Game Preview: Arlington Renegades at Houston Roughnecks

Feb 18, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks quarterback Brandon Silvers (12) throws a pass against the Orlando Guardians in the fourth quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Arlington Renegades at Houston Roughnecks

The Matchup:

Arlington Renegades (1-0) at Houston Roughnecks (1-0)

Game Time: Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. 6 p.m.


What’s at stake: In the end, there can only be one 2-0 team in Texas in the XFL, and it will be the winner of this game. Between the natural rivalry of Dallas versus Houston, the coaching pedigree involved (Bob Stoops vs. Wade Phillips), and being in the same division, there may not be a better XFL rivalry than this one.

Both teams won their Week 1 contests against division rivals at home, as Arlington squeaked out a two-point victory over the Vegas Vipers and the Roughnecks demolished the Orlando Guardians.

When the Roughnecks have the ball: Brandon Silvers (26-for-42 272 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT) knows the right reads and where to deliver the football. The Roughnecks have a pair of dynamic receivers in Jontre Kirklin (5/71/1) and Deontray Burnett (8/90/1); the former made acrobatic catches in Week 1, while the latter pulled in a highlight-reel one-handed catch for a touchdown. Speedster Justin Smith missed Week 1 with an injury, but head coach Wade Phillips called him one of the fastest players he has ever been around.

The Roughnecks will air it out in their Mike Leach-style offense, but RB Max Borghi (8 car, 42 yds, 1 TD) showed burst and ability on the ground as well. Garrett Owens is a tough matchup at tight end for opposing defenses.

When the Renegades have the ball: The Renegades need to find a third gear on offense, as only one of their three touchdowns in their opening week win was scored on offense. They struggled to convert on third down (29%).

Quarterback Drew Plitt was 19-for-25 but for only 172 yards and an interception. He was sacked three times. Arlington ran the ball a whopping 31 times but only averaged 2.7 YPC, and no running back had a carry longer than 9 yards. Sal Cannella led the Renegades in receiving with seven catches for 70 yards. Tyler Vaughns (4/38) and Brandon Arconado (3/32) were the only other players with more than two receptions.

Key Roughnecks to watch:

LB Trent Harris: Last week, I mentioned that Coach Phillips thought Harris could be the “sack king of the league.” All Harris did was record four sacks and four tackles for loss while generally being a disruptive presence the entire game. Harris can be a game-wrecker for opposing QBs. With teams having had very short training camps, his speed on the edge could be havoc for the Renegades’ offensive line.

CB Sean Davis: Davis had five tackles and an interception last week and really should have had two interceptions if not for a highly questionable officiating decision that ruled what appeared to be a clear interception by Davis and his being tackled into the end zone by Cody Latimer into a simultaneous possession and a touchdown. Despite the dubious call, Davis has a nose for the football and showed he can find it.

LB Tim Ward: Ward also posted a multi-sack game, registering a pair of sacks, as Houston sacked Orlando quarterbacks seven times. He also had three tackles for loss. Ward and Harris made for a tag team of terror against the Guardians.

The Bottom Line: Entering the season, the Roughnecks had the second-worst odds (+700) to be XFL Champions, while the Renegades (+430) had the best odds. Yet after just one week, the Roughnecks are 5-point favorites at home. The winner of this game will be 2-0 and atop the XFL South Division with a pair of division wins.

The Renegades’ offense was unimpressive, and the Roughnecks drilled Orlando. Orlando, however, was the only team in the league with worse odds of winning than Houston. Was Orlando that bad, or is Houston that good?

Sunday night will go a long way toward determining that.

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