Week 4 of the XFL season will bring about Round One of a Texas two-step when the Houston Roughnecks face the Dallas Renegades on Sunday at Globe Life Park in Arlington. These two teams have lived up to their hype so far as XFL championship contenders, which should allow their rivalry to take off quickly.
Houston (3-0) went on the road for the first time in 2020 and took care of business by outlasting the Tampa Bay Vipers, 34-27 at Raymond James Stadium. P.J. Walker continued to separate himself from the pack in the race for MVP. He completed 24-of-36 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns. Cam Phillips caught eight passes for 194 yards and was an absolute matchup nightmare for the Tampa Bay defense. The Roughnecks were plus-one in the turnover battle and were able to overcome a bit of an off day on defense, as Houston allowed 365 total yards against the Vipers.
Dallas (2-1) picked up its second road win of the year, as they rallied from a 12-6 halftime deficit to win at Seattle, 24-12. Landry Jones has some ups and downs but in the end got the job done with 274 passing yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Donald Parham continued to show why he is one of the top tight ends in the XFL last week. He caught five passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns to help break the game open. The defense did a nice job in the second half of halting the Dragons' momentum, leaving them dead in the water offensively.
Houston at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, March 1 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Globe Life Park in Arlington (Arlington, Texas)
Spread: Roughnecks -2
Three Things to Watch
1. P.J. Walker vs. Landry Jones
Walker has shown what can happen with consistent reps in head coach June Jones’ offensive system, which is tailor-made for his dual-threat ability. Walker leads the XFL with 748 passing yards and has thrown ten touchdowns to just one interception. Walker is surely opening up eyes in NFL organizations that are in need of quarterback depth for the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, Landry Jones has had some flashes of potential since coming back from his knee injury but still has room for improvement. The big thing for the former Oklahoma Sooner moving forward starting this week will be to take better care of the football. Jones has thrown four touchdown passes and four interceptions, which will not get it done if the Renegades are going to win the XFL championship.
Bottom line, for Walker it’s about getting the ball to Phillips and Kahlil Lewis in the passing game through explosive plays. Jones will need to feed Parham early and often as he has caught 14 passes for 217 yards, and three touchdowns. The matchup of Parham against the Roughnecks linebackers should be fun to watch.
2. Red-zone and third-down defense
This game should play out almost like a tennis match for both defenses. It will come down to stepping up in the red zone and limiting opponents' third-down conversions. Houston had some issues with red-zone defense and on third down against Tampa Bay last week. The Roughnecks allowed the Vipers to convert two of three red-zone opportunities along with 50 percent of their third down plays. Dallas allowed Seattle to convert their only trip into the red zone.
Third down was an issue for the Renegades defense, which gave up 8-of-15 third-down conversions against the Dragons. The Renegades' defensive front will need to find a way to generate more pressure on Walker to try to create some long-yardage situations on third down. If they can do that, it will give them a great opportunity to create turnovers and get an extra possession or two for the offense.
3. June Jones vs. Bob Stoops
These two coaches are going to push the envelope this week since it’s a rivalry game and first place is on the line in the XFL West. Jones has adjusted to the XFL well by bringing together his high-flying passing attack and a defense that can get after the quarterback. LaTroy Lewis and Carl Bradford both have two sacks apiece, and Houston has ten sacks as a team after three games.
Stoops has appeared to have made a quick adjustment to coaching in pro football and should be well equipped to deal with such a significant game this week. Look for more double passes from both coaches along with more two- and potentially three-point conversion attempts. This game could come down to execution of those all-important after-touchdown conversions, so look for one of these coaches to go after a three-point conversion this week even if the analytics may suggest not to.
These two teams are more than likely going to meet three times if you include the playoffs. This means defending your home field is going to become very important as the season rolls along. Dallas will take care of business at home this week by creating enough big plays in the second half to pull off a come from behind win to pull even with Houston in the XFL West standings.
Prediction: Renegades 30, Roughnecks 26
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.