PREVIEW: Houston Roughnecks at Arlington Renegades

Apr 2, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks quarterback Cole McDonald (14) pass is deflected by St. Louis Battlehawks linebacker Carson Wells (53) in the fourth quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Houston Roughnecks at Arlington Renegades

The Matchup:

Houston Roughnecks (6-3) at Arlington Renegades (4-5)

Game Time: Sunday, April 23, 2 p.m. CT


What’s at stake: For the Roughnecks, essentially nothing. They’ve already clinched the XFL South and a first-round home playoff game. The only thing Houston needs to do is stay healthy. However, with a high probability that the Renegades will be their playoff opponent next week, sending a strong message this week wouldn’t be a bad idea.

For the Renegades, they will know Saturday afternoon if their season is on the line or not. If the San Antonio Brahmas beats the D.C. Defenders Saturday afternoon, the Renegades must win to get in. If the Brahmas lose, Arlington will have already clinched the two seed in the South, and their only need will be to stay healthy for a winner-take-all matchup in Houston on April 30 in the divisional playoff round.

When the Roughnecks have the ball: There is a good possibility the Roughnecks starters spend a lot of time on the sidelines in this game, as it means nothing to them. Brandon Silvers has been playing through an arm injury, and an extra week off wouldn’t be a bad idea. That could lead to Cole McDonald getting a lot of playing time. If McDonald starts, look for the Roughnecks to keep the ball on the ground much more than usual.

Max Borghi has also dealt with his share of bumps and bruises and could also see limited action. With Dejoun Lee already declared out this week, Brycen Alleyne could see the lion’s share of the carries.

The Roughnecks do an excellent job of spreading the ball around in the passing game, but Deontay Burnett and Justin Smith are players who can get behind the defense and create big plays.

When the Renegades have the ball: All of this could be moot if the Renegades have clinched a playoff berth before the game starts, but if the Brahmas win Saturday, the Renegades will find themselves with their season on the line.

Their passing offense has been abysmal all season, with only five passing touchdowns. They hope their late-season addition of quarterback Luis Perez will be a difference maker. Perez, acquired March 28 via trade from the Vegas Vipers, was 31-for-41 for 335 yards last week against the league-leading Defenders.

Leading rusher De’Veon Smith did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but was a limited participant Friday and earned a “probable” tag for Sunday. He is fourth in the XFL in rushing with 365 yards and tied for first in rushing touchdowns with seven.

Tight end Sal Cannella is the team’s leading receiver with 374 yards. No other receiver is within 100 yards of his total on the Renegades.

Key Roughnecks to Watch:

LB Trent Harris: He is the league’s leading sack artist with 8.5 sacks in eight games this season. He regularly draws double teams. The Roughnecks’ pass rush, which is the best in the league with an XFL-high 33 sacks, will be short-handed, but that will not stop Head Coach Wade Phillips from sending the dogs.

LB John Daka: The Roughnecks could be down two linebackers this week as both pass rush specialist Tim Ward (questionable/shoulder) could miss this week’s game, and field general Emmanuel Ellerbe has already been declared out with a shoulder injury. Daka has shown flashes where he’s gotten to the quarterback and been a disruptive force. He may be in line for more snaps than usual this week.

RB Brycen Alleyne: Houston’s backup rusher finally got into the end zone in Week 9, courtesy of an impressive flip over the goal line. However, with this game meaning nothing for Houston, starting RB Max Borghi could find himself getting some downtime in this game, so Alleyne could be the beneficiary of some extra carries and opportunities. He has played very well when given the chance thus far this season, averaging 4.5 YPC.

QB Cole McDonald: Presuming starting quarterback Brandon Silvers either sits or plays little in what is a meaningless game for the Roughnecks, McDonald could find himself in the starting spot or at least getting the majority of the reps. He needs to regain his own confidence and instill it in his teammates and coaches following his last start, which was disastrous. It would help if the play calling went more RPO-heavy with him in the lineup, as he cannot execute the offense the same way Silvers can. However, McDonald can still be an effective player if managed correctly.

The Bottom Line: We will know before kickoff whether this game will be meaningless for just one team (Houston) or for both teams, depending on whether San Antonio scores an upset win on Saturday.

With a Brahmas win, the Renegades would have to win to get in, a loss would send them home for the season. With a Brahmas loss, the Renegades will clinch the two seed in the XFL South and face Houston in the divisional playoff round April 30 at TDECU Stadium.

So either the Renegades will fight for their playoff lives, or this will be a big exhibition game one week before the playoffs start.

If it winds up being a meaningless game for both teams, expect that they will both run the ball early and often to run the clock and get out of that game as fast as possible while hoping for no injuries.

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