We got a chance to see the very first games in the second incarnation of the XFL on Saturday and Sunday, and I liked what I saw over the weekend. St. Louis was the only road team to win, even though the scoring isn’t what the league hoped for, it WAS, after all, just the beginning. Here are five things I noticed from the BattleHawks and the league in week one…
1) The BattleHawks showed some talent on both sides of the ball. The defense made plays and got after the Dallas quarterback. Offensively, they moved the ball reasonably well (374 yards) although they only scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu showed the ability to throw the ball downfield and the ability to run. Would you be at all surprised, after seeing his skill set, if he’d be signed by an NFL team before training camp? With what you saw this year from Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray…and what you saw from quarterbacks in Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago…do you think Ta’amu wouldn’t even have a chance to make a team? I think he would.
2) St. Louis went all in at running back, and it paid off in the opener. The running backs…Matt Jones, Keith Ford and Christine Michael, ran the ball 32 times for 111 yards. Michael had seven carries for zero yards, and he’s better than that. Ta’amu had nine more carries for 77 yards as the BattleHawks piled up a 191-58 advantage in the running game. Those 42 carries and 29 called pass plays provided some good balance.
3) Defensive backs Darius Hillary and Dexter McCoil combined for seventeen total tackles and linebacker Terence Garvin added eight more. The defense had four sacks and they seemed to come at timely moments. To hold Hal Mumme’s offense to no touchdowns and only 59 plays is an impressive feat. Again, the Renegades were playing with their backup quarterback and like everyone else were playing their first game. But Dallas was the only XFL team to not score a touchdown (aside from the stupid Vipers) in their opener, so you must give St. Louis at least a little credit.
4) Were they as entertaining as an NFL pre-season game? Keep in mind, this was the first time these teams had played a game, and the first time they had played a game together. They didn’t have the advantage that Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Joe Mixon…or Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golliday and Kerryon Johnson have had working together for years in the NFL. Those guys have SEASONS under their belt. The XFL didn’t even have a GAME. So, with that knowledge, what we saw during the weekend was impressive. I always remember college coaches saying their team’s biggest jump is between games one and two, so I believe the offense will get better. And the answer to the question is yes, the XFL’s first games were way more entertaining than a NFL pre-season opener.
5) Every single rules innovation employed by the XFL gets a thumbs up from me. From kickoff rules, which we saw right at the beginning, to the possibility of a “shootout” in overtime, I like it. Perhaps part of it was that there wasn’t a flag on every single kicking play, but I see as much opportunity for long returns with the XFL setup as with the NFL. I like taking the kick out of the extra points, and giving teams three options for PATs. And I LOVE the simple catch rule. Catch the ball, get a part of your body down, and it’s a catch. It shouldn’t be complicated, and in the XFL it isn’t.
There’s a long way to go. The atmosphere at the BattleHawks opener on February 23rd at The Dome should be fantastic. It’s hard for a league to start up and sustain life, but maybe this is the one. America has an appetite for football. The league is easy to find on FOX and ESPN. And the product is already pretty good and should only get better.