Feb 8, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; View of the field at TDECU Stadium before a XFL football game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Los Angeles Wildcats. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
These were the five, make that six things that stood out the most in the Roughnecks’ second straight loss, 37-26, to the D.C. Defenders.
The Roughnecks’ defense handled the league’s best rushing attack. The Defenders entered the week first in the XFL in rushing, with nearly double the rushing yards of the next closest team in the league. They are the only team that leans more on the run than the pass. I spoke with Roughnecks defensive tackle Glen Logan on ESPN 97.5 Houston on Monday, and he told me that the Houston defense specializes in stopping the run. He wasn’t lying. The defense was tremendous against the run, with multiple stuffs for no gain in short-yardage situations. This defense is championship-level, but the team may not be. The Defenders did not get a run over 10 yards until the fourth quarter when an undermanned and tired Roughnecks defense allowed a 30-yard run. Houston held D.C. to 116 yards on 30 carries, allowing only 3.9 yards per carry.
Brandon Silvers held the offense back for the second straight week. Unfortunately, Silvers was again not on top of his game. He threw for only 33 yards in the second quarter, and threw a crushing pick-six with 1:15 to go before halftime. He continues to misfire when targeting open receivers. He was also called for a bad intentional grounding call late in the first half after throwing at a defender’s feet while in the pocket. He threw behind receivers and missed a wide-open Deontay Burnett down the sideline for a big gain because he couldn’t keep the ball in bounds. Cole McDonald eventually replaced Silvers in the second half. Cole McDonald made Houston’s biggest play offensively, finding Deontay Burnett behind the defense for an 85-yard catch-and-run touchdown. McDonald also hit Ben Putman for 37 yards to the Defenders 1 to set up a Max Borghi touchdown run. Silvers finished 10-for-17 for 111 yards and an interception. McDonald was 8-for-11 for 194 yards and a touchdown.
The Roughnecks missed Sean Davis badly. Davis, the team’s top corner, was inactive for the game. Davis usually draws the assignment of covering the other team’s top wide receiver. That receiver for the Defenders is Lucky Jackson, and Jackson had a huge game. Jackson was able to find openings and get behind the defense. Without Davis on the field, Defenders quarterback Jordan Ta’amu had his best passing game of the season. Jackson finished with five receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown.
The Roughnecks suffered from a complete lack of composure. Houston set a season-high in penalties, and many were absolutely ridiculous. Defensive lineman Jack Heflin was flagged for 15 yards and ejected for delivering a deliberate and egregious low blow to a Defenders player after a play ended. Defensive back Ajene Harris was flagged 15 yards for squirting an official with a water bottle. Defensive back Tavante Beckett was flagged 15 yards for putting his hand in an official’s face. Houston was flagged 12 times for 102 yards.
Houston’s offensive line could not win at the point of attack. Defenders defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dialed up overloads and blitzes that the Roughnecks’ offensive line could not handle. Houston struggled to run the football because it could not open holes. Several times, Silvers had to get rid of a football before he wanted to because of pressure. The number of defenders on the line clogged up passing lanes for Silvers as well, impacting several throws. Houston managed just 72 yards on 19 carries (3.8 yards per carry), and the team’s leading rusher was backup quarterback Cole McDonald with six carries that led to 37 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
Do we have a quarterback controversy? After another subpar effort by Brandon Silvers, Cole McDonald came into the game and breathed life into the Roughnecks’ dormant offense. McDonald was effective with his arm and his feet, helping the Roughnecks get back into the game. With back-to-back losses in games Silvers has struggled badly in, could McDonald get the shot to start next week when the Roughnecks return home to face the St. Louis Battlehawks?