Roughnecks 28, BattleHawks 24

5 thoughts from the Roughnecks'  thrilling win over the BattleHawks

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Sunday night's game between the Houston Roughnecks and the St. Louis BattleHawks was a thriller to say the least. The BattleHawks rallied late and almost mounted a comeback, but it was too little too late. Houston relied on its high-powered offense and some timely defense to remain undefeated. There were many positive and only a few negative takeaways from the Roughnecks' 28-24 victory.

1) P.J. Walker is a legit Star

Walker had his second great start at quarterback for the Roughnecks and could be on his way to earning some MVP consideration. He looks calm, cool and collected under pressure, and his game is starting to mirror that of Deshaun Watson's. On multiple instances, Walker would elude tackles and extend plays using his legs. Walker's first touchdown pass was a side-armed throw to a tightly covered Cam Philips that was similar to something you would see high caliber NFL quarterbacks do. If he continues to play this way, the Roughnecks' offense will be hard to stop the rest of the season.

2) Cam Phillips has become the number one receiver

If P.J. Walker is the face of the team, Cam Phillips has become the second star that's starting to shine bright. He had three touchdown catches and led the team in receiving yards for the second week in a row. Phillips now leads the XFL in touchdown receptions. Walker and Phillips have developed a Batman and Robin like tandem that is shredding defenses week after week.

3) More star players are starting to emerge for the Roughnecks

To start the season, the most notable name in the entire Roughnecks' organization was Coach June Jones. That's all starting to change now. Besides the aforementioned Walker and Phillips duo, more Roughnecks' players are starting to get praise from their fans and the media. Running Back James Butler has become the go-to running back for the Roughnecks and is playing a great supporting role in Jones' Run N Shoot offense. On defense both Cornerbacks Cody Brown and Jeremiah Johnson nearly had touchdown returns after their interceptions and have shown they can be lockdown cornerbacks when needed. Another emerging defensive star is Linebacker DeMarcus Gates, who has become one of the best tacklers on the team in my opinion. Winning draws fans, and the more you win the more people will watch. I'm not saying these players will start appearing in car commercials, but soon more player's names will become recognizable as the season progresses.

4) The Run N' Shoot is weak against the blitz

The BattleHawks went in to halftime needing to make key adjustments on defense. They did just that for the 3rd quarter and the majority of the 4th quarter as well. The Roughnecks only had one offensive possesion in the 3rd quarter which was a quick three-and-out. They didn't score after halftime until nine minutes left in the 4th quarter to go up 28-18. Their offense started struggling once the BattleHawks started blitzing. The O-line did their part and played well, but in a typical Run N' Shoot style offense, there isn't a tight end or a blocking running back in most plays. This made it easier for St. Louis' defense to get Walker under pressure and force him to try and escape the pocket multiple times. Adjustments made by Coach Jones,Walker and the Roughnecks were able to counter this strategy and win the game. Walker was able to elude the rushers multiple times and extend plays with his legs forcing the BattleHawks to stop blitzing after the Roughnecks scored their final touchdown. I tried to have one negative takeaway, but I would be nitpicking. The offense's lone weakness seems to be blitzing defenses. If that's their only weakness, they surely have one of if not the best offenses in the league.

5) The XFL in Houston works

Nearly 1,000 less people showed up to the second Roughnecks' game of the season, but that didn't seem to matter to the fans who did show up. TDECU Stadium once again had a lound party like atmosphere, and the Roughnecks still outdrew the Defenders and the Wildcats this weekend. Houston fans love them some XFL football. So much so that XFL Commissioner & CEO Oliver Luck announced that TDECU Stadium would host the inaugural championship game. As previously mentioned, if you keep winning fans show up, and it looks as though the Roughnecks are starting to from their own niche in the busy sports scene that is Houston.

The Roughnecks look to remain undefeated as they play their first road game of the season against the winless Tampa Bay Vipers. The early odds show the Roughnecks as a big favorite against the worst team in the league, but could also be a potential trap game if they are not careful.

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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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