The Squared Root: XFL Week 1 in Review

Like a fast-paced, thunderous storm, the XFL opening weekend ripped through the football world this past Saturday and Sunday leaving hungry, venomous football fans wanting more. After a two year build, the hype was electric and expectations, sprinkled with some skepticism, were high and the final product? It delivered. The opening weekend of the XFL was marked with several major positives and very few needs for improvement. From live on the field interviews to backstage all access to play reviews to a player projectile vomiting, yes, that happened, the XFL had a little bit of everything in their opening weekend. Following is a quick review of the games, players and overall observations made during the weekend.

Note: During my following quick game recaps the number located in parenthesis next to each team name is in reference to Alternative Football News Network’s Mark Angst’s Power Rankings – his power rankings will be released on EVERY Wednesday during the season. 

Game Reviews

(4)Seattle Dragons – 19 v. (1)D.C. Defenders – 31

Being a 9.5 underdog heading into the weekend, the Dragons keep out swinging early and even took a one point lead into the half. The Dragons moved the ball offensively up and down the field in the first half and jumped out to an early lead with a Brandon Silvers touchdown pass to Austin Proehl. After halftime, things changed, as the Defenders started showing the football world why the Defenders are the favorites to represent the East in the Championship. The defense buckled down held the Dragons to six points in the third quarter and held them scoreless in the fourth. The Defenders’ offense got started with a bang in the second half with a double reverse flea flicker touchdown pass to TE Khari Lee, The defense got into the scoring with a punt block for a touchdown in the first half and a pick six in the second half. They picked Silvers off twice en route to the victory.

Thoughts: Cardale Jones and Brandon Silvers both looked good in this game. Jones played mistake free football which lead to premature “MVP” chants from the home crowd. Silvers made two mistakes, one which wasn’t his fault, but played really good overall. Silvers needs to clean his game up if the Dragons are going to win because their lack of depth at receiver was showing in the second half. They need to utilize TE Evan Rodriguez and those dynamic running backs more. They were without WR Kasen Williams due to injury, but he should be back for week 2 which will give the receiving corps a much needed boost. On the other side of the coin, the Defenders need to get RB Jhurrell Pressley going. If that running game is ineffective as it was during this game, the Defenders will end up in a lot of close games, which could result in several losses. The wide receiving group and tight end group seems to be talented enough to carry a team but that running game is just as important to this offense if they want to win games.

(6) Los Angeles Wildcats – 17 v. (8)Houston Roughnecks – 37

The questionable off-season moves by the Wildcats were brought into the limelight Saturday night when they traveled to take on the Roughnecks in Houston. The Wildcats were led by Charles, you can call me “Chad”, Kanoff. Kanoff was traded to LA in a trade with the Guardians for quarterback Luis Perez. Kanoff was impressive in the first half leading the Wildcats on a couple touchdown drives putting the Roughnecks on their heels. Having just two weeks with the team, Kanoff was looking the part early and started making people understand why they traded for him. For the Roughnecks, PJ Walker lit the world on fire. He opened up the scoring for Houston with a beautiful 50-yard TD pass to streaking WR Cam Phillips. Walker, who was engrossed with Connor Cook in the closest QB battle of all eight teams, made people forget that Cook was even being considered for the starting job. More impressively than PJ Walker’s career game, where he threw for four touchdowns, was the Roughnecks defense as they constantly got pressure on the QB and completely shut out the Wildcats in the second half.

Thoughts: No doubt that PJ Walker stole the show and shined the brightest during the first night game of the XFL season. Walker looked the part of a star in the making showcasing his overall talent, arm strength and high football IQ. He was able to the read the defense at the line with ease, make his reads and make quick decision that led to positive plays for their offense. June Jones has never utilized that much of a run game and this game was no different, but they need to find a way to close out games. The “we’re going to just simply out score you” mentality has rarely worked at the professional level and Houston could find themselves falling victim when they play one of the better offenses in the league. The Wildcats were without starter Josh Johnson, who is questionable for week two, so this team could look entirely different moving forward. Head coach Winston Moss made two more questionable decisions in releasing team defensive captain Anthony Johnson and firing defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson. Los Angeles needs to figure out what they’re doing and get those wrinkles ironed out sooner rather than later or it’s going to be a long 10 games for Winston Moss and this Wildcats team.

