Dallas Loses the Texas Throwdown: What’s Next?

Dallas Renegades QB Landry Jones left Week 4 with a knee injury. (Credit: XFL.com)

The scene at Globe Life Park was unlike anything XFL fans has seen this season. It was an electric feel where you can sense the rivalry between the Dallas Renegades and the Houston Roughnecks growing. Dallas became the first XFL team to have an increase in attendance from game one to game two. Fans were ready to see the new Texas rivalry born and it did not disappoint.

The contest saw Landry Jones throw three interceptions in each of the first three drives of the game. Somehow though, the Dallas defense held Houston to 6-0 after the first quarter. Jones would bounce back and keep Dallas in the game as they came from a 15-0 second deficit to only being down 15-11 at halftime.

The most impressive part of the game was how the Dallas defense was able to make Houston quarterback PJ Walker look human. They held him to a season low 61 percent completion percentage and picked him off once. Star receiver Cam Phillips also felt the wreath of the Dallas defense as he was held to a season low one catch and nine yards. Defense was never the issue for the team during the game. That defaults to the offense.

Turnovers continue to be the thorn on the Renegades’ back. Five turnovers throughout the game was a combination of bad throws by Landry Jones and drops by Jazz Ferguson and Flynn Nagel. The running game got off to a great start in the first half, but lacked in the second half due to the amount of passing they turned to. On the last drive for Dallas’ offense, the season-altering event occurred for the team.

Landry Jones took an awkward hit on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter as he injured his knee. Jones left the game and didn’t return as he was seen hugging coach Bob Stoops on the sidelines and at the end of the game was on crutches. Philip Nelson stepped in and got the team down to the Houston three where Nagel dropped a pass that was picked off by Houston to end the game with a 27-20 loss.

Where does the team go from there?

Dallas enters week five at 2-2, but still in second place in the West Division. That’s the good news for the team. The bad news is Dallas might be without their starting quarterback most of the season if not the rest of the season. The rumor is he injured his MCL which could mean he’s out for four to six weeks. That means the keys to the offense most likely goes to Philip Nelson for the rest of the season. He looked more efficient on the final drive of the game versus Houston than he did in the first game against St. Louis. Nelson has earned the right to lead the offense and could be the solution to their turnover problems.

Hal Humme also suffered a broken leg in the game and will be forced to call plays from the booth for the foreseeable future. His play calling might change where we see more running by Lance Dunbar and Cameron Artis-Payne. The offensive line has proven to be able to run block effective even with both left guards getting hurt. Pass blocking was great as well protecting the quarterbacks by only allowing one sack in the game.

The team will need more production from their receivers though. Outside of Flynn Negal and Jeff Badet, the receivers have been inconsistent. Tight end Donald Parham has been their best pass catcher all season long as he had made multiple great plays in the passing game. Players like Jazz Ferguson and Freddie Martino will need to step up to make plays for Nelson.

Defense has been the strength of the team as they have been stellar all season. A unit that can contain quarterbacks like Jordan Ta’amu and PJ Walker to their lowest stat lines of the season. Josh Hawkins and Derron Smith have made the secondary one of the best in the league. Linebackers like Greer Martini, Asantay Brown, and Tegray Scales have played a huge role in stopping the run and back in pass coverage. Gerald Rivers came in and made some nice plays as well. Not to mention veteran defensive lineman Frank Alexander was able to create some tipped passes to shutdown Walker on Sunday.

This is a Dallas team that still has plenty of talent on offense and defense. Their success and failure will depend on the performance of Philip Nelson and how well he can protect the ball. If the team continues to grow their running game and be effective with their short pass/screen plays, this is a team that could have no problem making a run for the playoffs.

Fast Start: How Dallas Beats Houston

Dallas Renegades Tight End Donald Parham (Credit: XFL.com)

The last time Dallas Renegade fans saw their team at Globe Life Park, the offense didn’t have Landry Jones at quarterback, the team struggled to put a touchdown drive, and the defense allowed almost 200 yards rushing. Things hopefully will go differently as they take on the only undefeated team in the XFL, the Houston Roughnecks.

Dallas’ defense will have the unfortunate task to containing Houston’s star quarterback PJ Walker. Walker’s playmaking ability is similar to the skill sets that St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu displayed against Dallas’ defense in week one. Houston receiver Cam Phillips provides matchup nightmares for the Dallas secondary. The Dallas defense will have to focus on running back James Butler who can make an impact running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. With the high powered offense coming into Arlington on Sunday, how can Dallas defend their turf? Simple, get off to a fast start.

