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.

Roughnecks Outlast BattleHawks Sunday Night

Houston Roughnecks Cam Phillips celebrates a touchdown by jumping into the stands. (Credit: XFL.com)

In what was definitely the “Game of the Week” and arguably the “Game of the Year” thus far, in the battle between the Houston Roughnecks and the St. Louis BattleHawks, the Roughnecks out dueled the BattleHawks to remain perfect on the season. Only the Roughnecks and the Defenders remain undefeated this season at 2-0. But while DC had an easy time handling the New York Guardians with a 27-0 victory, Sunday night was a back and forth battle for all four quarters. The Roughnecks and BattleHawks proved last night that they are both contenders for the Championship, and they will both be a force to be reckoned with as the season progresses. It was a game with crazy plays, some that withstood, some that didn’t, and there was excitement throughout the game. So let’s break it down and analyze what happened.

First off, we have to talk about the best QB to WR duo in the league. PJ Walker and Cam Phillips were outstanding once again with 3 touchdowns for the dynamic duo through the air. Their chemistry seems to get better by the week, and I don’t see a team that can slow them down anytime soon. PJ Walker finished with 170 yards, on 20/31 passing, and 3 touchdowns, all of which went to his favorite target, Cam Phillips, who finished with 8 receptions for 63 yards and 3 touchdowns. These two have their timing down perfectly, and that was extremely evident when PJ channeled his inner Patrick Mahomes and threw a beautiful side arm pass that lead Phillips perfectly. They were in sync all night and that is only going to grow stronger the longer they play together. The XFL better be on alert, if they aren’t already, because this connection is the most lethal in the league.

As far as the rest of the offense goes, it was spectacular. Khalil Lewis and Nick Holley were excellent again in the passing game, and James Butler and PJ Walker contributed nicely on the ground. I thought June Jones called a nice balanced attack, while never forgetting what their identity is. They pretty much got what they wanted against a very good BattleHawks defense, and even when the plays broke down, they were able to make on the fly adjustments that were for positive yardage. Of course, it helps whenever you have PJ Walker under center. Much like Deshaun Watson, the play is never over when he has the ball in his hands. He avoided numerous sacks in this game, and still the most impressive thing is, he keeps his eyes down field to look to pass before he runs with the ball. De’Angelo Henderson was out this week, so expect when he gets back healthy to be utilized pretty heavily in both the running game and passing game.

But now, let’s talk about the most impressive thing for me for the second straight week, and that’s this Roughneck defense. Before the season started, I could have told you that this was going to be the best offense in the league. In fact, I think most people believed that. But the reason people were hesitant to buy into the Roughnecks as true title contenders, was because there were questions about their defense. Yes, they played well last week, but that was against Chad Kanoff, Los Angeles’ second string quarterback, and a Wildcat team that, well to put it nicely, has internal issues. So I wanted to see how this defense would do against one of the best offenses in the league, and they delivered. 2 takeaways, 3 sacks, and getting the open field tackles when they needed them most, helped seal a win against the BattleHawks. Now, in no way am I saying that this defense is elite by any means, but when you combine them with this offense, they play well enough to win you a Championship. They are very much a bend but don’t break opportunistic defense that hits hard and plays fast.

But, having said that, St. Louis was able to move the ball on them, and if it wasn’t for those takeaways, the BattleHawks might have won the game. So this team still has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball, and the middle of the field still seems to be their biggest weakness. If they can at least just limit teams in the red zone and hold them to field goals, this offense will score enough points to get the job done.

All in all, I loved what I saw from the Roughnecks in a gritty game against a good opponent, and I still believe, after this week, they are the favorites to win the West. But I think this team has bigger goals than just winning the West, and if they want to achieve those goals, the defense will still need to try and iron some things out. But the offense still looks as lethal as ever, and, at least for right now, nothing is stopping “The Firework Show”!

