No Offense: 5 Observations from the Roughnecks 24-15 loss to the Battlehawks

Apr 2, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks quarterback Cole McDonald (14) shows a touchdown pass agains the St. Louis Battlehawks in the second quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

No Offense: 5 Observations from the Roughnecks 24-15 loss to the Battlehawks

These five things stood out the most as Houston dropped its third straight game, 24-15, to the St. Louis Battlehawks.

Cole McDonald struggled badly in his first start of the season. The first drive of the game for the Roughnecks wound up being a harbinger of things to come. McDonald rolled to his right, stopped, then threw across his body to the far side of the field and was intercepted at the Battlehawks 3. This followed a fumble recovery by the Roughnecks’ defense on the first play of the game that gave them the ball at the St. Louis 25. McDonald misfired throughout the day and threw some absolute ducks in the process. He was fortunate to only have one interception in the first half, as he could have had three. He couldn’t sustain drives and struggled with reads in the pocket. Late in the game, his throws were consistently short and off-target. McDonald finished 15-for-32 for only 106 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The defense again missed Tim Ward. For the second straight week, Tim Ward was inactive due to injury. Ward entered Week 7 second in the XFL in sacks and was also second in tackles for loss. The Roughnecks struggled to get pressure on McCarron, and when McCarron had time, he carved up the Roughnecks’ defense. Houston’s defense is predicated on getting pressure, and when it doesn’t, they struggle to get stops. Houston did generate three sacks but failed to get consistent pressure or penetration behind the line.

Offensive playcalling was more balanced, but the execution was not. Usually, the Roughnecks run a Mike Leach-style Air Raid offense and will only run the ball 10-12 times per game. Sunday, with Brandon Silvers inactive and Cole McDonald at quarterback, they ran the ball far more often. The run game was actually more efficient than the passing game, but the Roughnecks struggled to adjust to that. While they did run more RPO with McDonald at quarterback, they certainly ran it less than expected when it was revealed he would start. McDonald is a mobile, running quarterback, and it would make sense to play to that strength as much as possible. It may have been too much to change the offense that drastically in a week, but McDonald cannot execute in the pocket as well as Silvers. Houston ran the ball 25 times for 136 yards (5.44 YPC) but only threw for 106 yards on 32 attempts.

Too much was asked of the defense. McCarron is the most accomplished quarterback in the XFL, and he is also the most accurate quarterback in the league. This was going to be a tough matchup for the defense no matter what, but especially so without Ward. Despite that, the defense gave its best, forced multiple turnovers, and generated a defensive score via a 35-yard fumble return by cornerback Will Likely. A basic, competent offensive performance would have netted a victory for Houston. The defensive backs struggled against St. Louis’ much taller receivers, aided by the fact McCarron often had time to find his best options. The Battlehawks run a methodical offense, they don’t throw the ball deep downfield. They look for short to intermediate routes to get their receivers the ball in space for yards after the catch. It was a respectable performance but not enough to overcome the offense’s shortcomings. McCarron torched the Roughnecks, going 26-for-34 for 222 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover.

Defensive back Sean Davis was injured during the game. Davis, who has already missed a game this year due to injury, left the game in the second half because of a hamstring injury. Few injuries are more troublesome than hamstrings, especially for defensive backs. Davis’ absence stresses the defense further, as the full starting unit is very strong, but the reserve units represent a downgrade. We will have more updates on his status as they are available.

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