Dallas’ biggest flaw is their lack of fast starts to games. They have not scored more than six points in the first half in any of their first three games. Landry Jones has played a role in their slow starts as he has thrown two interceptions in his first two starts. Their running game led by Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar have not typically found their stride until about the fourth quarter. Defensively, the unit has always kept their offense in the game, but the offense hasn’t always been there to finish the job. Why is a slow start a problem? Because Houston is the complete opposite.

The Roughnecks are well known in the first three weeks to come out firing in the first half. A lot of that has to do with the big play ability that Walker and company can deliver. They’ve had all their three games produce multiple 20 plus yard touchdowns. Most of the damage has been done by Walker and Phillips. Walker’s ability to use his legs to get out of trouble and throw on the run makes him the best quarterbacks in the XFL.

Dallas will need to respond to that by getting off to a fast start and utilize their Air Raid offense to create explosive plays. The team has receivers that are fast enough to burn any corner in the league. Tight end Donald Parham has already proven to be a deep threat for Jones as he caught a pass last week against Seattle that went for over 60 yards for a touchdown. Those are the type of plays Dallas needs. The issue has come up with Jones not being as accurate with his deep ball passes through the last two weeks. Offensive coordinator Hal Mumme has to come out of the gates with his play calling. He must call deep passes early to get Jones going and even if it ends with no catch, at least try to force the pass interference penalty to gain a chunk of yards.

The Renegades shouldn’t forget their running backs though. Both Artis-Payne and Dunbar have been used a lot in the passing game on short passes and screen passes for the most part. Opening up the running game with them though could go a long way. Their running game usually doesn’t pick up steam until late in the third quarter or fourth quarter. They need it to open up early and often. It’s tough since the identity of this offense is usually passing the ball, but they have the running backs to have one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Mumme needs to take advantage of the talented running backs and run the ball.

Field goals are nice for the team to have, but if the Renegades are unable to score touchdowns in the first two quarters against Houston, it could end up being a long day for the team.

Houston Roughnecks Survive in Tampa Bay

Houston QB PJ Walker led the Roughnecks to a win over the Vipers. (Credit XFL.com)

In a close game, the Houston Roughnecks escaped Tampa Bay with a 34-27 win over the Vipers in what was not only a competitive game, but an exciting one that came down to the wire. The Roughnecks came in with a perfect record of 2-0, and they left with a perfect record of 3-0, but it was not easy. They played a desperate Tampa Bay team that was looking for its first win of the season, and the Vipers showed a fight and heart that their hometown fans desperately wanted from them all season.

Once again this week, it was the PJ Walker/Cam Phillips show. The duo connected on three touchdowns for the second week in a row, and they further cemented the fact that they are without a doubt, the most unstoppable force in the XFL. PJ Walker was outstanding with 306 yards through the air, 34 yards on the ground, 3 touchdowns through the air, and one crazy touchdown run that came on a fumbled snap. His pocket presence remains excellent and he still does an excellent job of keeping his eyes down field. That was displayed beautifully on Walker and Phillips’ 84-yard touchdown connection, in which Walker escaped the pocket, got crushed by two defenders, and threw a perfect pass to Phillips, who then turned on the gas and did the rest. Their chemistry is what has separated the Roughnecks offense from the rest of the league, and I don’t see any defense in the XFL that can slow them down.

But it wasn’t just the passing game this week. Oh no. The Roughnecks ran the ball very effectively. James Butler was excellent, with 72 yards on just 7 attempts, and he pulled off some big time runs, especially late in the game. PJ Walker also added to the running game with some timely runs, for a very balanced offense this week. Look, we all know, the Roughnecks bread and butter is the “Run and Shoot” high flying passing game. But, if June Jones can find success with the running game as well, this offense will be impossible to stop.

But, we have to talk about the most worrying part of the team. The defense. As I have said every week, this defense is good enough to win a Championship, because the offense is going to score a lot of points. However, good enough does not mean great. Because a great defense, they are not. They are opportunistic, which once again helped with Gates sealing the win with a interception in the closing minute. But just like the Wildcats and Battlehawks before them, the Vipers were able to move the ball regularly against this defense, and it might become a problem as the season progresses. Again, because this offense is so great, it’s not that big of a problem, but once you get into the playoffs, and play the elite of the elite, it might be the thing that breaks this Roughnecks team. They can get to the quarterback, that’s for sure, but if they don’t, they can be exposed. Hopefully, they can clean that up as they continue the season, because it’s the only thing that is potentially holding them back.

All in all, the Roughnecks are likely the best team in the XFL, and until somebody shows that they can slow down PJ Walker and Cam Phillips, fans should take the Roughnecks against anybody. Houston, you are still undefeated.