(3)Tampa Bay Vipers – 3 v. (7)New York Guardians – 23

The Guardians came out to fight. That’s the best way to describe how this game went. The Guardians won the turnover game which led to the lopsided win. McGloin looked better than expected in his first game making tough throws but it was the wide receiving group that shined the brightest. Led by Mekale McKay and surprising Colby Pearson, the receiving group made play after play to keep the offense moving down the field. The defense was the real hero of the game for New York picking off Vipers’ QB Aaron Murray twice, one leading to a pick six, and adding another turnover via fumble. When watching the game, the Vipers offense looked stagnant, almost lethargic, but the statistics tell a different story. The Vipers accumulated almost 400 yards of total offense, they had more passing yards and more rushing yards than the Guardians, their problem? They couldn’t finish drives and had too many mistakes with turnovers when it mattered the most. The offense got a much needed boost from QB/RB Quentin Flowers, who is a dynamic player with an unique skill set. If the Vipers want to win games, they’ll need to find a way to get Flowers more involved with the offense.

Thoughts: Aaron Murray, who struggled with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football, didn’t look the part in his XFL debut, either. Statistically, Murray outplayed his counterpart, but poor decisions leading to interceptions and bad throws on third down really bogged down the offense. The biggest positives for the Vipers came with De’Veon Smith and surprise Daniel Williams. Smith showcased his rushing ability and picked up where he left off in the AAF and Williams, an unknown prospect, surprised fans with his size and athleticism. Williams, had one big drop on third down, but overall made plays all over the field and bailed Murray out on more than one occasion. This offense needs to get Nick Truesdell more involved, as well. The Guardians’ unsung hero has to be CB Jamar Summers. Sometimes, stats don’t tell the whole story as Summers registered very few. The difference? Summers wasn’t targeted and when he was targeted, he was dominant and shutting the Vipers’ receivers down. He was instrumental in the interception returned for a touchdown and blanketed his man all game. Summers broke out last year at this level with the Birmingham Iron. The Guardians need to rely on that receiving group but they need better play from QB Matt McGloin. McGloin didn’t throw over 200 yards and was constantly bailed out by his excellent receiving group. That run game needs more life if the Guardians want to continue winning games.

(5)St. Louis BattleHawks – 15 v. (2)Dallas Renegades – 9

The second of the 9.5 underdogs this past weekend, the BattleHawks followed suit and came out swinging – well, on defense anyways. The STL offense struggled to gain it’s footing in the first half but due to a strong defensive effort, the BattleHawks were tied with the Renegades at halftime. In the second half, Jordan Ta’amu started gaining control of the offense and started making big throws but his legs were his biggest weapon as he ran for 77 yards on 9 carries. The biggest surprise came from RB Matt Jones, who ran for 85 yards on 21 carries. Jones, who experienced mild success at the NFL level struggled with fumbles but that wasn’t an issue in week one. Jones easily outplayed his teammate Christine Michael, as Michael ran the ball seven times for a whopping zero yards. In a surprising defensive battle, the defense definitely stood out the most for Dallas. Led by Frank Alexander, who accumulated 5 tackles, 1 assist and 1 sack, the Renegades defensive front pressured Ta’amu early on big down which allowed Dallas’ defense to get off the field. QB Phillip Nelson threw the ball 42 times completing 33 of those passes but for only 199 yards.

Thoughts: The first defensively battle of the XFL season and it came down to a shockingly poor offensively performance from the Renegades. Phillip Nelson, who showcased that he has good talent in the AAF with the San Diego Fleet, looked lost and sometimes out of sync with his wide receivers. WR Jazz Ferguson made a huge mistake that could have led to a big play late in the second half that could have changed the outcome of this game. On the flip side, the BattleHawks need better play from their OL, especially in pass protection as Ta’amu appears to rush his throws at times and make hasty decisions. The biggest weapon for St. Louis came in the realm of special teams as P Marquette King showed why he was once considered one of the best punters in all of the NFL. Overall, the Renegades need better production from their receiving group and they need to find a way to get production from their running game. St. Louis on the other hand needs to get their big plays from their receivers. The running game seems to be their best weapon on offense and they’ll need to rely heavily on that until Ta’amu and these wide receivers can get in sync with each other.

Players of the Week

Offensive Player of the Week: PJ Walker, QB Houston Roughnecks: 23/39 for 265 yards and 4 touchdowns with 1 INT

Defensive Player of the Week: Terrance Garvin, LB St. Louis BattleHawks: 8 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles and a sack

Special Teams Player of the Week: Marquette King, P St. Louis BattleHawks

Look for Mark Angst’s Power Rankings on Wednesday and look for the brand new audio column from AFNN’s Kevin Drake, where he’ll breakdown the upcoming weekend games in his preview and prediction piece. And of course, XFL Now every Thursday at 7PM EST where our panel breaks down the games and news from the league! 

~Michael Washington-Weeks

Host of AFN Live and analyst of XFL Now

Twitter: @MWSquaredAFNTlk