Takeaways from our first look at the XFL, the St. Louis Battlehawks, and their impressive 15-9 road win over the Dallas Renegades …
1. First, I really liked just about everything presented by the XFL in the new league’s first weekend of games. I watched all four games, and only bailed out early one time – in the second half of New York’s 23-3 win over visiting Tampa Bay. The TV ratings were good. The crowds were loud and colorful. The new rules will make for a better product. The XFL instant replay system — with full transparency — is vastly superior to the monotonous, secretive waste of time utilized by the NFL.
2. The TV showcases, on ESPN and Fox, were entertaining. The real-time sideline interviews after big plays added to the enjoyment. The eavesdropping on coaches was fun. Sure, there was some chaos, and some sideline interviews that weren’t important or even necessary. I thought ESPN did a good job but should be more selective going forward. With such an ambitious startup the first block of games would be a difficult challenge; that was inevitable. But the first four games gave ESPN and Fox a chance to experiment to see what worked, and think about making changes.
2. I’m not saying all was perfect; hell, no. The games lasted too long, and that was disappointing. The 25-second clock between plays doesn’t matter if it takes too long to spot the football before starting the play clock. And with teams lined up and ready to go on the next play — why the delay in spotting the ball? With a 25-second play clock — as opposed to a 40-second clock in the NFL — these XFL games should breeze by. But in this area, the XFL didn’t quite fulfill its promise. There was too much standing around and waiting, and the XFL vowed to minimize that. But it was also Week One; obviously the league will make tweaks and other adjustments.
3. The football itself was solid — if predictably disjointed. But what the heck were you expecting, Week 15 of the NFL season? Forget about the obvious aspect of facing an opponent for the first time, and not being sure what to expect. Hell, the eight teams have never played together as a unit in live action. This was the first chance to huddle up when it mattered, and to begin the advanced process of cultivating chemistry, and it takes time to form cohesion.
4. Dumbest comment I heard repeatedly: “It isn’t the NFL.” What? Yeah, that’s why the league is called the XFL. It isn’t supposed to be the NFL, and no one in the world tried to push the XFL as a league with talent equal — or close — to the NFL. Good grief. But there are plenty of good players in the XFL. And you will see a percentage of these players in the NFL at some point. Never forget the lesson of Kurt Warner.
5. Bottom line: the XFL exceeded all expectations in its opening weekend. That’s sweet. Now comes the hard part: building on that instead of squandering the initial interest.
1. I’ve heard more than a few people opine, or write, or tweet, that the Battlehawks’ 15-9 triumph kind of dragged, wasn’t interesting, didn’t have a lot of razzle-dazzle … which is another way of saying it was dull.
That’s just silly. Really silly.
2. And here’s why: head coach (and GM) Jonathan Hayes built his roster with a specific purpose in mind: be physical, be tough, have a big offensive line, and a platoon of hard-nosed backs, and run the football until the other side proves it can stop you. And Hayes had defense in mind when he chose his players. It seems obvious that Hayes wanted a muscular and overpowering approach to football. In other words, he knew what his team’s identity would look like, and he was confident in taking that identity into the first-ever game.
3. This is also known as “Really Good, Really Smart , Coaching.” How many idiotic coaches try to win with a style that doesn’t fit their personnel? You construct a roster and then play to the strengths of that roster. I know it’s only one game — you prove yourself over the long haul — but we saw the Hayes plan carried out against a highly regarded Dallas squad. And to add to the point: the “Purple Hayes” plan — purple as in bruises — specifically worked well in a road game against a Renegades team that came in as a heavy favorite.
4. This also explains why the Battlehawks were the only road team to win over the weekend. And this also explains why the Battlehawks had no problem in covering the spread as a 9.5-point underdog. (THANK YOU! CHA-CHING.)
5. The Battlehawks went primitive with 42 rushing attempts (Dallas had 12) for 191 ground yards. That was the most yards rushing by an XFL team on opening weekend. And Matt Jones’ 21 carries were the most among XFL players in the opening set.
6. The defense swarmed for four sacks, several QB hits, and brought the pressure in conceding only one conversion on the 12 Dallas plays run on third or fourth down. To use the football cliche, it looks like a defense that will hit you in the mouth. Having said that, the Battlehawks defense (A) played against a backup quarterback, and (B) will be tested a great deal more in Sunday’s game at Houston against Roughnecks head coach June Jones and his creative offense.
7. This gem from ESPN Stats and Information: The Renegades failed to score a touchdown, and that’s rare for a team coached by Bob Stoops. The last time a Stoops team was denied a touchdown in a game came on Nov. 7, 2009 in Oklahoma’s 10-3 loss at Nebraska.
8. St. Louis averaged nearly a yard more per play on offense than Dallas and should have won this game by double digits … maybe by two touchdowns. But: Penalties. Many penalties. That must be cleaned up going into Houston.
9. No, I didn’t forget about Battlehawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. Perhaps I wanted to save the best for last. Ta’amu impressed, completing 20 of 27 throws for 209 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. He rushed for 77 yards on nine runs. He played a major on STL’s ability to convert 50 percent of its third-down plays. Ta’amu’s 37-yard rush on a designed play (a draw) was the longest rush by any XFL player in the four opening games.
That breakaway set the Battlehawks up at the Dallas 9-yard line. From there, on third down, the former Ole Miss QB drilled a perfect 9-yard strike to his tall target, Alonzo Russell, to give the Battlehawks a 12-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
10. If I have a request, as a fan, it’s this: Considering that Ta’amu is capable of breaking down a defense with his arm or instinctive running ability … well, more designed runs, please.
Thanks for reading …