By Ben Wayer
Week One of the XFL is in the books, and boy is it nice to be watching meaningful football just a week after the Super Bowl!
Before we get into a game by game breakdown, let’s take a quick overview of the league as a whole.
First, I for one, love kickoff and extra point rules. To me, if the NFL doesn’t at least consider adopting the kickoff formation the XFL uses, they are lying when they say they care about player safety while maintaining the game. It keeps all the excitement of the kickoff in the game, and eliminates the dangerous 60 yard sprint to tackle the ball carrier. The NFL is a field position battle, and the XFL is a ball possession battle with an emphasis on scoring. While I hate some of the kickoff and punt stipulations, I get it. If the goal is to increase scoring, coffin corners being eliminated from the game is a good thing. The problem is that some of these punters are so good, they can have the ball land in the middle of the field and die, still pinning teams deep, as long as the coverage doesn’t mess it up. Looking at you St. Louis!
Second, the 1, 2, and 3 point options for a point after touchdown attempt is a great concept. You’re down 9? Guess what, it’s a one possession game. We have seen some weird numbers on the scoreboard that are not normally associated with football scores with teams are more likely to end up only getting 6 out of a scoring possession that is normally 7, 8, or 9. However, this does what we all want as fans: making the extra point exciting rather than a gimme field goal. The NFL’s attempt to make the PAT field goal less of a gimme point has worked to an extent, but NFL kickers are expected to make that kick 99 times out of 100, so what did it really accomplish?
Next, a TV production piece that is a carry over from what the AAF did last year: having the replay official mic’d up, and their conversation with the on field official for all to hear on TV. I loved this feature last year in the AAF and I still love it now in the XFL. I can definitely say I want this in all leagues that use video replay, including college football. Will the NCAA or NFL pick this up? Who knows, but my money would be on a hard no for the NFL and a definite maybe for the NCAA.
Last positive note, defense is back, baby! Many of the complaints we all have about the NFL are the penalties, and how defenses are being handcuffed with how they defend and hit. In the XFL Week 1, there was only one roughing the passer penalty and the only pass interference calls were in blatant plays that even a blind man could have made. Simplifying the rules made a difference, who would have thought?!?
Now for the issues with the league.
The biggest, and most fair complaint that I’ve seen so far is the quarterback play. I believe this will resolve itself with no problems. Let these guys train throughout the season, and possibly the off-season more as well, and their play will be elevated. You have to remember, some of these guys haven’t played a competitive game of football in five or so years. There is that hit-or-miss Brandon Silvers, but that’s a different story.
The second issue is one that has nothing to do with the on field product. In the first game of the weekend between DC and Seattle, the reporters on the sidelines were CONSTANTLY shoving microphones in player’s faces. Whether it was randomly talking about a previous drive, or immediately after a turnover or missed field goal, and even trying to get an interview as the team celebrated in the end zone- the reporters were right there shoving their microphone out. What made any producer think that was a good idea at all?!? It was noticeably absent from the FOX broadcast for the second game between Houston and LA, but on Sunday, they were back. I held my breath, and with the final game of the week featuring Pat McAfee doing the sideline interviews, I figured we wouldn’t have any issues. For the most part they were better in the early Sunday game as well. Hopefully they stay that way, but I’m still worried that this may get out of hand in the future again.
Finally, before we get into the games themselves, is something I am a little indifferent to: the coaches being mic’d up with all of us at home being able to hear their play calls. At times it was interesting, at others, annoying. The play calling mics don’t stop there because the quarterbacks are also mic’d up. There were times you could hear some back and forth between player and coach. For me, the jury is still out on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it is definitely an interesting thing. If Twitter is to be believed, this did lead to one instance of a play call being broadcast through the stadium prior to the play. How true that is I can’t honestly say, but if so, it becomes a definite minus for me.
Now, the best part of the week: the game wrap ups.
We will start with the inaugural game, the Seattle Dragons versus the DC Defenders.
Right off the bat, I have to say I was very impressed with the crowd in DC. The fans were extremely into the game, something that never happens at a Redskins game. There were cheers, boos, and plenty of scoring. The game had an over/under of 51.5, and with a final score of 31-19 in favor of DC, the under hit at 50, with DC covering the 9.5 point spread.
But the game could have ended much differently. The Dragons have the honor of scoring the first touchdown in the league’s history on a pass from Brandon Silvers to Austin Proehl, son of greatest show on turf receiver Ricky Proehl. At times, it even appeared that the Dragons had the better offense, with DC scoring 12 of their points on two defensive scores: one was a punt block recovered in the end zone, and the other a pick six- Dragons’ QB Silvers’ second interception of the day.
The Dragons struggles didn’t end there. Late in the game, while driving to bring the game within a possession, a bad mesh point on an option play led to a fumble that sealed the victory for the Defenders. With that, Defenders starting QB Cardale Jones, 2014 College Football National Champion with Ohio State, still has not lost a start since high school. Jones performed well, and you take away the turnovers, and Silvers put up a very similar performance, and I expect both men to improve going forward. A final interesting and unfortunate trend from this game was how often a Seattle player went down and needed medical attention of some kind. Hopefully, it’s just the rust being knocked off these guys from not playing in so long, but the injury bug could be fatal for the Dragons, or any team that has issues like this the deeper into the season we get.
