Roughnecks 32, Dragons 23

Roughnecks vs Dragons: Good, bad and ugly

Saturday's game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Seattle Dragons had everything you could have hoped for in an XFL game. It was close from start to finish and the Roughnecks ralied to defeat the Dragons in the fourth quarter. The Roughnecks' high-powered offense may have stalled coming out of the gate, but they stepped up when it mattered the most.

The Good

Welcome back Cam Phillips. After being held scoreless last week in Arlington, the star XFL receiver caught not one, but two touchdown passes Saturday afternoon. He still leads the league in touchdown receptions with nine total TD's. He had the catch of the game too when P.J. Walker threw him a 48-yard deep ball to set up a James Butler touchdown. He is just as important to this team as is Walker, and the two still make up the best dynamic duo in the XFL.

If Walker and Phillips are the top two players on the team, then James Butler is the 3rd best player right behind them. Butler has been a solid running back for the Roughnecks, and Saturday was one of his better performances of the season. Through the first 28 minutes of the game, Butler was only given one carry. But after halftime, Butler was much more efficient and was able to help the Roughnecks offense keep pace with the Dragons. He scored two touchdowns and was able to run all over the Dragons defense after halftime. His leaps into the stands after his touchdowns were legendary, and could possibly start a new scoring celebration trend in Houston, similar to the "Lambeau Leap".

After five weeks, the Roughnecks might have finally found their number two receiver. When Sammie Coates signed in the offseason, it was implied that he was supposed to be one of the top receivers on the team. He has been inconsistent this season and is now dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, limiting him even further. Enter Sam Mobley. He had his best game of the season with six receptions for 95 yards including a 42-yard bomb from Walker that set up the teams tying score to end the first half. Mobley has seen more balls thrown his way as the season has progressed, and looks to be Walker's second favorite receiver behind Cam Phillips. If he continues to play this way, he could surely be the number two receiver on this high-powered Roughnecks' offense.

This week, i'll add an extra point in the "good" category, for Houston's fans showed up to support their new favorite team. The total attendance at TDECU Stadium for Saturday's game was 19,733, a new record for a Roughnecks home game. The Roughnecks currently rank 3rd in total attendance behind only St. Louis and Seattle this inaugural season. The rise in attendance shows that fan support is apparent and the city of Houston can support a second football team.

The Bad

If the mighty Roughnecks have an Achilles' heel, it would be their linebacking core. To put it nicely, the defense was soft to start the game. B.J. Daniels and the Dragons were able to run the ball with ease. Running Back Trey Williams was a key factor for the Dragon's offense and was able to run all day on the Roughnecks defense. The Dragons implemented short screens that killed the linebackers and lead to incremental gains throughout the first half. Running plays and screens seemed to test the Roughnecks' zone coverage for the 3rd week in a row. Luckily, the Roughnecks' offense was able to keep pace and outscore the Dragons in the second half.

Walker was good not great for the Roughnecks Saturday. Although he wasn't "bad" by other XFL quarter back standards, he had his worst statistical performance of the season. He threw two interceptions and had one fumble. He wasn't awful though, for he was still able to throw for 351 yards and lead the Roughnecks to a comeback victory. These turnovers shouldn't affect his MVP case, for he is still one of if not the best quarterback in the XFL.

The offense was slow out of the gate. The Roughnecks were a no-show on offense through the first quarter and most of the second quarter. Seattle's defense was playing a tight man coverage to stop the Roughnecks opening drive. When the Roughnecks got the ball back, the Seattle defense forced a strip fumble on Walker which set up their first touchdown of the game. Seattle's defense was defending well against the pass heavy Run N Shot Roughnecks' offense to start the game as well. Their secondary played a two deep safety coverage that initially limited the Roughnecks offense. They were able to overcome this tight defense when Walker threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Nick Holley. The Roughnecks' passing game opened up and they saw little to no trouble moving the ball down the field after this initial score.

The Ugly

Although the Roughnecks won this game, there was a controversial play at the end of the 4th quarter. On 4th down and with four seconds left in the game, Walker took a knee on his own 21-yard line. By XFL rules this should have stopped the clock and given the ball back to the Dragons. However, the refs left the field with two seconds left. Officiating supervisor Wes Booker said on the broadcast the the call was botched but there wasn't much that could have been done as the game concluded and both teams left the field. Had the refs given the dragons the ball with two seconds left they possibly could have scored and tied the game with a 3-point conversion. The league released a statement that sated "The game should not have ended the way it did…" and that the "XFL sincerely regrets this error."

DeMarquis Gates was ejected after a game saving fumble recovery. Gates had the defensive play of the game when Seattle Quarterback B.J. Daniels was tackled and fumbled the ball. Gates recovered the ball, but was caught punching a player in the pile during the fumble recovery by the refs. This caused Gates to be ejected, but not before he signed a few autographs and was interviewed on his way out. Interviewing a player after he gets ejected is the most XFL thing and it's awesome.

The Roughnecks look to remain undefeated as they travel to New York to take on the Guardians who are riding a three game win streak. Both teams are coming off an impressive victories and this could be a preview of the XFL championship game.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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