Week Two Preview: Roughnecks vs. BattleHawks

The Roughnecks are coming off a great home opener win with PJ Walker earning the very first Star of the Week honors for the XFL. (Credit XFL.com)

The first week of the XFL season is now in the record books and Week 2 is well underway and football fans have quickly and pleasantly discovered that the XFL is “for real.”  National television broadcast coverage,  combined with a compelling new league and a new brand of football have fans buzzing about the XFL.  From faster games to new rules (the kickoff and multiple conversion try rules stick out), many fans are starting to see the XFL as a league in their own right and not just another spring “minor” league for the NFL.

One of the interesting story lines this week is the matchup between the Run and Shoot offense of the Houston Roughnecks against the visiting St. Louis BattleHawks.  The back story behind the BattleHawks lies in their victory over the heavily favored Dallas Renegades last Sunday.  The BattleHawks were the only road team to earn a win last week, albeit they beat a Landry Jones-less Renegades team.  This does not negate their 15-9 victory over Dallas as they held the Renegades to only 1 of 10 on third down conversions and largely stymied the Dallas offense.

The Roughnecks are coming off a great home opener win with PJ Walker earning the very first Star of the Week honors for the XFL.  Walker clearly showed off the Run and Shoot mentality of head coach June Jones by going 23 for 29 on pass completions for 298 yards and 4 passing touchdowns.  The Roughnecks also showed off defensive prowess by leading the league Week 1 with a stingy rush defense.  This will be a critical part of the Roughnecks defensive plan this week as the BattleHawks heavily relied on a ground attack in the 15-9 win by carrying the ball 42 times for 191 yards including Matt Jones who carried 21 times for 85 yards and QB Jordan Ta’amu also carrying the ball 9 times for 77 yards as well.  However, Matt Jones is listed as questionable for tomorrow’s game and fellow BattleHawks RB Keith Ford has been listed as being out as well.  Houston is listed as a 7.5 point favorite and this week’s matchup should be another entertaining game as one undefeated team will suffer their first loss in this young XFL season.

Welcome to “The Firework Show” – Houston Roughnecks

Credit XFL.com

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, I present to you, the high flying, quick running, guns blazing, no way to control, best offense in the league, the Houston Roughnecks. Welcome to “The Firework Show”! Led by the ring leader, June Jones, and the kid PJ Walker. Cam Phillips, Sam Mobley, Sammie Coates, Nick Holley, James Butler, De’Angelo Henderson, Andre Williams, and the Houston Roughnecks are here to excite you, entertain you, and bring you the best the XFL has to offer. Sure, there are other teams out there, but none will bring you the excitement that the Roughnecks will.

When you watched that game on Saturday night, you were probably expecting Houston to put up points, and they were probably going to be throwing the ball all over the field. But what you weren’t expecting, was just how electric this offense was going to be. And it’s beyond just putting points on the board. It was exciting football! PJ Walker was out there evading defenders, escaping the pocket, but the key was, he didn’t just run down the field. No. He kept his eyes down field and placed some deep dimes into his receivers hands for 6. He looked like a magician, avoiding sack after sack, and making some beautiful throws downfield. None prettier than that perfect strike to Nick Holley in the middle of the field, near the endzone. He looked GOOD. But it wasn’t just him. His receivers were speeding past the defense, getting open, and making catches left and right. His running backs even got in on the passing game, and from that point, there was no stopping them.

June Jones’ “Run and Shoot” offense was always going to produce yards and points, but it’s the players that make it so much more exciting. PJ Walker is the most electric player on the field in the XFL, and his weapons at back and receiver are just as fun to watch. The thing is, this is just Week 1. PJ Walker was just announced the starter a couple of weeks ago. These players are going to gel more and more as the season progresses, and the sky is the limit. This team will be the one everyone has their eyes glued to, and it is going to be some beautiful football. “The Firework Show” has arrived.

