Feb 26, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Roughnecks quarterback Brandon Silvers (12) drops back to pass against the Arlington Renegades in the first quarter at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
These were the five things that stood out the most from the Roughnecks’ 21-14 setback against the Seattle Sea Dragons:
The Roughnecks struggled to meet the energy and physicality of the Sea Dragons. It was evident from the first snap, and it really never improved. The Sea Dragons seemed to play faster and more physical than Houston. Seattle had the bigger, harder hits. Seattle made the bigger plays. The Sea Dragons dominated the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball and controlled the line of scrimmage on offense. Seattle swarmed Houston receivers all night as if they knew the routes, jumping routes and beating receivers to the ball. While the defense found some juice in the second half, the offense could never get out of second gear.
Houston’s defense really missed Trent Harris. Harris is the XFL’s leading pass rusher, tops in the league in quarterback sacks (6) and tackles for loss (8). He was an unexpected inactive in this game, as the Roughnecks’ injury report only listed that they didn’t practice, and no players were listed as injured. No reason was given for Harris being inactive, but his absence was significant. Seattle held the Roughnecks’ pass rush in check most of the night, as there was no need to worry about doubling Harris. Harris commands double-teams on every snap, which frees up teammates like Tim Ward, John Daka, and Emmanuel Ellerbe. Houston failed to generate consistent pressure on Sea Dragons quarterback Ben DiNucci as a result, until the Sea Dragons left tackle was injured in the fourth quarter and had to be replaced with a guard.
Ben DiNucci’s mobility proved to be a significant issue for Houston’s defense. Head Coach Wade Phillips said during a third quarter that Houston was not that concerned about DiNucci’s scrambling ability coming into the game. DiNucci burned the Roughnecks with a 20-yard scramble for the game’s first touchdown. From that point on, Houston defenders were hesitant to get after DiNucci in the pocket. That hesitation allowed DiNucci more time to look downfield to throw, and that added time led to clutch completions. It was the first time the Roughnecks’ pass rush played on their heels this season, and they seemed unprepared for how to handle a mobile quarterback. Houston only managed two sacks on the night, both after Seattle lost their left tackle late in the game.
Brandon Silvers’ arm couldn’t beat tight press coverage. Silvers is an intelligent quarterback, but he simply lacks a big arm. Seattle played very tight, physical man-to-man defense. While there were several occasions the Sea Dragons should have been called for pass interference, the officials allowed both defenses to play physically all night. Silvers’ arm just wasn’t strong enough to beat the coverage and get throws into tight windows. Silvers’ lack of arm strength has always limited the offense, but it was exposed badly in this game. He also missed receivers when they were open down the field and threw far too many checkdowns to heavily covered short receivers who had no chance to get yards after the catch, as evidenced by the high completion number and very low yardage total. Silvers finished 25-for-47 for 227 yards, an interception, and a lost fumble.
Seattle losing their left tackle in the fourth quarter made a big difference. At that point, they really couldn’t protect DiNucci at all and couldn’t open holes on that side of the line in the run game. Houston was suddenly able to generate serious pressure at that point, and it led to two turnovers. Even keeping a running back in to help the new left tackle (who usually played guard) couldn’t slow down the Roughnecks’ rush late. This gave the Roughnecks late life in the game to make a comeback, although the offense couldn’t capitalize.