For the love of football! The XFL slogan and moniker has taken the football community by storm. It’s been a little over two years since Vincent Kennedy McMahon announced that he would be returning the XFL brand and the league hasn’t disappointed. Strong attendance, solid and consistent ratings, and quality football have dominated the spring league which has delivered on all promises of a high quality football league. “For the love of football” is more than just a catchy catchphrase or slogan for the league, it embodies everything that McMahon and Commissioner Oliver Luck has envisioned for the new XFL. They have successfully changed parts of the game play to keep excitement and peaked interest in games week in and week out. The kickoff rules, a huge hit among critics and fans, has changed the game by keeping one of the most dynamic plays in football relevant. Every adjustment and tweak made to the rules or game play has been made with careful thought and extensive testing which has allowed the game to remain intact without altering so much that it makes you wonder what you’re watching. The XFL has gotten it right and it will only continue to improve and get better the more experience and more exposure the league receives.
But for all the good, there’s always ways to improve or ways to get better; the XFL, more importantly McMahon and Luck, understand this. Here at AFNN, Mark Angst and I wanted to breakdown our thoughts on how each team can improve now that we’re close to a third of the way through the season. We wanted to breakdown each team and give our analysis on what each team can do to try and make a playoff push!
New York Guardians
Michael: Quarterback play and leadership. The Guardians are currently trending down and it’s been ugly. For the young season, New York is starting to become the XFL’s version of a circus. It started in week two with QB Matt McGloin basically throwing everyone under the bus but himself. Head coach Kevin Gilbride really needs to get WR Mekale McKay more involved in this offense, to say he’s grossly underused is the biggest understatement of the entire XFL season to this point. If the Guardians want to contend for a playoff spot they need to get better play from their quarterback spot. McGloin has likely played his way out of the starting job, which means it’s likely we could see Marquise Williams get the chance to start. Luis Perez, who was acquired in a trade early in the year, is waiting in the wings and led NY on their only offensive touchdown drive last week.
Mark: Discipline and Quarterback play. Don’t be fooled by the week 1 score and think Matt McGloin has played well at all this season. His defense and wide receivers bailed him out in that game. Then when put up against tougher competition McGloin crumbled under the pressure even calling out players and coaches. The other issue which really showed up this past week is discipline. This team has committed 24 penalties so far through three games and that’s only the ones that were excepted. They had to bench their starting center this week because he couldn’t get control of himself. Coach Gilbride told McKay that he will need to lean on him more for leadership.
Michael: Toughness and running game. The Defenders looked like one of the teams to beat early in the season and they were the favorites among a lot fans to potentially win the whole thing. Last week that all came to a screeching halt as their first road game was across the country and they got crushed. The defense was exposed by the Wildcats on all fronts and the offense was completely lethargic for the entire game. Whether it was jet lag or other factors is yet to be seen, but how the Defenders bounce back from that thrashing will determine how great this team is going to be. They need to get WR Rashad Ross more involved in the offense and they have to find a way to get that running game going with running back Donnel Pumphrey and Jhurrell Pressley.
Mark: Run game and ability to rebound.This week was a tough week for the Defenders and you could say a lot needs to be fixed after watching that game. A trip across country and the first road game are tough spots. The main issues the Defenders have had is the run game. They have not been consistent with using their running backs and need to find away to get it going to take pressure off of Jones. The other thing I’ll be interested to see is how this team responds after this past week.
Tampa Bay Vipers
Michael: Consistency on offense and eliminating mistakes. The Vipers are the only winless team in the league and it isn’t because of the defense. The Vipers’ three games they have moved the ball pretty effortless on offense only to turn the ball over or falter on drives deep in opponent’s territory. De’Veon Smith is a star in the making but needs more opportunity to help carry this team on his back. They also need some wide receiver help as they have lacked a true deep threat to this point. Surprising wide receiver Daniel Williams has been a constant, but lacks the ability to take over games. They need to get Reece Horn more involved in the slot as Horn is a mismatch nightmare for opposing linebackers. Nick Truesdall needs to return with the same explosiveness he had before the injury and they have to utilize him, as well. The defense just needs to continue getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks to eliminate the risk of being exposed with the deep ball.
Mark: Better red zone play calling and eliminating turnovers. This team finally scored an offensive touchdown in week 3 and had a chance to win their first game. Except the same issue they had in weeks 1 and 2 popped up again this week. Scoring in the red zone has been an issue and late in the 4th quarter the play calling was not good inside the red zone leading to a turnover on downs and a loss. The other issue is turnovers which ended a late game promising drive again this week. The 3 quarterbacks have a combined 6 interceptions through 3 games.
St. Louis BattleHawks
Michael: Keeping the passing game and running game balanced. Last week the BattleHawks had the luxury of not needing the passing game to help with their offense. St. Louis was able to run all over the Guardians’ defense on their way to a dominant victory but that’s not a formula that is going to work. They have proven that they can throw the ball successful with Jordan Ta’amu but the overall balance needs to remain consistent. So far, St. Louis has looked like the most complete team between defense and offense and they have remained balanced for two of the three games. They have to find a better threat in the passing game as they the receivers haven’t really separated themselves as a legitimate threat to secondaries thus far. The running game has to remain the bread and butter as it helps Ta’amu with keeping a clean pocket for when he is asked to throw the ball. The defense rosters two front runners for early defensive player of the year candidates and might be the most balanced group out of all the defenses in the league.