PJ Walker OFFICIALLY named the starting QB for the Houston Roughnecks

Houston Roughnecks QB P.J. Walker (11) takes a snap during XFL Minicamp.
Houston Roughnecks QB P.J. Walker (11) takes a snap during XFL Minicamp. (Source: XFL.com)

As XFL Insider Rachael Van Oranje and I reported last week, PJ (Phillip) Walker, out of Temple, is going to be your week 1 starter for the Houston Roughnecks. As I stated in that earlier article from last week, this does not come as a surprise. PJ Walker and Connor Cook share similar arm strength, and while Cook’s accuracy may be a little better, it was Walker’s not only athleticism, but his willingness to run that got him the starting job in Houston.

Now, how do I feel about this fit? To be honest… I’m elated! Thank you June Jones for making this decision. Look, Connor Cook is a very accurate quarterback, and fully capable of leading an offense to great success. But, I got to be real with you. He would have been the more “boring” option out of the two. Now look, if PJ stinks it up, which I don’t expect him to, but if that were to happen, I feel very confident in Connor Cook leading this team. But man, I’m excited! PJ Walker is such a fun player to watch. He can sling it downfield, he can create plays with his legs, and he is not afraid to take chances. Now, that last part can sometimes be to his detriment, but he succeeds more often than he fails, and I am willing to live with that.

During his time at Temple, he broke multiple school records, including TD passes (74), passing yards (10,668), passing completions (830), total TDs (83), and total yards (11,478), under Matt Rhule, who is currently the Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers. He also lead them to their first conference title in 49 years, and their first ever back to back bowl appearances in school history. He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts in 2017 as an undrafted free agent, and while it didn’t work out, his talent is still a hidden gem in my opinion.

Now Walker does have his detractors, and many among the XFL community believed that Connor Cook was going to be named the starter. But I am a believer in PJ Walker, and I think he has the potential to not only be the best quarterback in the league, but perhaps be the league MVP. Yes, I’m all in on PJ Walker. Sammy Coates, Jalen Saunders, D’Angelo Henderson, Andre Williams, ect., you add PJ Walker to that, along with June Jones “Run and Shoot” offense, and good luck stopping the Roughnecks potent offense this season. The Houston Roughnecks are LEGIT contenders this year, and don’t be surprised if they are playing in the inaugural XFL Championship.

P.S. Yes, I know, the LA Xtreme won the 2001 Championship.

PJ Walker “EXPECTED” to be the Man in Houston

There is no official word yet, but XFL ESPN Insider Rachael Van Oranje is reporting, “A source tells me that PJ Walker is currently the starting Quarterback for the Houston Roughnecks… but that “Connor Cook is right there.” No official word yet, however.”

Well, it certainly is starting to feel like June Jones has his guy. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. PJ Walker was the assigned Tier 1 Quarterback to Houston, and from what I have heard, unless Connor Cook far exceeded him during practices and training camp, Walker was always going to be the guy. In my opinion, what really set Walker apart from Cook was his mobility and willingness to run. Don’t get me wrong, PJ can sling it with the best of them, but in a brand new league, with guys that have never played together before, the Offensive Line is going to be a question mark. Because of this, I believe that Coach Jones wants to go with Walker, because he has a better chance at extending plays, especially if he is chased outside of the pocket.

Now, is this the right decision? Well, from a talent standpoint, both Walker and Cook have the capability of captaining this offense to a lot of points on the field. But I do believe that going with PJ Walker is the right decision, because I feel he gives you more of a dynamic from the quarterback position than Cook would. My only concern, is sometimes Walker can be a little careless with the football. His best year at Temple, where he finished with 3295 yards and 22 touchdowns, he also threw 13 interceptions. He finished with a 140.1 rating that year, which is excellent, but those 13 interceptions do stick out.

However, I still believe that PJ Walker can be a dynamic playmaker from the QB spot, especially in this offense, with these weapons. And if he can limit the turnovers, the sky is the limit for what should be one of the top 3, at least, offenses in the XFL.

