DC Defenders vs. St. Louis Battlehawks | Week 5 Preview

DC Defenders vs. St. Louis Battlehawks | Week 5 Preview

Week five presents an absolute treat to XFL fans, as the St. Louis Battlehawks (3-1) travel to the nation’s capital to take on the DC Defenders (2-2) at Audi Field. This is their first matchup in the UFL.

St. Louis is the hottest team in the XFL conference, currently riding a three game win-streak after falling week one to Michigan. The Battlehawks defeated the Showboats last weekend, 32-17, in what was a dominant performance by HC Anthony Becht’s group throughout.

Meanwhile, the Defenders are coming off of a gut-wrenching loss to the undefeated Birmingham Stallions at a wet Protective Stadium, 20-18. The Defenders are in the midst of the toughest part of their 2024 schedule, and will need a win against St. Louis this week to prevent dropping two straight games.

The last time these two teams played at Audi Field was last season in the XFL, where the game finished with a brawl that resulted in multiple suspensions for each team. The Defenders won the game, 34-28.

Let’s take a look at key factors and storylines heading into Sunday’s highly anticipated game in the District.

Quarterback Play

The quarterback matchup between AJ McCarron and Jordan Ta’amu will always be the top headline of a game when these two aces faceoff.

McCarron is coming off one of his most efficient games as a Battlehawk, finishing 35/45 for 222 passing yards, and three touchdowns. McCarron also threw an interception in the first half last weekend, but looked near-perfect in the second half.

McCarron was helped by the return of WR Jahcour Pearson, who made an instant impact last week. More to come later on his potential success this week.

For DC, Ta’amu finished last week vs. Birmingham, 12/22 passing with 161 yards, and two touchdowns. The rough weather conditions in Birmingham played a part, but Ta’amu will want to see his numbers go up this week against a familiar foe.

Standout Playmakers

When looking at the array of playmakers for St. Louis, it’s difficult knowing where to start. The receiving threats are plenty, led by Jahcour Pearson, Marcell Ateman, Darrius Shepherd, Blake Jackson, and tight end’s Hakeem Butler and Jake Sutherland. This group of targets has made QB AJ McCarron’s life fairly easy through four weeks, the key for DC will be generating pressure against a stout Battlehawks offensive line.

Battlehawks RB Jacob Saylors has without a doubt made his introduction to spring football, after posting 103 rushing yards on 18 carries last week. Saylors also added value in the passing game, contributing three receptions for 19 yards, and a touchdown.

With four games down, the true receiving threats for DC are beginning to solidify and display that with breakout games. Ty Scott was the first receiver to unleash for DC, and last week WR Kelvin Harmon had his best game of the season, finishing with five receptions for 93 yards, and a touchdown.

Chris Rowland has also begun to be a threat in the slot and on special teams for the Defenders. Rowland caught his second touchdown of the season last week, and continues to set up DC in excellent field position consistently on his returns.

Defenders 2023 vs. Defenders 2024, White Breakout Incoming?

When comparing the Defenders offense this season to the Defenders offense from 2023, it’s clear this year’s unit does not have the same juice. While it was a process for HC Reggie Barlow’s team to get going on offense last season, by week five they were clicking and scoring almost 30 points per game against top defenses. Through the first month, the Defenders have scored 12, 23, 29, and 18 points. Last season, 22, 18, 34, and 32 points scored in the first four weeks.

Since Abram Smith’s season-ending injury and throughout the season, the main talking point for media and fans alike has been, how will DC’s offense replicate Smith’s production?

Well, last week we may have seen our first glimpse of someone who can tote a similar load to Abram Smith’s 15-16 average carries per game from last year. RB ZaQuandre White, who was on DC’s training camp roster but released prior to the season, displayed quite a few impressive runs against Birmingham’s aggressive defense last Sunday. White finished the game with 10 rushes for 33 yards, but his forceful demeanor and rarely going down on first contact is what stood out.

Injury Update

The following image is the most recent injury report that has been made available to the media.

Final Thoughts

This is a colossal game between St. Louis and DC, and should end up being a good precursor for how the rest of the season shakes out for the XFL conference. Both teams are beginning to hit their strides in certain facets, but there still appears to be minor holes on each team, specifically DC.

With how well the Battlehawks are playing currently, and having an extra day of rest on top of that, I lean St. Louis in the first of two matchups this season for these bitter rivals.

With a win, the Battlehawks would remain #1 in the XFL conference, but with a DC win there is potential for a three way tie after this week, depending on the outcome of San Antonio at Arlington.

The DC Defenders will host the St. Louis Battlehawks at 12pm ET this Sunday, on ESPN.

Full Roster Breakdowns: DC, St. Louis

What are your thoughts on this upcoming matchup between the St. Louis Battlehawks and DC Defenders? Which UFL players do you expect will impress? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!