Roughnecks 37, Wildcats 17

Roughnecks vs Wildcats: Good, bad and ugly

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The Houston Roughnecks kicked off their inaugural season with an impressive victory over the Los Angeles Wildcats in front of nearly 18,000 spectators at TDECU Stadium. The game had a party like atmosphere as the city of Houston welcomed its newest professional sports team to town. There was a lot of scoring, big hits, and even a little defense for the first ever XFL game in Houston.

The Good

- The Roughnecks didn't waste any time getting on the board to start the game. It took only three plays for Quarterback P.J. Walker to find an open Cam Phillips for a 50- yard touchdown. Walker was by far the standout player of the game. He finished his Roughnecks debut with 272 yards passing and 4 touchdown passes on 23-for39 passing attempts. He was named the starter over former Raiders Quarterback and 4th round pick Conner Cook on Thursday, and it looks as though June Jones and his coaching staff made the right call. Walker worked well under constant pressure and was able to throw the ball deep down the field on multiple occasions. Walker looked as though he had a little bit of Deshaun Watson in him by eluding would be tacklers and even flashing the H-town sign after picking up a first down.

- It was a back and forth game offensively between both the Roughnecks and the Wildcats with neither team playing particularly well on defense. That is until the second half started, for Houston's defense didn't allow the Wildcats to score at all after halftime. The Roughnecks did a great job getting after both L.A. quarterbacks with 16 QB hits and 5 sacks as a team. In a league that predicates itself as a high octane offensive league, it's good to know that the Roughnecks have a defense that can step up when needed. The defense had two key turnovers in the second half that killed all momentum for the Wildcats. One was an interception by Deatrick Nichols with 12 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter, and the other was fumble and recovery by DeMarquis Gates. This essentially sealed the game for the Roughnecks.

- June Jones is back in Texas and looks as if he never lost his offensive touch. Jones coached at the University of Hawaii and SMU before taking his coaching talents to the CFL to coach the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. This season, he left his position with Hamilton to become the head coach for the Roughnecks. Everywhere he has gone, he has instilled an offensive game plan known as the Run N Shoot, now known as an up tempo offensive spread. Walker and the Roughneck's offense ran this scheme amazingly. With Jones at the helm and Walker as the go-to quarterback, who knows how good this offense can be going forward.

The Bad

- The Roughnecks' running backs combined for only 12 rushing attempts and 50 yards rushing for the entire game. Although one of those attempts was a touchdown to James Butler for a 4 yard score, the offense was too heavily reliant on passing plays to keep the ball moving. It may have worked this time, but Jones should implement his running backs more going forward. Butler performed admirably in his limited offensive role and given some time, Butler could be the next breakout star for this Roughnecks' offense.

- Speaking of potential breakout stars, Sammy Coates didn't have that good of a game to start the season. The former Houston Texan came into training camp as the number one receiver and was essentially shut down by the Wildcats' secondary. He finished the game with only 2 catches on 9 attempts for only 26 yards. He was heavily covered on almost every play which led to other receivers such as Lewis Kahlil, Cam Phillips and Sam Mobley to get the lion's share of catches for the game. As pedestrian as his performance was, this game should be an outlier for Coates instead of the norm for the young talented receiver. Coates will have more opportunities to show he is a number one receiver as the season progresses.

- There wasn't much else that could fit in the "bad" category for the Roughnecks. Sure the defense was mediocre until halftime but I would just be nitpicking if I said that. Instead I'll use the final bad point to talk about the Wildcats' coaching errors. Los Angeles looked great going into halftime. They were answering everything the Roughnecks threw at them and were down only 17-18 just before the end of the second quarter. All the Wildcats had to do was kick a 29-yard field goal to take the lead into halftime, but Head Coach Winston Moss' poor time management lead to the clock running out and the Wildcats never saw a lead again. This was a huge missed opportunity that could have given the Wildcats momentum going into halftime.

The Ugly

- The PAT rules in the XFL are bizarre and may need some time to get accustomed to. Under XFL rules, teams don't kick extra points anymore. Instead they must try to score one, two or three points attempts from two, five, or ten yards out. The Roughnecks were 0-3 on PAT's in the first half but finished 2-5 on total point after attempts. Most likely, these points after attempts will improve as the season progresses and fans will get used to the idea of no more kicking attempts for points after touchdown scores.

- In what can only be described as unexpected, Wide Receiver Lewis Kahlil lined up near the Wildcats' red zone early in the game and the camera caught him losing his lunch on the field. This isn't the first time someone has gotten sick in the middle of the game and certainly will not be the last time. It was an ugly sight to see, but the Roughnecks' offense started playing well after this "fumble" if you will. Maybe it was a good luck charm for a Roughnecks victory.