Ten days out, and the XFL Houston Roughnecks starting QB is still a mystery

Quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Conner Cook
Quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Conner Cook

What’s up Roughnecks fans! Can you believe it? We are just 10 days away from kick-off at TDECU Stadium near Downtown Houston. Two years we have waited for this day to come, and now it is finally upon us. The Texans miserable loss is long forgotten, because a new face has come to town, and they are ready to hit the ground running. The XFL’s Houston Roughnecks are here, and they are ready to make a stand.

When you listen to podcasts, read predictions, or just simply look at the roster, you will realize that a lot of people are considering the Roughnecks among the top four teams in the league. Some consider them the best, others are very high on them, but almost no one thinks they will be the bottom of the barrel. And for good reason! Just look at their roster.

Let’s start with who I believe will be the BEST receiver in the league in Sammy Coates. The former Pittsburgh Steeler, and yes Houston Texan for a brief moment, is one of the most talented players in the league. His second year with the Steelers, he caught 21 passes for 435 yards and 2 TDs. You have to remember, he was playing with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith Schuster, and a very talented receiving core. If you could stand out in that field, that’s saying something.

Andre Williams, running back out of Boston College and 2013 Heisman Finalist, finished his college career ranked 5th All-Time in NCAA history for rushing yards in a single season with 2,177 yards, can move the sticks and even be versatile in the passing game. Speaking of…

Let’s stick on the passing game. Head Coach June Jones, who if you remember, is a old Houston face, most notably for his time with the Houston Gamblers as their Wide Receivers coach in 1984, is one of the most pass happy coaches out there. His brand of offense revolves around passing the football all over the field. But in order to do that, you need a competent quarterback. It just so happens the Roughnecks have two. Now don’t get me wrong, that is a good problem to have. I’m a Houston Texans fan. For the longest time, I hoped we would at least get one. Before Deshaun Watson, we had guys like Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, the list goes on. It wasn’t pretty to say the least. But now with the Roughnecks, Coach Jones has a dilemma. Before the Official Draft began, the XFL assigned a Tier 1 quarterback to each of the 8 teams. Houston was gifted PJ Walker, former Temple standout, who set all kinds of records during his time there. I was excited! I love Walker’s game. He is a good thrower of the football, he can scramble when need be, and he is just very athletic in every way. So I was totally on board with PJ as our starting QB.

Well, now the Draft has begun, and it’s the Roughnecks with the #2 overall pick. Who do they get? Connor Cook, who you will remember played at Michigan State, set records, won big games, and led the Spartans to a Big 10 Championship and the victory at the 2014 Rose Bowl. However, if you live in Houston, you most notably remember Connor Cook, as the starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders against the Texans in the 2017 NFL Wild Card Playoff game. BUT, I want to caution people who think back to that game, and I want you to look at it from this perspective. Cook had NEVER started an NFL game up to that point. He wasn’t even expecting to start. But when Matt McGloin, now of the New York Guardians, got injured, he had to step in and take his place. So his very first NFL start came against, a Houston Texans defense, who that year ranked #2 overall in the league, led by Jadeveon Clowney, who was having a monster year. Not to mention, your first start coming the Playoffs, that can certainly be nerve wrecking. So I have always felt that Connor Cook never really got a fair shot at really being able to prove himself in the NFL.

But now that brings us to the Roughnecks. PJ Walker. Connor Cook. Not only both capable quarterbacks, but two guys, that if you ask me, have a shot to be the best quarterback in the XFL. Especially when you consider the system that they will be running with June Jones at the helm. And let’s not forget the weapons that will be at their disposal. However, the question remains, who do you go with? Well, as of right now, there is still no official word on who that week one starter will be. But I will tell you this. Whoever, Coach Jones decides to go with, we know they will thrive in this offense. I am excited to see what the Roughnecks bring to the field on February 8, because I can assure you, it will be a firework show.

Now, the question everyone wants answered. Who would I choose. Well… I would go with…