XFL Week 1: YO, LETS GO!!
Roughly 3 minutes into Saturday’s game with the Seattle Dragons facing off vs. the DC Defenders, Cardale Jones completed his 2nd pass of the game. The crowd lost their minds with the unexpected medium level of competent play. They erupted into “MVP! MVP! MVP!” chants thrown at Cardale. The XFL is here, and it’s amazing.
February 8th and 9th, 2020 gave us the first taste of the new XFL. The league brought roughly 17-18k fans to the stadiums and 3.3 million people tuned in for the season opener on their phones and TVs. Are those numbers good?
I think the kids call that “slaying it”.
Sure, the AAF was doomed from the start with no funding, network coverage or high profile players. At least the XFL had some branding behind it from when it first launched in 2001. Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck managed to create enough interest leading up to this past weekend to draw in millions of eyeballs. The rule changes, especially to the kickoff, had everyone tuning in just to see what it looked like. It seemed so bizarre that you had to witness it with your own two eyes to believe it. The uniforms were a perfect balance of professional and flashy. The timing was perfect with the NFL season ending and fans being left with a need for decent football, and the constant hot mics on players, coaches and refs was a transparency NFL fans dreamed of. This truly was masterfully done and the numbers showed that for week 1.
First, let me tell you want I loved.
- First and foremost, the reviews of plays. The NFL’s number one issue right now is officiating and not fans not knowing how the review officials come to the conclusions they do. The XFL fixes all of that. When they went to the review booth for the Seattle Dragons comeback drive, we got the first taste of it. It was 4th and short and the RB went wide to the right and dove for the sticks. he was ruled short initially, but the review booth called for its debut. The camera went live to a man with an Xbox controller slowly reviewing the play from all different angles while talking through it all with the main referee on the field. We heard what he was thinking, we saw what he was seeing and the right call was made. Absolutely brilliant! The Dragons would fumble the ball away about 2 plays later, but still, the new review rule worked flawlessly.
- Kickoffs are next level. What does the NFL care (preach) about? Player safety! So, their fix to one of the most dangerous plays in the game was to create more touch backs by moving the kick up to the 35 yard line. Unfortunately, that resulted in a pointless, boring play that heated fans. The XFL almost eliminates touch backs, almost forces the team to return the ball, and makes it safe with the return team and kicking team lining up 5 yards away from each other. It’s fun, effective and safe. Another amazing rule change.
- I don’t know if it is much of a rule change, but obviously one of the fan favorite things that happened this weekend was the hitting. QB’s were smacked and thrown to the ground (even LANDED ON TOP OF! GASP!). WR’s were having balls jarred from their arms on catches from LB’s lighting them up. These kinds of plays would be “roughing the passer” or “hitting a defenseless receiver” in the NFL. Guess what? It’s football. Hits are meant to be hard and the XFL is allowing it. Player safety is given with the kickoff, but taken away on regular down to down plays.
There are other things I loved, but those were my top three and as far as I can tell, the top three across the football community. As I stated in last weeks blog, the XFL is attacking the NFL’s weak spots and these three are the top three chinks in the armor. The XFL has to answer some questions though:
And the question is: Is it all sustainable?
The XFL was able to draw all of this attention based off of pure intrigue. The TV ratings to show after the 3.3 million people tuned into the Dragons vs. Defenders game, the numbers sharply declined after an hour. People saw, they came, they left. The question is will they be back next week at all? Can the XFL sustain 3.3 million people tuning in for the first game of the weekend? I highly doubt it.
Most of those people tuning in wanted to see the rule changes and maybe get a small taste of football since the NFL is over for a couple of months. Once they saw what they wanted, they realized “I don’t care about this. I’m not committed to any of these teams. I have to go snow blow the drive way and take a nap”. At least that’s what it was like in Upstate New York. I am sure Vince and Oliver knew that was going to happen though. It is going to take some time to get committed fan bases for each team and consistent numbers both in front of screens and at games. They didn’t see “3.3 million tuned into the first game of the weekend” and set their number at 3.3 million for the season. Vince is a smarter business man than that, or at least someone on his team is, I’m sure.
The real problem the XFL faces is when the charm of the live interviews, hot mics and flashy new rules wears off, how many more fans will die off? Only time will tell, but I know for a fact that everyone who put money in the pot for this league to be created is praying for improved play on the field. That is the sole factor that will keep this league going into year two.
