As Mina Kimes put it last weekend, the St. Louis Battlehawks are a team of destiny. For the second straight week, this team rallied to overcome a double digit deficit – and win in the final seconds.
This team believes in each other. Anthony Becht is building an excellent culture with his new team, and the camaraderie is evident already. No matter how bad things might be going, this squad is as resilient as can be.
AJ McCarron is proving to be the leader for his Battlehawks. After a rocky start to the season, AJ has shown tremendous growth. While he might not be the flashiest QB in the XFL, this man leaves everything out on the field for his team. He also got the Battlehawks into a rhythm much earlier this week compared to the last, which allowed them to stay in the game.
Next man up mentality is something St. Louis embraces. Starting RB Brian Hill was inactive, but that didn’t matter. Kareem Walker and Mataeo Durant stepped up in a big way, helping create offense that was much needed.
Donny Hageman with ice in his veins as he sends his team to 2-0. What a victory for this team. Everyone is bought in. Anthony Becht is doing a great job in St. Louis. #XFL | @XFL2023pic.twitter.com/x5V80kbSfp
How about Donny Hageman? Talk about guts. After missing two kicks on the night, Donny crushed the game winning field goal, sending St. Louis to 2-0. You gotta love it. The Battlehawks are back, and once again are taking over the XFL.
Seattle’s Offensive Inconsistencies
Meanwhile, Seattle has to figure things out. Each week so far, they’ll play like the best team in the XFL at moments. Then, the very next drive will be an absolute disaster. Inconsistent production from Ben DiNucci has certainly held this team back from reaching their full potential.
The Sea Dragons are stacked. Offensively, they have two of the league’s best backs in Brenden Knox and Morgan Ellison. Ellison, in particular, had an outstanding game, rushing for over 50 yards on just 10 carries.
Jahcour Pearson is a star. Pair him up with the depth at Seattle’s WR position, and they should never stall out as an offense. So, what’s going wrong?
DiNucci simply hasn’t been able to find a groove quite yet. Untimely turnovers continue to plague his play, leading to momentum switches at the worst times. This has to improve moving forward. Ben clearly is one of the XFL’s best quarterbacks – but has to avoid these mistakes if Seattle wants to be successful.
Tuzar Skipper’s Underrated XFL Performance
Before closing this segment, I have to give Tuzar Skipper some love. He single handedly kept Seattle in the game – and most didn’t even notice.
Tuzar Skipper has been a monster today for the @XFLSeaDragons. If they pull this one off, he's gotta get a lot of credit.
– forced fumble before halftime to knock STL out of FG range – TFL that forced a missed FG by Donny Hageman
First, he forced a fumble on McCarron before halftime, which led to a punt rather than a field goal attempt. Then, he tackled Mataeo Durant behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter, forcing a miss from Hageman.
If Tuzar can keep this up, expect him to be in the running for the All-XFL defensive team.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Hopefully, the ugly mess we watched on Saturday night stays in Vegas, and doesn’t trickle through the rest of the league. Before we get to that matter, let’s review what happened in the game itself.
D’Eriq King QB1?
Even though Jordan Ta’amu is a serviceable QB for DC, after that second half – it’s clear that D’Eriq King should be the starting QB in DC. The Defenders were unstoppable once King was inserted into the lineup.
The speed, agility, and versatility he brings to the DC Defenders' offense is clutch, and desperately needed. Big-time drive by King, to put the Defenders on top by four. #XFLpic.twitter.com/axdOUOr3VS
Watching their offense felt a lot like watching what DeAndre Johnson brought to the table for the New Jersey Generals. With a dual threat QB, Vegas simply could not stop King, Abram Smith, and Ryquel Armstead.
Moving forward, Reggie Barlow would do his team a favor by giving D’Eriq the reins to the team. Let him throw the ball, and continue to dominate defenses with his college-style attributes.
The Defenders Are Defending
So far, the Defenders defense looks like the best in the XFL. They completely shut down Vegas, not allowing a single score – except, for when the Vipers were handed the ball at the goal line by Jordan Ta’amu.
DC Defenders linebacker Reggie Northrup absolutely belted Luis Perez last night in action against the Vegas Vipers.
This unit is playing outstanding football. LB Reggie Northrup has been a leader for Gregg Williams defense, which is no surprise. They continue to force timely turnovers, taking the starch out of their opponents.
What’s Going On In Vegas?
Rod Woodson has a lot to figure out, as his team is all of a sudden 0-2 to start the season. How did we get here? Inconsistent offensive play.
First and foremost, the Vipers have not been able to establish a presence on the ground. This means that Luis Perez – and Brett Hundley – have been put in poor positions. Neither quarterback has stepped up to the task, though.
Vegas needs an offensive overhaul moving forward. They have so much talent – but, haven’t been able to put it together. While the Vipers defense struggled to stop DC in the second half, if the offense was at least somewhat competent, their backs wouldn’t have been against the wall.
Optics Are A Disaster
No need to beat a dead horse here – the XFL has caught a ton of flak for the venue situation in Vegas, and rightfully so. Something has to change, but at this point, there’s no way that it can.
