Roughnecks 34, Vipers 27

Roughnecks vs Vipers: Good, bad and ugly

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Saturday night's game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Tampa Bay Vipers had everything you could have hoped for in an XFL game. There was a lot of scoring, five lead changes throughout the game, and even June Jones complaining to the refs caught on tape. Sounds like the perfect XFL game. The Roughnecks were able to outlast the Vipers and remain undefeated to start the season. The winless Vipers put up a good fight, but they were ultimately no match for the Roughnecks' high-powered offense.

The Good

The running game is finally starting to come into fruition. James Butler had his best game as a Roughneck as he rushed for 72 yards and scored on a two-point conversion. The offense stalled to start the game, but midway through the second quarter, Butler had a 30 yard rushing gain which eventually set up a P.J. Walker touchdown run. Butler was able to ignite the offense and Tampa's defense had a hard time stoping him throughout the rest of the game.

For three straight weeks, P.J. Walker has been the best player on the Roughnecks. He continues to shine in the spotlight and looks to have some key improvising skills as well. On two occasions Walker was able to elude tackles for huge gains. One of which was a 35-yard scramble from his own end zone (which we will talk about later), and one was an 84-yard touchdown. Phillips was able to escape a blitz to find a wide open Cam Phillips who took it to the house. The duo of Walker and Phillips could be the best QB-receiver duo in the league.

Speaking of Phillips, last week's XFL's Star of the Week made a good case to reclaim that title Saturday. Phillips added three more touchdowns to bring his season total to eight which is still the most in the XFL. He is showing that he is a leader in the locker room as well. When Wide Receiver Kahlil Lewis was being interviewed, Phillips went by his side telling him they were going to win the game almost in a comforting way. A team with good chemistry can make it far in any league.

This week I'll add two additional points to the "Good" category, for the offense played that well. Throughout the game, Jones and his staff and players made constant adjustments to Jerry Glanville's blitz happy defense. Nothing works every time, all the time, but Walker, Butler, and the receivers used the blitz against the Vipers in an artful display of misdirection and speed. The Roughnecks have scored 99 points so far this season, the most in the XFL. If the three-headed monster of Walker, Butler, and Phillips continue to play this well, the June Jones offense will run and shoot their way to the championship. My last prop is to ESPN for sending A-List reporter Dianna Russini to cover the game from the sidelines. Her professionalism and personality were on full display when she spoke to the players and coaches adding much needed credibility to the broadcast team. Thank you ESPN.

The Bad

The defense continued to play soft in the middle. Adjustments made by Mark Trestman after the second quarter seemed to work, for the Vipers were able to run the ball with ease. They implemented short screens that killed the linebackers and led to incremental gains throughout the second half. Running plays and screens were very effective against the Roughnecks' zone coverage. Luckily, the Roughnecks' offense was able to keep pace and outscore the Vipers offense.

This season, officiating hasn't been a big issue in the XFL. For the most part the games have been called well, and there has not been any disastrous mistakes made by referees. That is until the blatant pass interference that wasn't called against Sammie Coates. In the 3rd quarter, Walker threw a deep ball to Coates in double coverage when Micah Hannemann "made a play on the ball" and ended up in the face of Coates. This disrupted his route and prevented him from making an attempt to catch the ball. It should have been a pass interference without question. This play was almost as bas as the Saints-Rams interference call. (Sorry Saints fans). Even though the Roughnecks still won the game, this was by far the worst call of the season and should be looked at by the league office. Even Coach Jones had something to say about the referee who didn't make the call.

The Ugly

One of the best things about the XFL is being able to hear what the coaches are saying during games to their players, to reporters, and in this instance, what they are saying to referees. Coach Jones referred to the ref as "freaking sorry ass" and stated that "For you not to see contact on that (play), I'm wondering what the hell you are doing in this league." I think the most surprising thing in all of this is that Jones used freaking instead of a different word. Stuff like this does add great entertainment value to watching an XFL game. This wasn't really ugly, but it was too entertaining not to put in this somewhere.

Nick Holly and Sammy Cotes were highly ineffective Saturday. Both players are seemingly being phased out of the offense after having great Week 1 stats. This is understandable as Phillips and Butler have become the focal points on offense for Walker to distrubute the ball. Going forward these two could see their amount of receptions diminish if they don't show signs of improvement as the season progresses.

P.J. Walker's 30+ yard scramble from his own 2-yard line came with a little bit of controversy. Walker was able to elude rushers and pick up a massive first down conversion. At the end if his run, he fell to the ground and got back up to spike the ball thinking he was down and the play was over. No Vipers' player touched him so when he spiked the ball, Tampa played it as a fumble. A Vipers' defender picked up the ball and proceeded to run to the end zone. The officials stopped the game to review the call and determined Walker gave himself up, and that the play was dead. That was a close call, and could have been detrimental to the Roughnecks maintaining their undefeated season. Walker should be more careful when doing crazy things like this.