I am not saying we saw terrible football. What we saw was semi-pro players working an offense, defense and special teams that they have been around for only a few months. Even some of the players who were in the NFL for a stint looked rusty. Even for Cardale Jones, it took a half for him to really click. It was another thing I mentioned in last weeks blog. Experience is going to matter and if you look at the rosters for the 0-1 teams, they lack experience, especially at the QB position (Note: when i say 0 years, I mean 0 years of starting or even taking a snap in a regular season game.):
- Seattle Dragons: Brandon Silvers. NFL experience: 0 years.
- Dallas Renegades: Landry Jones. NFL experience: 6 years but didn’t play Sunday.
- LA Wildcats: Chad Kanoff. NFL experience: 0 years.
- Tampa Bay Vipers: Aaron Murray. NFL Experience: 0 years.
Let’s take a look at the winning teams QBs:
- DC Defenders: Cardale Jones. NFL experience: 1 year starter.
- Houston Roughnecks: P.J. Walker. NFL experience: 0 years… exception…
- NY Guardians: Matt McGloin. NFL experience: 5 years.
- St Louis. Battlehawks: Jordan Ta’amu. NFL experience: 0 years… hear me out…
Okay, so two of them don’t have NFL experience. Shoot me. But their playing styles match to that of a semi-pro player. P.J. Walker had himself a game with 4 TD passes but ran the ball a lot and physically. Can he repeat that performance? Time will tell, I have my doubts. Jordan also had a good game running the ball and the offense as a whole struggled until late in the game. That slow of an offense cannot produce wins, bet on it. The two teams that I believe can continue winning are the two teams with NFL QB experience, DC and NY. The offenses looked consistent for most of the 4 quarters, the complexity of the offenses were much harder for defenses to contain and in return, the QB’s can read the defenses easier since they are in fact easier, more simple defenses. Week 1, DC is already pulling out the trick plays!
Back to my original point, the XFL owners are hoping that those players with little to no NFL experience can keep up with the teams like DC and NY or else it will be a two team race. When that happens, they will quickly lose 6/8th of their fans. They can afford to lose Seattle Dragons fans if they go 0-10. 1/8th of fans can just find a new team! They can’t afford more than half of the teams holding onto losing records or even at .500. If they can maintain a level of entertainment on the sidelines/in the booth and increase the level of play of the field, they will succeed, no doubt in my mind. Hopefully the coaches, which do have a lot of pedigree among them, can get their teams to competitive levels.
Finally, let’s take a look at these games!
Seattle Dragons 19 @ DC Defenders 31
- Stud: The aforementioned Cardale Jones (Defenders) was receiving MVP chants. So, yeah, he’s my stud for the game. 319 total yards and 3 TD passes will easy earn you a stud ranking, especially when it’s the first game of the season. The first time running this offense with new coaches and new teammates. That is hard to do and he ran it almost perfectly. He had a bit of a slow 1st half, but the 2nd half was beautiful.
- Dud: Brandon Silvers (Dragons) was absolutely terrible. His stats might not show exactly how bad he was, but if you watched him, he straight up did not look like a professional QB. Not even a semi-pro QB. He threw 3 TD’s but two of them were easy dump offs where the WR/RB made athletic plays to get to the end zone. He threw 2 INT’s (one pick 6) and he could have easily had 4 total if the Defenders didn’t drop the ball. He also fumbled the ball on the exchange of an RPO play that virtually ended the game. If the Dragons want to win this season, Silvers needs to get much better very fast, or make a change.
- Overall: It was an entertaining game in the 1st half and then a blow out in the 2nd half. That doesn’t mean it was not a fun 2nd half, but it was not competitive. Pep Hamilton was able to change his schemes and adjust to beat the Dragons defense. Jim Zorn and his playbook looked about 2 pages long. Run right outside, run left outside, run right inside, run left inside, deep ball pass and crappy comeback routes. Long way to go for the Dragons while the Defenders are a top 2 team.
