Midseason Review: What We Learned
When the weekend began, the XFL looked like it was headed into the middle of the season as a two-team league. Now, at the halfway point, it suddenly is back to being a wide-open league in which just about every team at least has a shot at the playoffs.
The Houston Roughnecks and St. Louis BattleHawks had been dominant through the first four weeks. But that changed in Week 5.
Houston remained undefeated but struggled at times against the Seattle Dragons. St. Louis, which I declared as the best and most balanced team in the league, fell out of that spot with a surprising loss to the DC Defenders
Houston still has a firm grip on the West division, but the Dallas Renegades, Los Angeles Wildcats and Dragons have a shot at the second playoff spot. The East suddenly is much more complicated with DC, St. Louis and New York all holding 3-2 records. Anything appears possible.
Let’s take a look at what we learned about all eight teams (from worst to first) in the first half of the season.
TAMPA BAY VIPERS
Just when it looked like the Vipers were on the verge of turning the corner, they took a huge step back.
They seemed to be headed for a second straight win by jumping out to a 24-6 lead against Los Angeles Sunday night. But Tampa Bay squandered that lead and lost 41-34.
That’s been the story of Tampa Bay’s season. The Vipers do some things well (play defense and run the ball), but they haven’t been able to pass the ball with much consistency.
The Vipers have juggled quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Taylor Cornelius, and neither has excelled. Murray suffered a foot injury, which opened the door for Cornelius. Although Murray was healthy this week, Cornelius got the start. But with a 1-4 record, it might be time to turn back to Murray.
The Dragons are 1-4 after losing their last three games. But they still have an opportunity to climb back into contention: Seattle's next two games (Los Angeles, New York) are critical, and they'll play both at home, where they’ve had some of the league’s larger and louder crowds.
Seattle has been decent on defense, but the problem has been the offense. The Dragons average a league-low 248.6 total yards per game. They’re also near the bottom in passing yards with 145 yards a game.
That’s why Seattle made a seemingly permanent switch at quarterback in Week 5 after it worked out in the second half of Week 4. Brandon Silvers was benched in favor of B.J. Daniels, who gave the offense a bit of a spark against Houston.
At least for the time being, Daniels likely will remain the starter.
LOS ANGELES WILDCATS
The Wildcats started off the season in difficult circumstances. Coach Winston Moss fired defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after a loss in the opener. That angered defensive captain Anthony Johnson, who promptly was traded to DC.
The team also had to play its opener without injured quarterback Josh Johnson. The veteran returned for Week 2 and has made the Wildcats respectable.
At 2-3, LA still has hope for a playoff berth. The Wildcats are dangerous enough offensively to surprise anyone as shown by a 39-9 win against DC in Week 3 and Sunday night’s rally against Tampa Bay.
Viewed by oddsmakers as one of the favorites entering the season, Dallas hasn’t lived up to its billing. They’re 2-3, and much of that can be blamed on bad luck.
Starting quarterback Landry Jones has been bothered by injuries, and there’s a big drop off from him to backup Philip Nelson. Running back Cameron Artis-Payne and tight end Donald Parham have been bright spots on offense, but this team needs a healthy Jones if it’s going to make a playoff run.
The defense also has been trending downward. The Renegades allowed 30 points and 373 yards to a New York offense that struggled early in the season.
ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS
St. Louis came out totally flat against DC. The defense allowed 229 rushing yards, and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who had been playing like a Most Valuable Player candidate, was only able to lead his team to two field goals.
That suddenly diminishes what the Battlehawks had done in the first four games. There now is plenty of tape of their flaws. Coordinator Chuck Long needs to get the offense back to gameplanning around the running game.
The BattleHawks still have plenty of talent, so the loss wasn’t catastrophic, but it sure complicated the playoff picture in the East.
After a Week 4 loss to Tampa Bay, DC coach Pep Hamilton said his slumping team needed to get home and “fix things’’. That’s exactly what the Defenders, who had lost two straight road games, did in a 15-6 upset of St. Louis.
DC is now 3-0 at home after playing a dominant defensive game against the BattleHawks. The D is in good shape, but the story that might determine how the Defenders fare in the second half of the season is at quarterback.
Hamilton pulled starting quarterback Cardale Jones after a first-quarter interception. He was replaced by Tyree Jackson, who promptly threw a touchdown pass. Jackson didn’t put up big numbers (39 passing yards and 32 rushing yards), but he was efficient and made several critical runs.
Now, Hamilton has to decide which quarterback to go with for the second half of the season.
NEW YORK GUARDIANS
The 3-2 Guardians have been one of the league’s most pleasant stories while winning their last two games. Luis Perez, who began the season as the No. 3 quarterback, has started the last two games and given the offense a spark that was lacking early on.
Initial starting quarterback Matt McGloin struggled early on and criticized the team’s offensive gameplan in a national television interview in Week 2. McGloin had been sidelined by a rib injury in Week 4 but was healthy this past weekend; the team chose to go with Perez.
If its new QB1 keeps winning, New York likely will stick with what’s working. But Perez and the Guardians face their biggest challenge of the season Saturday when they host undefeated Houston.
Houston has been the gem of the XFL. Head coach June Jones’ offense has been the most exciting thing in the league.
Quarterback P.J. Walker is running away with the Most Valuable Player award. NFL scouts are keeping a close eye on Walker, who has thrown for a league-high 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns. Walker has the luxury of throwing to the league’s best wide receiver in Cam Phillips, who has 31 catches and nine touchdowns.
The defense has been shaky at times. But the offense has been so good that nobody has been able to stay with the Roughnecks.