Like…what the heck is this? They had plenty of time to prepare this field for the season, despite the chaos of settling for Cashman. Not a great look for the #XFL, considering they have other teams playing at incredible venues such as The Dome. pic.twitter.com/GNQM6EwCy1
This is a downright awful spot for the XFL to be in. A league that is all about player safety and innovation is now playing football on dead grass. We saw at least six players get injured during the game, with a few of them likely because of the ground conditions. It’s unacceptable.
San Antonio’s offense is playing excellent football. Jack Coan looked so much better in week two, finding receivers in rhythm and pushing the ball down field. Coan has one of the best arms in the XFL, and this was on full display against Orlando.
Jalen Tolliver is a star. This guy continues to make big-time plays for the @XFLBrahmas. He was an outstanding WR for the Vipers in 2020, and now is settling into Hines Ward's system nicely in San Antonio.
Now, it wasn’t a perfect offensive performance. After the ground game dominated in week one, both Jacques Patrick and Kalen Ballage struggled to run the ball efficiently against the Guardians. If this offense can execute both on the ground and through the air, watch out. Hines Ward has his squad looking dangerous.
Defensively, it was a simple game plan for San Antonio. Keep attacking Orlando’s weakness: their offensive line. They racked up four sacks in the first half alone, dominating up front. Even when Deondre Francois came into the game, San Antonio still got home.
Ranthony Texada is playing excellent football for the Brahmas. His interception practically sealed the win for SA. Expect him to continue to play a major role in this defense.
Orlando Is A Mess…Part II
Unfortunately, it’s the same story for Orlando. Honestly, it feels like we watched the same script from week one. The offensive line woes continued. Neither Paxton Lynch or Deondre Francois had proper protection, which once again killed the team in the early goings.
It’s frustrating, because this team does feature so much talent. They arguably have the best WR room in the entire XFL. Jah-Maine Martin is a fantastic back, showcasing remarkable skill sets throughout the first couple of weeks.
Terrell Buckley has to figure things out, sooner than later. To be quite frank, he hasn’t looked the part as a head coach so far. Sunday was a prime example of just that. He was complaining, whining, and throwing his players under the bus 24/7.
Of course, a coach has to correct his players. That’s a given. With that in mind, the way Buckley did so seemed out of line. Clearly, the team isn’t bought into Buckley’s system, and it might just be because of his coaching style.
I don't know about you, but I do not like what I'm seeing from the @XFLGuardians.
Not just talking about the on-field product. That product is a result of what's happening on the sidelines. Terrell Buckley complaining 24/7, players being disrespectful…not an ideal look. #XFL
H-Town is back. Wade Phillips has his Houston Roughnecks looking like the most complete team in the XFL. This team is extremely resilient – and very talented. You can tell that this group looks out for one another, playing selfless football.
Brandon Silvers and Cole McDonald are settling into a two QB system, and it’s working quite well. Silvers handles most of the passes, while McDonald is utilized in AJ Smiths’ offense as a dual threat QB. With all of the weapons both quarterbacks are surrounded with, Houston is humming along smoothly.
Speaking of humming along…this Roughnecks defense is incredible. Brian Stewart has put together a dominant unit, one that has taken the XFL by storm. Watching them play the last two weeks has been nothing short of impressive, as they dismantle opposing offenses with ease.
Sean Davis is a ball hawk, already with two interceptions over two games. Ajene Harris – who was a Roughneck in 2020 – started the day off with a pick on Plitt on the very first play of the game. That set the tone for the rest of the night.
As the season continues, expect Houston to be a legitimate problem. Heading into the season, it was unclear whether or not this team could compete; but now, it’s evident that they are the real deal.
Shortcomings For Arlington
Bob Stoops might want to think about making a QB change ahead of week three. Drew Plitt has been quite underwhelming, to say the least. Even though they beat Vegas in the home opener, we all know that victory was solely because of Arlington’s defensive efforts.
Plitt has not proved to be a leader, at least not yet. During crucial moments on Sunday night, Plitt made a couple of crushing mistakes that ultimately lost the game. While the talent is there, the execution is not. Arlington did get in the end zone twice; but those are mainly due to turnovers that the defense generated.
Lujuan Winningham has been balling out for the @XFLRenegades tonight.
First, he forces a fumble on the punt, to give Arlington a fresh set of downs. Then, he catches a dart from Drew Plitt, pulling the Renegades back within one score. #XFL | @XFL2023pic.twitter.com/HbuKLTk2se
Kyle Sloter has been a bench warmer the last couple weeks, which was a questionable move from the get go. Now, it seems a bit odd to still see him on the bench. Sloter is one of the highest profile QB’s in the XFL. He most recently led the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers to the playoffs, serving as an All-USFL signal caller.
Considering how inept Arlington has been as an offense for large portions of this young season, inserting Sloter into the starting lineup isn’t a terrible idea. In fact, it would make the most sense for Stoops at this point. Arlington can’t afford to drop any more close games, especially with how good San Antonio and Houston look.
At the end of the day, week two was quite the show in the XFL. There were some highs, and some lows. Gameplay is improving, which is a great sign. That being said, ugly scenarios in Vegas and Orlando are not a good look for the league as a whole.
Regardless, we’re very thankful to have spring football back. Week three is just around the corner, as the Vegas Vipers host the Seattle Sea Dragons at 7pm ET on Saturday.