LA Wildcats 17 @ Houston Roughnecks 37
- Stud: P.J. Walker played his brains out. His 4 TD passes and 2 pt. conversion run is the best individual performance of the weekend. He looked like a leader of a team and had oozing confidence, especially in the 2nd half. It was exciting to see a young star early in the season. My one issue is he does not know how to be a safe runner. He took a few hard hits on his scrambles and it worries me that he might not make it through the season, which would be devastating to the Roughnecks and the league.
- Dud: Winston Moss, the LA Wildcats HC had a late game mental breakdown. Maybe he had his reasoning, but when the Wildcats still had a chance at a comeback he bought a first class ticket to bizzaro-land. Charles Kanoff (Wildcats QB) begged Moss to go for it on 4th and 6 from the 36 of the Roughnecks. Moss allowed it and they did not convert. The next offensive possession, Jalan McClendon comes out and throws an interception. Next possession, he comes out and goes 3 and out. So, bad idea. Moss puts Kanoff back in there and they go three and out. Okay, head back in Jalan! What? Just a mess and Moss has some soul searching to do this week to find his QB.
- Overall: I would place the Roughnecks at the 3rd best team, strictly because I worry about Walker’s health and playing style. If he goes down, the Roughnecks go down. As for the Wildcats, I think they have a chance to be good, but Kanoff needs to calm down a little bit and Moss needs to just stick with a QB. Similar to the Dragons vs. Defenders game, entertaining game overall, but the 2nd half got a little out of control. Also, shout out to Nick Holley for the Roughnecks who apparently broke his back and tore his ACL in both knees like 3 times and he is out here balling with 5 targets, 4 catches for 50 yards and one of them was a leaping grab between 3 defenders. Good stuff!
Tampa Bay Vipers 3 @ New York Guardians 23
- Stud: The Guardians defense was lights out brilliant. 8 QB hits, 5 sacks, 2 INT’s (on the stat sheet), 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 0 TDs allowed. This is my #1 team moving forward because we all know DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!… and as I said earlier, experience also wins in this league. Matt McGloin played a great game manager game. 29 of 52 for 182 with a passing TD and a rushing TD. he didn’t blow anyone away but he kept the ball out of the Vipers hands and let his defense do their thing. Great game from the Guardians as a whole.
- Dud: The Vipers. Just a bad first day at the office. I want to tear apart Aaron Murray, the O-Line, the coach, and basically everyone on this team, but maybe it was just the Guardians defense that was so much better. So, I won’t go too hard on the Vipers. I will say the run game was good. De’Veon Smith had 79 yards on 16 rushes and Jacques Patrick had 32 yards on 8 rushes. That’s pretty good I guess.
- Overall: As I said, Guardians are my #1 team moving forward and the Vipers are sitting at #7 just barely in front of the Dragons. I am excited to see this defenses encore performance. I am not as excited to see the Vipers play. I just hope they break off the rust and play a little more open and free.
St. Louis Battlehawks 15 @ Dallas Renegades 9
- Stud: It was hard to pick a real a stud from this game, but Battlehawks QB Jordan Ta’amu is the best choice. 9 rushes for 77 yards, 20-27 passing for 209 yards and a TD. The Battlehawks offense did not really break through until the 2nd half with it being locked 6-6 at the half. Jordan took over with the help of RB Matt Jones, 21 rushes for 85 yards.
- Dud: I would say some stuff about the Renegades here, but they did not have Landry Jones who is going to be the face of this team with his old coach Bob Stoops there. My real dud is former 2nd round pick Seattle Seahawk Christine Michael. 7 rushes, 0 yards, 1 slip to the ground untouched where he fumbled and lost the ball. Outstanding! Way to represent!
- Overall: It was one the least exciting game of the weekend, but that is bound to happen. Not every moment of the XFL is going to be amazing. Not every NFL game is exciting either. It’s just how the game goes. I expect the Renegades to improve, but I do have concerns about the Battlehawks. If they can play 4 quarters like how they played the 2nd half, they have a chance.
As we wrap up this very long blog post, I want to give you my power rankings going into week 2. Thank you reading and make sure to go listen to the new episode of On and Off the Field where we talk about a lot about the XFL, Project Codebreaker from the MLB and some of the NFL offseason news. As always, All Hail the Jock Strap King!
- NY Guardians
- DC Defenders
- Houston Roughnecks
- St. Louis Battlehawks
- Dallas Renegades
- LA Wildcats
- Tampa Bay Vipers
- Seattle Dragons