CODY STOOTS

Texans player of the game: Cunningham makes impact all over the field

Zach Cunningham scored a touchdown. Bob Levey/Getty images

As the Texans defense continues to get healthy, Zach Cunningham's contribution is clear each week. This week he set the tone early and helped the Texans extend their first-half lead over the Cleveland Browns on their way to their ninth straight win. 

Cunningham in coverage was active, nearly intercepting a pass from Baker Mayfield on the first drive for the Browns. In the second quarter, with the Texans leading by 10, Cunningham got his hands on a Mayfield pass again. This time though he didn't let it hit the ground. Rumbling back 37 yards, and running over teammate Benardrick McKinney in the process, Cunningham dove and extended for a touchdown. Though he was ruled out at the one, the replay review saw he stayed in for the score. 

"It was more of an instinctual play that I felt," Cunningham said. "Getting back on the ball, obviously made an amazing catch, great catch, so it definitely felt pretty good. It was my first pick, first touchdown in the NFL. Definitely felt great for me."

Cunningham joked he knew it was a touchdown and celebrated but had to wait for the official call. He said he knew he was scoring. 

"That means a lot," said DeAndre Hopkins of the Cunningham score. "We know we can go out there and depend on those guys to get the ball. That's championship football."

"The guy made a great play," said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on the Cunningham score.

Cunningham was a leader for the defense who slowed down a hot Cleveland rushing attack. Nick Chubb entered the game trailing only Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot for yards over the past four weeks. The game-flow didn't lend itself to rushing a ton as Cleveland trailed big after Cunningham's big play but the defense kept the Browns from getting comfortable. Cleveland managed just 31 rushing yards. 

With a healthy Cunningham, the Texans have one of the most stout rushing defenses in football. Cunningham adds a great element in coverage as well and the defense seems to operate a little smoother with him in there. With injuries to backups in the game, Brennan Scarlett went down with a leg injury, Cunningham is healthy at the right time. 

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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