage today. This was one of the biggest keys to the game, as the threat of the run kept Roughnecks pass rushers from being able to cut loose after Perez. Arlington really controlled the line of scrimmage offensively for the overwhelming majority of the game. Smith finished with 24 carries for 94 yards, and the Renegades rushed for 137 yards overall.

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