- Those that didn't attend the game tuned to FOX to see the inaugural XFL game in Houston. After the Roughnecks scored their initial touchdown you could hear Veteran Sportscaster Curt Menefee, who was calling play-by-play for FOX, yell "Touchdown Renegades." Oops. The Renegades are the XFL team in Dallas. It's like if the Texans scored and the commentator yelled touchdown Cowboys! Yikes, a rough start for the Roughnecks already. All jokes aside, this blunder didn't take away from the television viewing experience Roughnecks' fans had watching their team crush the Wildcats.

With Week 1 in the books, the Roughnecks look ahead to the St. Louis BattleHawks Sunday February 16th as they look to remain undefeated. If they continue to play as well as they did Saturday night, the Roughnecks could be a potential favorite in every game going forward.

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All systems go for the Astros! Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

10 days ago I noted that the Astros had finished an amazingly lengthy schedule stretch that would have needed to harden up to become powderpuff soft.
I Tweeted this:

Well, seven wins against just two losses later, whip up is what they did. Sweeping four games from the Mets in which the Mets never led at any point? Not exactly payback for older Astros' fans who remember 1986, but sweet nevertheless. Taking three of five from the Yankees in all compelling games looked like a fabulous precursor to a highly possible third Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series matchup in six years.

Despite their present 48-27 mark the Astros are still seven games behind the Yankees and their crazy 56-21 ledger. The Yanks are absolutely catchable though. Not because the Astros are the flat out better team, nothing indicates that. It's the schedule. There are four losing teams behind the Astros in the AL West. Behind the Yankees in the AL East, three winning teams (Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays). Even the woebegone for years Orioles are much improved, with the best last place record in Major League Baseball (as a reference point, the Orioles record is 10 games better than AL West laughingstock Oakland). Over the coming dog days of summer the Yanks have the substantially higher intradivisional hurdles. The plot reeeeally thickens if the Astros sweep the doubleheader with the Yankees at Minute Maid Park slotted July 21 right out of the All-Star break. That's it for regular season matchups between them.

The Astros enter the weekend exactly as far ahead (seven games) of the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins as they are behind the Yanks. That's a very strong position for the Astros to secure a bye past the best-of-three Wild Card Series. Remember, with the newly expanded postseason format byes go to the top two division winners in each league.

Now for the Astros it's back to a marshmallow opponents parade. They have 16 games remaining before the All-Star break, all vs. losers: six with the Angels, six with the A's, four with the Royals. Let's reasonably posit that the Astros successfully take out the trash more regularly than they did in the 34 game stretch. 12-4 is certainly plausible. That would get the Astros to 60 wins at the break with a record of 60-31, which would be on pace for a season total of 106.8 wins. Let's round up. 107 wins is the franchise record they set in 2019.

This team is outstanding, but still can use an offensive upgrade. The lineup just had its best month of the season but that didn't take a whole lot. Alex Bregman has finally perked up some. Yuli Gurriel, not so much. Martin Maldonado, pretty much unperkable. Heed this James Click: more potent lineups than the 2022 Astros came up short in the World Series in both 2019 and 2021.

Barring a huge second half of the season, Gurriel should not be in the Astros' 2023 plans. I'd say the same for Maldonado but he is on course to have a five million dollar option next year become guaranteed. He's played in 54 games this season, the option vests at 90. Ideally he's a backup. At the risk of some charging heresy, Maldonado's defensive imperativity (is that a word?) is overblown. Pitch-framing metrics do not rate him highly. He does not eliminate opposition running games. One, very few teams run much at all. Two, Maldonado has thrown out 26 percent of would be basestealers this season. Jason Castro has thrown out 25 percent. The big one last. With Maldonado behind the plate this season, Astros' pitchers' earned run average is 3.23. With Castro, 2.37. Would that hold up for Castro if he was the primary catcher? No chance. But sample size issues accepted, that Maldonado's defensive savant-ness renders his offensive ineptitude inconsequential? Nah. Certainly not in a lineup not up to recent past Astro teams.

Two weeks ago, this column covered Yordan Alvarez's chance at the greatest individual offensive month in Astros' history. Yordan's June ended with his scary collision with Jeremy Peña that knocked both out of Wednesday's matinée at the Mets and kept both out of Thursday's win over the Yankees. That was a harrowing smash as opposed to the delightful smashes that Alvarez busted out all over June. He finished batting .418 with an OPS of 1.346. Real and spectacular, but not quite ultimately as awesome as Jeff Bagwell's June or July 1994, or Richard Hidalgo's closing month of the 2000 season.

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