Mark: Stretching the field. More deep plays is the only issue I’ve seen from this team so far. They run the ball very well and are efficient in the passing game but they don’t take enough chances down the field. I’m not saying they need to abandon their offensive game plan but to just open it up more. This team prides itself on the run game and it has worked but as teams stack the box the deep passes should be open.
Michael: Wide receiver play and creating space for the running backs. So far, the Dragons are the most frustrating team to watch. They have talent all over the place yet can’t create enough offensive diversity to open the field for them to create positive plays. Gardner, Trey Williams and Farrow should be leaned on heavily moving forward until they can find a wide receiver that can help them stretch the field. Kasen Williams should return in week four which could help, but offensive play-calling is a problem. Their wide receivers lack the ability to get open on their own constantly being beat in one on one matchups and the results are glaring late in games. If the Dragons want to contend for a playoff spot, they need to give Silvers help from the receiver position.
Mark: Wide receivers. This team may have some other issues but the biggest issue and the only one I want to talk about is the wide receivers. Austin Proehl has been a big surprise and strong point for this team but he can’t be the main guy on this offense. They need a tall wide receiver who can make those contested catches down the field. This team needs to look into a trade to upgrade this position on the team.
Los Angeles Wildcats
Michael: Eliminating mistakes and better red zone playcalling. In week 3, we saw a much improved Wildcats team but the first two weeks tell a different story. The improvement is nice to see but they need to continue in order to contend. The first thing they need to do is eliminate the turnovers, especially in the red zone. Every drive in the XFL is going to become more important each week and one turnover, as we saw in the Seattle game, can determine everything. The playcalling needs to get better by Norm Chow, especially in plus territory. They have had too many drives bog down by some questionable decisions and playcalling. Similar to the turnover argument, those drives are important and will continue to get more and more important as the season progresses. Penalties have killed this team at times, as well and they need to clean those mistakes up in order to make a late push.
Mark: Run game and better defensive play. The defense looked much better this week but this is still an area to improve for this team and the running game. In weeks 1 and 2 the defense was an issue for this team and we did see a big improvement this week but one week will not change my opinion on that group just yet. Another, area that did not improve this week is the run game. This team is averaging 69 yards rushing on the season. They blew out the Defenders this week but still only had 56 yards rushing for the game when they should have been able to rack the yards up late in the game.
Michael: Stronger starts to games and QB pressure. Dallas’ defense has been one of the more surprising defenses in the young season but they thrive when they’re able to get pressure. The defense rattled Brandon Silvers last week in the second half of the game and was able to stifle the running game, but without that pressure? They have a tendency to become flat and give up big plays. St. Louis QB, Jordan Ta’amu, really exposed that defense in the second half of week one when the Renegades were unable to get pressure. Slow starts have killed this team all season and won’t lead to success if it continues. Eventually, those leads will become too big to overcome and the Renegades will be looking at the scoreboard with losses instead of wins. In the tightening Western Conference, each game has become more and more important for each team.
Mark: Early game execution and giving up big plays. In all three games this team has come out of the gate very slowly in every game this year. We’ve seen teams get early leads in games so far this season and Dallas has been lucky that hasn’t happened to them. They do make really good adjustments but need to make better adjustments leading up to the game. The other issue is defensively they have played well but keep giving up big plays and need the offense to bail them out. In week 2 of LA hadn’t just missed on about 3 big plays they would have easily lost that game.
Michael: Not becoming one-dimensional and defensive play. It’s usually hard finding weaknesses on an undefeated team, but the Roughnecks, despite the 3-0 record, have just as many weaknesses or holes as every other team. The offense works best when they get production from the running game. The problem is June Jones doesn’t use the running game in his scheme. The lack of a running game was exposed in week two when the BattleHawks slowed down that passing attack and almost came back from some early mistakes to beat them. I know it goes against June Jones’ philosophy but in order for the Roughnecks to be playing for a championship, they have to get better production from their running game. The defense is a problem, as well. St. Louis was able to generate positive and big plays in the second half of their week two matchup and if Houston doesn’t clean that up, the race for the number one spot in the west could become a lot closer than they want it to become.
Mark: Consistency. The only 3-0 team in the league has not shown many weaknesses to this point. Consistency has been an issue for them. Week 1 they fell behind early but Walker was able to get this team going. Week 2 jumped out to a big lead but couldn’t put the Battlehawks away. Then this past week let a team who hasn’t been able to do much of anything all season hang around right till the end. In all three games though this team has shown a mental toughness to pull out the win that they will need to win the championship. This looks like one of the only teams to have that at this point.
Of course that’s just our takes on the eight teams through three weeks of play. It’ll be determined in just seven short weeks whether we were right, or wrong, about the teams.
~Michael Washington-Weeks and Mark Angst
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