The XFL season is rapidly approaching its midway point, and there is only one team that remains undefeated.
The Houston Roughnecks are 3-0 and quarterback P.J. Walker has become the star of the XFL with a league-high 11 total touchdowns. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Tampa Bay Vipers are winless and have inconsistency and uncertainty at quarterback.
Attendance continues to be a key issue to watch, where a strong showing from St. Louis BattleHawks fans for their home opener might have been overshadowed by dips in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 3 of the XFL.
Really, there could’ve been several winners for the Los Angeles Wildcats. They dismantled the previously unbeaten DC Defenders, 39-9, Sunday night and dominated on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Josh Johnson played a clean game with 278 passing yards and three touchdowns. Running back Martez Carter scored three total touchdowns. Receiver Tre McBride, whom the Defenders traded to the Wildcats in training camp, caught five passes for 109 yards with two touchdowns. But it was their defense, which is the strength of Winston Moss, the Wildcats’ head coach, that changed the game. The unit generated five turnovers and limited the passing offense that entered this weekend as the most productive in the XFL to only 90 passing yards. Moss fired former defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after the first game of the year. It looks to have been the right move.
St. Louis pro football
It might not completely remove the sting of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams having left for Los Angeles back in 2016, but professional football returned to the city after 1,521 days since it last hosted a game. St. Louis BattleHawks fans showed out. The lower bowl of the Dome at America’s Center, where the Rams once played their games, sold out for the team’s home opener. The official attendance for the game was 29,554, the highest mark in an XFL game this year. It helps that the BattleHawks improved to 2-1 with a dominant 29-9 victory against the Guardians, but don’t think that St. Louis hasn’t forgiven Rams owner Stan Kroenke for relocating the team. Just seconds after the national anthem concluded, fans broke out into a “Kroenke sucks” chant.
If there’s one rule the NFL — and even football at all levels, quite frankly — should look to swipe from the XFL, it’s the kickoff tweaks. Essentially, the kicker stands at the 30-yard line and must put the ball in play between the opposing end zone and 20-yard line. The coverage team lines up at the 35-yard line on the receiving side of the field, while the return team lines up just five yards away at the 30-yard line. Both sides can’t move until the return man touches the ball. The tweaks have seemingly made the play safer, with the violent collisions apparently reduced. But the kickoff has remained interesting and exciting, with touchbacks less likely. Because if the return man can make a few players miss, there’s nothing but open field beyond, creating incentives to return the ball. Just look at what the BattleHawks did when safety Joe Powell took a reverse from receiver Keith Mumphrey and returned it 84 yards for the XFL’s first kickoff return touchdown in league history.
Dallas Renegades quarterback Landry Jones tossed two interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter of Saturday’s 24-12 victory against the Seattle Dragons. That puts his touchdown-to-interception ratio at 3:4 in his two games this season and he needs to cut down on those turnovers. But Jones has been effective. He has produced, thanks in large part to his familiarity with coach Bob Stoops’ offense dating back to their days at Oklahoma. Jones has built a nice rapport with tight end Donald Parham and, if Jones can keep building momentum, the Renegades might be in for a strong second half of the season.
The Defenders’ 39-9 loss against the Wildcats was simply an abysmal performance for Cardale Jones. He looked completely out of sorts, completing just half of his 26 passes for 103 yards with no touchdowns but four interceptions. He was eventually pulled in the fourth quarter. Though his receivers didn’t create enough separation, Jones looked uncomfortable in the pocket, often double pumping and forcing passes into tight coverage. The Defenders suffered their first loss of the season and Jones suddenly becomes a distant No. 2, or even No. 3, in the MVP race behind Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker.
Margin of victory
This is one issue that continues to be a problem for the XFL. Though scoring took a step forward in Week 3, the games are still far too lopsided. The average margin of victory in this weekend’s games was 17.3. Through three weeks of play and 12 regular-season games, that mark is 14.4 points. Compare that to the NFL’s average margin of victory for the entire 2019 season of 11.6 points. While that doesn’t seem like that much of a difference, the NFL excels because of its parity and because any team can keep games close. The XFL has made a lot of positive strides as it tries to become sustainable. More competitive play would help.
New York Guardians discipline
Another dismal day for New York. A 29-9 loss in which quarterback Matt McGloin suffered a rib injury that forced him out of the game was exacerbated because of undisciplined and sloppy play. Center Ian Silberman was the face of that. He was twice penalized for personal fouls, one of which was an unsportsmanlike conduct, gave up a sack, and was benched. Audio shared during the ESPN broadcast revealed that referees discussed potentially ejecting Silberman from the game because of his post-play antics. New York committed nine penalties for 86 yards, compared with St. Louis committing just two for 20. The Guardians have imploded twice in consecutive weeks. And, as if things weren’t bad enough, they were woeful in the red zone, converting just one of three trips.
What’s a guy got to do to get a chance? A legitimate one? For some reason, Tampa Bay Vipers coach Marc Trestman will not commit to playing dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers in anything other than a change-of-pace role. The Vipers fell to 0-3 after a 34-27 loss to the Roughnecks, but Trestman continues to turn to Taylor Cornelius at quarterback with starter Aaron Murray sidelined with a foot injury. It’s not that Cornelius has played all that poorly. On Saturday, he completed 16 of 31 passes for 193 yards with one score and one interception. He also added a rushing score. But he just hasn’t shown enough efficiency to tie Tampa’s future to him. Flowers, on the other hand, has provided a spark in each of the three games he has played in, even scoring the team’s first touchdown of the season. The problem is that the sample size has been far too small. Tampa, by the way, remains the lone squad in the league without a victory.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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