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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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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