The XFL rolled on into its second week as it tries to find a foothold as a reliable spring professional football league.
Throughout that, two teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack with unblemished starts. The DC Defenders and the Houston Roughnecks are making their cases as the teams to beat. Meanwhile, the Seattle Dragons and Dallas Renegades each earned their first victories. But for the Tampa Bay Vipers and Los Angeles Wildcats, a 10-game season won’t provide many more chances to break out of a 0-2 hole.
With another slate of games, there’s another slate of winners and losers.
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June Jones, P.J. Walker and Cam Phillips
During Houston’s 28-24 victory Sunday against the St. Louis BattleHawks, the home crowd showered P.J. Walker, the Roughnecks’ quarterback, with MVP chants. It’s early in the season, but they might be right. For the second week in a row Walker is listed as a winner thanks to his efficiency and big-play propensity in coach June Jones’ system. Walker, time and time again against the BattleHawks, showed an ability to escape pressure, keep his eyes downfield and improvise. Walker is a highlight waiting to happen. Just look at the arm angle on his first touchdown pass of the night, a 7-yarder to receiver Cam Phillips, who had three scores.
Walker has seven total touchdowns. That ties him with the Defenders – as in the entire team.
Of all the positions in the XFL, offensive line might be the most challenging to play well. That’s because, even in the NFL, quality O-linemen are hard to come by. But one XFL squad’s offensive front is separating itself from the rest. DC’s unit allowed just one sack in its regular-season opening victory. For an encore, the Defenders prevented a Guardians defense that forced five sacks in their own opener from even getting one in DC’s 27-0 beatdown of New York. With most teams in the league having an offensive line that has struggled, the Defenders look like they could be one of the XFL’s best, in large part, because of that line.
Nelson Spruce quickly is making his case as the best receiver in the XFL. Though the Wildcats lost to the Renegades and dropped to 0-2, Spruce built on the momentum of a solid opener. In Week 1 he caught 11 of 15 targets for 103 yards. On Sunday he caught six of nine targets for 89 yards and two touchdowns, one a 44-yard bomb.
Spruce did spend some time in the NFL with the Rams, Bears, Chiefs and Chargers but never appeared in a regular-season game. If he keeps putting out solid film like this, that could potentially change.
Week 2 looked, again, like it would be a frustrating affair for Bob Stoops and the Renegades. Dallas’ offense struggled significantly in the first half, with drives ending in a punt, an interception, a fumble, another punt and a field goal to close out the half. In the second half it was different. Though quarterback Landry Jones threw another interception in the first drive of the third quarter, Dallas scored on its final three offensive possessions before killing the clock at the end of the game. Aside from the third-quarter pick, Jones went 11-for-14 for 128 yards and a 3-yard score to tight end Donald Parham. Dallas adjusted to focus on the rushing game, and running back Cameron Artis-Payne took control in the second half. For Stoops, it was his first coaching victory since Jan. 2, 2017, in the Sugar Bowl.
BEAUTIFUL CHAOS:This Cardale Jones highlight is the XFL in all its absurd glory
One week after he helped lead the Guardians to an impressive 20-point victory, McGloin, New York’s starting quarterback, had a day to forget. The Guardians were shut out 27-0 on Saturday against the Defenders. McGloin completed 8 of 19 passes for 44 yards and threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, before being benched in the fourth quarter. And he blasted the team’s coaching and execution, saying the Guardians needed “to change the whole entire game plan at halftime” and later added, “At no point in time did I think we were in a position to try to be successful. I think it was pretty easy to see.” After the game, coach Kevin Gilbride didn’t indicate that McGloin’s benching would be permanent, but if poor play like Saturday’s, and if critical comments like that continue, that might change.
For the second time in two weeks the Vipers outgained their opponent. And for the second time in two weeks they lost, this time 17-9 to the Dragons. With starting quarterback Aaron Murray out with a foot injury, Trestman opted to start Taylor Cornelius. It was rough. Cornelius completed just 16 of 27 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns and two picks. The start came despite backup dual-threat Quinton Flowers showing some promise in the opener. Flowers did split time with Cornelius but also struggled (3 of 7 for 18 yards with one interception). Tampa Bay has now reached the red zone six times. It hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown.
One week after appearing on the other side of this list, attendance across the XFL took a dip with one exception. Let’s start with the good news. The Dragons, in their home opener in Seattle, posted by far the league’s best attendance figure to date (29,172). That’s 11,357 more than the previous high, which had been the Roughnecks’ opener. DC played its second consecutive home game but had its attendance drop 12.4% in Week 2 to 15,031, from 17,163. In Sunday’s Wildcats game against the Renegades in Los Angeles, 14,979 was the figure, which set a mark for the lowest-attended game so far. Later Sunday the Roughnecks had a modest decrease of 4% to 17,103 from 17,815 in the opener. Seattle’s success in Major League Soccer with the Sounders being one of the most passionate fan bases is a good sign for the Dragons franchise. But for this league to survive it must grow, if not at least maintain, its audience.
If there’s one thing that has hurt the XFL it’s sloppy offensive play. The catalyst for that, in most cases, has been inconsistency at quarterback. Taking out the successes of Houston’s P.J. Walker and DC’s Cardale Jones, it has been a rough go. The touchdown-to-interception ratio of all players who have attempted an XFL pass not named Walker or Jones is 13-to-17. There has been one 300-yard passing performance through eight games. That it came from Landry Jones, who struggled mightily in the first half, shows how much work the league’s passers have to do.
The NFL succeeds, in large part, because its quarterbacks are the stars upon which games are often won and lost. They drive the conversation. The XFL needs to improve in that area, and significantly, otherwise disjointed offenses might be the theme for the rest of the season.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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