The second game of the weekend featured the LA Wildcats visiting the Houston Roughnecks. It’s worth noting that while the Roughnecks beat out DC in attendance numbers, the margin was slim. From watching on TV, it looked like only the upper levels at TDECU Stadium were empty. The numbers indicated a little over half the stadium with 40k max capacity was filled. It is good news that the attendance was consistent from one team to another. Hopefully after the 37-17 thumping they put on LA, the attendance will only increase because it has more than enough room.
As for the game, the Roughnecks beat the 7.5 spread and the over hit with the line at 51.5 for this game. LA scored early and it looked like the offense, ran by Chad Kanoff, was going to roll over Houston as they led much of the first half. That being said, some of it was luck. Out of 3 “tip drill” passes by him, only one was picked off late in the game.
The Wildcats would ultimately go into the locker room down one after some clock mismanagement. With the XFL’s different clock rules, it’s kind of understandable. This led to them not getting a field goal attempt off before the halftime break.
After coming out of halftime, it was the P.J. Walker Show for Houston with the quarterback absolutely tearing apart the Wildcats secondary, and the route was on. LA backup QB Jalen McClendon got some time under center when the call was made to sub him in to try and change things up at the start of the fourth. Kanoff returned two drives later and later left with what is speculated to be a shoulder injury.
Who really knows what this offense can do though with presumed starting QB Josh Johnson sidelined with an injury from practice? I can confidently say this: the Roughnecks, in the shoulders of MVP caliber quarterback play from PJ Walker, are going to be a formidable team, and the city of Houston would be foolish to not support this team moving forward.
The third game of the week belonged to the Tampa Bay Vipers and the New York Guardians from MetLife Stadium. The Vipers came into the game a 3.5 point favorite, but that’s why they play the games.
Both offenses came out the gate with strong passing attacks, however both defenses were also stout. The Vipers were also hampered by interceptions and a scoop and score late in the game. The 52.5 over/under ended up being way off with the under hitting in a big way. The lowest scoring game of the weekend, the Guardians won 23-3.
The Vipers offense went back and forth between quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Quinton Flowers. Murray threw two interceptions. Flowers provided a spark both under center and lined up elsewhere on the field. Overall, I was very impressed with the Vipers receivers. They just need to find the guy under center to best run this offense.
On their one scoring drive, the Vipers also showed the ability to run the ball as they moved all the way down field while throwing only one pass. Guardians QB Matt McGloin impressed with his arm and ability to throw it down field, but his receivers let him down just as much as the defensive backs of the Vipers prevented plays from being completed.
This game also featured several of the sideline mid-game interviews, and only one instance seemed out of place, albeit that because FOX was using the picture in picture feature with XFL Rules official Dean Blandino. The interview was held later to make up for the gaffe. Overall, this was very much a defensive battle, and perhaps a little bit of a struggling offense from the Vipers making the Guardians D look better than they actually are.
Other notes from this game: former Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen was great on color commentary, and the first bad penalty of the season, in any game was called- an unnecessary roughness against New York on a pass completed to Reece Horn over the middle. I point this out only because over the course of four games this weekend, this was the only call the refs got wrong at all. I’m not just one man saying it was the wrong call because commentary brought it up as well. For only one weak penalty to be called all week is promising for any fan that is tired of the streak of yellow coming from the officials’ hands in the NFL in particular.
The last game of the week was the first one featured on ESPN, and it was the lowest scoring game of the week by 2 points. We saw the Dallas Renegades fall to the St. Louis BattleHawks 15-9 becoming the first road win by any team in the XFL. This meant not only did the under on the 52.5 over/under hit, but the -9.5 point spread for the Renegades wasn’t even close.
The first half largely had a feeling-out period for both teams and neither offense could sustain any type of drive. Really, until the final 4 minutes of the first half, the defenses of both teams controlled the game.
It should be noted that while the Dallas offense showed flashes, projected starting quarterback, Landry Jones, missed the entire game with an injury sustained in practice and it was a killer for their offense. The BattleHawks defense was stout all game and did not allow a single touchdown. Their starting quarterback, Jordan Ta’amu, was not hurt and played fantastically. He is the second QB to have a stand out performance this week, and in my opinion the second best quarterback in the league at this point. While he didn’t have the passing numbers of Roughnecks QB P.J. Walker, he got a lot done with his legs, and that second dimension to his game sets him apart.
It should be noted that the Battlehawks also featured what I thought was the best, most complete running attack in the league this week. It included several option looks and was part of why Ta’amu had such a great day with his legs. While Renegades quarterback Philip Nelson looked serviceable at the position, it was obvious as the game wore on that he is not the guy that can run that offense the best. Expect much better QB play from Landry to give that team the shot in the arm it needs next week.
That’s it everybody! Week One is in the books! While the Saturday games featured high powered offenses, Sunday featured stout defenses. There’s something for everybody in this league, that is for sure. I’m beyond excited for the XFL to be back. Can’t wait to do this again next week!
Writers Note: To those of you that made it this far, thank you! Next week should be much shorter focusing only on the games themselves, but with this week being the launch I felt it relevant to talk about the TV presentation for the league.