Feb 26, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks defensive back Ajene Harris (3) celebrates his interception against the Arlington Renegades in the first quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Roughnecks (4-0) at Seattle Sea Dragons (2-2)
Game Time: Thursday, March 16, 9:30 p.m. CT
What’s at stake: Divisional races and air superiority, as the two highest-powered passing games in the XFL collide in Seattle.
For the Roughnecks, they are one of the last two remaining undefeated teams in the league. At 4-0, the franchise has never lost a game in its history. They technically hold a 2.5-game lead in the XFL South over the Arlington Renegades, who are 2-2, with one of their losses to Houston. Houston is the highest-scoring team in the league, with the number two pass offense and the most passing touchdowns. Houston looks to continue to build its division lead and its lore of being unbeatable.
The Sea Dragons are essentially 2.5 games behind the North division-leading D.C. Defenders, whom Seattle lost to in Week 1 by four. Seattle’s other loss was a two-point setback to St. Louis, also ahead of them in the standings. Seattle’s offense is the most powerful in the XFL, leading the league in yards, passing yards, and yards per carry. Their scoring struggles are perplexing, as their yardage gained doesn’t correlate to their point total. Their 81 points scored is fourth in the league, but significantly behind the league-leading Roughnecks’ 122. Seattle needs to put it all together, and a big win at home against the undefeated Roughnecks would help them tremendously in both gaining ground in the XFL North and their confidence.
When the Roughnecks have the ball: Houston employs the Mike Leach-inspired Air Raid offense, and last week while playing without starting running back Max Borghi, they called one designed run in the first half. They like to throw it and throw it often.
Brandon Silvers is second in the league in passing attempts (135), completions (88), yards (962), and first in passing touchdowns (10). The Roughnecks may have the most speed at wide receiver in the league. Among receivers with at least 10 receptions, Houston boasts two of the top three receivers in yards per catch in Travell Harris (17.9) and Jontre Kirklin (16.9).
Last week, Dejoun Lee was the primary ball carrier with Borghi out. Lee scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second half as the Roughnecks became more run-heavy, adapting to Orlando selling out for pass coverage and having only five men in the box.
The Roughnecks list no one on their injury report this week. However, they also list that they will not practice this week leading up to a Thursday night game.
When the Sea Dragons have the ball: Seattle quarterback Ben Di Nucci leads the XFL in pass attempts (161), completions (111), yards (1,119), and completion percentage (68.9%, among QBs with minimum 100 attempts). No team slings it more than Seattle.
Wide receiver Jahcour Pearson leads the XFL in receptions (31) and receiving yards (348). WR Blake Jackson is second in receptions with 23. Former NFL All-Pro Josh Gordon is seventh in receptions (18) but second in yards (282) and has made a growing impact with each week.
Running back Morgan Ellison is the XFL’s current leading rusher with 239 yards, and he is averaging a strong 5.2 yards per carry, the most among all players with at least 15 carries.
Key Roughnecks to watch:
LB Trent Harris: Harris leads the XFL with six sacks and eight tackles for loss, but he picked up four of each Week 1. Since then, teams have focused on him, opening up opportunities for teammates. Whether he is getting home himself or drawing multiple defenders to allow other teammates to make disruptive plays, Harris has an impact. Houston will need maximum disruption to slow down the Sea Dragons’ potent pass attack.
CBs Sean Davis and Ajene Harris: The Roughnecks’ top two corners will have their hands full with the two leading receivers in the league in Pearson and Gordon. Before drug suspensions derailed his career, Josh Gordon was a nightmare for corners in the NFL, and while not the same player he was 6-10 years ago, he is making a big impact in the XFL. Both Davis and Harris have two interceptions each, and Davis should have three if not for a questionable officiating decision in Week 1. How well they can slow down the Sea Dragons’ top receivers could determine how much of a shootout this game becomes.
WR Travell Harris: Harris is coming off his best game of the season, with three catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He is emerging as a real threat alongside Jontre Kirklin and Deontay Burnett. Harris’ speed and ability to get behind the defense are a great compliment to Cedric Byrd, who has excelled in shorter and intermediate routes. If Harris can continue to take the top off defenses, Houston’s passing game is nearly unstoppable.
RB Dejoun Lee: Lee stepped into the lead running back role with Max Borghi unavailable last week. While Borghi isn’t on the injury report this week, the Roughnecks also listed they weren’t practicing this week. Borghi was considered probable last week, yet didn’t play, indicating a late-week setback. If Borghi is unavailable again this week due to the short week, Lee will likely be the lead guy again. Last week, Lee had six carries for 45 yards and two scores. He also had three receptions for 17 yards. The run game changed the dynamic of the game last week, as Houston went more run-heavy, as the Guardians went to heavy pass coverage and left only five men in the box. Lee could be an essential component of the offense again this week, depending on the health of Borghi.
The Bottom line: Don’t leave your seats too long, there’s going to be an absolute ton of offense in this game. These two teams sling it around the yard more than anyone else, and they’re also the two best at it. Houston’s defense has been more opportunistic, but DiNucci has been more consistent than Silvers has.
This could be a very close game that comes down to the wire, as it could be a “team with the ball last wins” type scenario. Houston is only a 3-point favorite on the road, the lowest point total they have been favored by all season (Houston has been the favorite in every game they have played this year).
Houston has been better at getting the ball in the end zone, and their defense has also been better than Seattle’s. Look for a close win for the Roughnecks, setting up a battle of the undefeated teams in the nation’s capital Week 6 on Monday night.