XFL Review Week 1
It’s never been a better time to be a football fan in the month of February. The NFL Combine is moving to primetime for the first time, players like Darius Slay are using Twitter to imply their target numbers in free agency, and Vince McMahon’s XFL is back. This time, though, the XFL…looks kinda like real football? There’s still some fun new wrinkles, but it’s a much more traditional experience that has already surpassed both its namesake and the short-lived AAF. This week, I’m going to break down all 4 games from the league, with my opinion on some of the new rules tacked on the end.
DC Defenders 31, Seattle Dragons 19
One of the two games with a 9.5 point spread this weekend, this game ended up being a better than expected showing as the XFL’s debut. As a lifelong Seattle Dragons fan and current season-ticket holder, I was disappointed with the result, but the team picked by Vegas as the worst team in the league largely held their own against Cardale Jones and the Defenders. Jones looked solid, which is bad news for Tyree Jackson truthers such as myself, but should continue to thrive throwing to former NFL players like Eli Rogers and Rashad Ross. The Dragons had a bit of a 90’s look to their offense, especially given the presence of Austin Proehl, the receiver whose father is Ricky Proehl of Greatest Show on Turf fame. Quarterback Brandon Silvers was up-and-down and ended up injuring his ankle near the end of the game. With no Isaiah Battle (OT) or Kasen Williams (WR) in this one, there’s still a fair bit to look forward to as a Dragons fan.
Houston Roughnecks 37, LA Wildcats 17
Roughnecks QB and former Temple Owl PJ Walker was the star in this one, with 272 yards and 4 touchdowns that propelled him to the forefront of early XFL MVP talk. On the defensive side, Kony Ealy of Carolina Panthers fame was in the quarterback’s face all game, and overall looked like he absolutely still belongs in the NFL. As a completely healthy team coming into this game, Hosuton looked like they’re going to be one of the premier threats in the West. For the Wildcats, not having Josh Johnson due to a thigh injury proved costly, as neither Charles Kanoff nor Jalan McClendon were able to get much going in a second half full of frustration. WR Nelson Spruce had a nice game despite the turmoil, finishing with 11 catches for 103 yards. The Wildcats will look to get into more of a rhythm with NFL veteran Johnson back under center and the continued development of chemistry between their players.
New York Guardians 23, Tampa Bay Vipers 3
The Vipers came into the game with 3-1 title odds, according to Vegas, and were the lone road team to be favored in Week 1. However, as Chicago Bears fans may tell you, getting excited about a Marc Trestman-led team is a fool’s errand. Former Georgia star Aaron Murray looked like perhaps the worst starting QB in the league, while discount Taysom Hill Quinton Flowers struggled to get in a rhythm thanks to some puzzling coaching decisions. The Vipers reached the red zone three times, but came away with just 3 points to their name. Meanwhile, the Guardians looked like one of the more complete teams in the league, led by QB Matt McGloin and a fumble six by CB Jamar Summers. With a fearsome defense and composed offensive play from the 30-year-old McGloin, New York could be one of the early favorites for the championship now that we’ve largely seen what the teams look like.
St. Louis BattleHawks 15, Dallas Renegades 9
Dallas was Vegas’ favorite to win the inaugural XFL championship, with 5:2 odds that banked on former Steelers backup QB Landry Jones becoming the face of the league. Jones didn’t play in this one due to a knee injury, but I’m honestly not sure if it would’ve made much of a difference. The Renegades offensive coordinator is Hal Mumme, one of the pioneers of the Air Raid, who’s been around football for so long that his scheme is common knowledge. It showed in this one, as St. Louis sat in off coverage and forced QB and former Instagram model Philip Nelson to check the ball down time after time. Neither offense was too inspiring in this game, which included a ton of punts that were at least made a bit more entertaining by ESPN sideline reporter and former Colts punter Pat McAfee. (Get my guy Jordan Ta’amu an NFL contract, though.) Both teams either need to do a lot of work on the offensive end or have incredible defensive units, but it’s hard to say which is true until more games are played.
The New Rules: Good, Bad, or Neutral?
The Kickoff: Neutral. I’ve seen this one get talked about the most. Some people like it from a safety standpoint, some people hate it because it seems like there’s no chance to break off a huge return. It didn’t seem to have that much of an impact this week, and I doubt it will for the rest of the season (how many kickoff return TDs are there, anyway?). I do think it’s funny to further alienate kickers from the rest of their team by having them line up all by themselves 35 yards away, though.
The PAT attempt: Good! Thoroughly enjoy this one. It was interesting to see how different teams emphasized different tries, and the fact that you can score 9 points in one possession is an excellent way to keep fans engaged later in games. I’d like to see a team or teams get hyper-aggressive and go for 3 every time, but other than that I thought this rule was very successful.
Replay Transparency: Good! Implement this in every football game from the NFL to high school immediately. It was incredibly refreshing to be able to see and hear the replay officials in the booth go through their process and explain what made or didn’t make a call in real time. FOX was especially good about this, since their officiating expert is Dean Blandino, who happens to also be the head of officiating for the XFL. Just tell the replay officials to stop breathing directly into their mics and I’m good.
2 Minute “Comeback Period”: Neutral. This one didn’t really come into play that often this weekend, since none of the games came down to the wire (STL-DAL sort of did, but Philip Nelson threw an INT with a full minute left in the game). Stopping the clock after every play is an interesting wrinkle, but I think it ultimately only works in the XFL because they’ve put so much emphasis on speeding the game up in other areas. In the NFL, with more commercials and a much longer halftime, I think this rule would drive people insane.
Coach-Player Communication: Good! Another one I liked a lot, maybe because there was so much focus on fans at home hearing the communication between coach and player. Having skill position players hear the call directly from their coach makes hurry-up situations a lot more fun, and I want a team (or teams) to go full no-huddle with this at their disposal. Defensively, I thought having communication with more than one player was awesome, too. It’s hard to say if it showed up in the execution of either side or not, but I think it ultimately will.
I think the XFL is here to stay. On the field, it looked like actual football; yes, the execution was sloppy at times, but that’s to be expected in the first game of a new league with less talented players. Off the field, the XFL seems like they’ve learned lessons from both its original iteration and the AAF: they have TV deals with ESPN and FOX, quality sponsorships, and for the most part are playing in smaller stadiums that look less empty on TV. It seems as if Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck have embraced a place as a mid-tier league meant to send talent to the NFL, rather than direct competition. I’m personally sold, so expect these weekly reviews for the rest of the season.