The Roughnecks look to remain undefeated as they travel to face their in-state rivals The Dallas Renegades. Both teams are coming off an impressive an impressive victory, and are looking forward to the fight for Lone Star supremacy on Sunday March 1st.

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Up 14-0 with 1:27 left in the first quarter, the Houston Texans stood 2nd and goal after recovering a muffed punt by Chiefs' wide receiver, Tyreek Hill. With a chance to capitalize on Kansas City's misfortune, Deshaun Watson connected with tight end Darren Fells to complete a four-yard touchdown pass.

It was Fells' eighth touchdown of the season, as the Texans took a 21-0 lead over the Chiefs. By the time Houston walked off the field at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs mounted a 51-31 comeback victory to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

"We let one get away," Fells told Houston SportsMap. "It was a lot of shock at the beginning, as we did not expect the game to go the way it did in the first quarter. The biggest thing was we lost focus too soon, and it is extremely tough to play against a team like Kansas City when you let them score too many points so fast. It is one of the most heartbreaking ways to end your season, but I know for sure we will be more hungry this upcoming year."

The Texans postseason elimination marked a bitter end to a career year for Fells. In 2019, he started 14 out of a possible 16 games played and finished the season with 34 receptions for 341 yards. With a career-high seven touchdowns, Fells set a franchise record for the most end-zone receptions by a tight end and finished the year ranked third in the league at his position.

For the first time since his departure from the Cardinals in 2017, the 33-year-old California native is entering a season with a sense of stability. Fells played for two different organizations (Lions and Browns) before he arrived in Houston during the spring of 2019. He exceeded expectations on a one-year contract, which led to the Texans' decision to retain his services on a two-year deal worth $7 million.

"It meant a lot to me and my family," he said. "We love Houston and the Texans. They were like a family to us, and being able to come back to our family in a sense is awesome. Talking with [Bill] O'Brien and how excited they are to have me back, it's just awesome being able to come back and have a home."

Under the stewardship of O'Brien, the former pro basketball player flourished during his first season in Houston. Unlike his previous two stops, the Texans game-plan to utilize Fells on the field allowed him to showcase his full potential as a versatile tight end, and one who could contribute beyond his blocking.

"The Texans wanted to use me differently than the other teams," Fells said. "Every other team I've been on I was a blocking tight end, and that was first and foremost. Houston felt I could help them out in different ways, and during OTAs and training camp, they saw me more as a complete tight end versus just a blocker. I always felt I had all the aspects of a tight end, and this was the first time a team wanted to utilize that part of my game."

The biggest beneficiary from Fells' game play was that of Watson. An on-field relationship based on trust, Fells provided Watson with a reliable target each week — most notably due to their connection in the red zone. On a Sunday afternoon inside NRG Stadium in Houston, the Watson to Fells tandem was on full display during the Texans' 27-24 victory against the then-Oakland Raiders.

Down by four midway through the fourth quarter, Watson threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Fells as the Texans took their first lead of the game. It was the second time the duo connected in the end zone, as two of Watson's three touchdown passes came from Fells — who ended the day with six catches for 58 yards on six targets.

Deshaun Watson's TD pass to Darren Fells media.giphy.com

"That play is the definition of who Deshaun Watson is," he said. "With his skill sets, he is one of those guys where the play is never over, and he can make things happen out of nothing. And his knowledge of the game is amazing as well. For him to get kicked in the eye and still manage to throw that touchdown pass — it shows what kind of player and person he is."

The chemistry and familiarity built with Fells is one Watson may rely heavily on to start the 2020 season. The Texans made some drastic changes to their roster this offseason, including parting ways with their All-Pro receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins delt to the Cardinals, the trade will reunite Fells with his former teammate — running back David Johnson (2014-2017).

"I am extremely excited to be back with my former Cardinal teammate [Johnson]," Fells said. "He's an extremely dynamic running back who can do a little bit of it all. If you look back at his highlights on what he has done in the past, when he is out there healthy and feeling good, he is an extremely dominant running back."

As Fells tries to build off the success of a career season, he is met with the same challenges and hurdles millions of Americans are facing in their day-to-day lives due to the on-going pandemic of COVID-19.

Residing in Arizona at the moment, the closing of gyms and facilities across the state has hindered Fells' capability to train for the upcoming season. While trying to prepare for the 2020 season, the uncertainties surrounding the NFL are far from his daily concerns as a husband and a father.

"My biggest worry right now isn't the season," Fells said. "My biggest concern right now is my family and making sure everyone is okay. If the season is cut in half by any chance, I know my teammates and I will make the best of it."

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