St. Louis Battlehawks vs. DC Defenders | UFL Week 8 Preview

St. Louis Battlehawks vs. DC Defenders | Week 8 Preview

The UFL’s premier matchup of the week takes place in St. Louis, Missouri this week as the DC Defenders (3-4) head to the midwest to take on the St. Louis Battlehawks (5-2) at The Dome.

The main reason this is being looked at as “Game of the Week” is because it’s the only UFL game with playoff implications on the line for both teams. The Battlehawks have a much greater chance of clinching a spot in the XFL conference, but DC can make things very interesting this week with a win in a tough environment.

In preparation for St. Louis, the Defenders have been extremely busy with roster moves this week. The team signed two 2024 NFL Draft prospects with WR Monroe Young and QB Mike DiLiello, and signed two experienced offensive linemen with Greg Long and John Yarbrough.

Meanwhile, the Battlehawks signed former Renegades QB Drew Plitt this week, a potential sign of what’s to come concerning QB AJ McCarron’s injury…

Quarterback Play

Throughout the week and leading up to Sunday, the conversation has been (and will continue to be) around Battlehawks QB AJ McCarron (ankle) and if he will play against DC. As mentioned, the Battlehawks playoffs clinching scenario is simple this week. Win and you’re in.

So far this season, McCarron has been special. He currently leads the UFL in passing touchdowns (14) and has thrown for 1,467 passing yards with a 66.7 completion percentage. The 2023 XFL MVP clearly hasn’t missed a beat from last season, and his health will be key coming down the stretch.

It’s hard to imagine McCarron not playing this week, given his competitive edge and overall competitive spirit. At the same time, there is no way McCarron will be even close to 100% with some of the brutal hits he took last week vs. Birmingham. Luckily for St. Louis, the ground attack has been even better than last season with Jacob Saylors leading the way, taking some pressure off McCarron and the passing offense at times.

With the Battlehawks signing QB Drew Plitt, it’s unlikely that A.J. will be suiting up this week.

On the opposite sideline, there are also questions surrounding the starting quarterback’s health with Defenders QB Jordan Ta’amu. Ta’amu left the game last week with a concussion and did not return. His backup, QB Deondre Francois, also left the game (ankle) and was placed on IR earlier this week. Defenders head coach Reggie Barlow spoke postgame about Ta’amu, and said he would have continued playing if not for the UFL’s third quarterback rule (which eliminates the starting quarterback from playing if the third quarterback plays).

The 2023 XFL Offensive Player of the Year has gone through trials and tribulations in his second year with DC. The former Ole Miss Rebel had a limited offseason with brand new starting wide receivers, paired with the devastating injury to RB Abram Smith during training camp. The Defenders continue battling injuries too, as leading receiver Kelvin Harmon (hamstring) was placed on IR earlier this week, ending his UFL season.

Standout Playmakers

St. Louis Battlehawks

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 seven weeks. Butler is the leading receiver in the UFL by a wide margin, with 38 receptions for 567 yards, and five touchdowns.

The key for DC will be generating pressure against a vulnerable Battlehawks offensive line, which has given up the second-most sacks this season (15).

We should see a heavy dose of Jacob Saylors on the ground this week against the league’s worst rushing defense. Saylors, one of the hottest RB’s in the UFL, currently sits fourth in rushing yards (280). When these two teams played in week five, Saylors finished with 12 carries for 52 yards, and a touchdown.

DC Defenders

We mentioned the crushing loss of Kelvin Harmon to IR, but Harmon was more than just the team’s leading receiver. Harmon is responsible for 45% of the team’s receptions this season, and has continuously been a safety valve for Ta’amu in tough times. DC will need Brandon Smith, Vyncint Smith, and Keke Coutee all to step up in the final three regular season games.

Ty Scott is the starting wideout opposite of Harmon normally, and has impressed nearly every time he’s touched the ball this season. Fantasy Points own, Jake Tribbey, did a tremendous job breaking down some advanced stats for Scott earlier this week:

To summarize, Scott is performing like the best wideout in the UFL with limited production/targets. His top ranking YPRR (yards per route run) and 1D/RR (first downs per route run) is extremely impressive and should be a clear sign that DC must utilize Scott more.

Injury Update

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

Final Thoughts

Both sides will be looking at this matchup as “must win” this week. Aside from being bitter rivals, playoff spots are on the line which means everything will be amped up, from the emotions to the on-field play.

Considering all outside factors this week, it’s difficult to look at this matchup in any other way than a St. Louis victory. Even if McCarron is unable to go, the team has the backup option of an experienced spring league quarterback with Brandon Silvers, or Manny Wilkins. Furthermore, the Battlehawks’ potent rushing attack will allow them to take advantage of a weakened DC front seven.

St. Louis should take care of DC this week, with ease.

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

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!