Week 1: What We Learned
Heading into the season, there appeared to be one certainty. The Dallas Renegades were the best team in the XFL.
They have head coach Bob Stoops, quarterback Landry Jones and the “Air Raid” offense. Oddsmakers had the Renegades as a 5-to-2 favorite to win the league and a 9.5-point favorite to win the opener against the St. Louis Battlehawks. What could possibly go wrong?
The Battlehawks upset the Renegades, 15-9, Sunday evening. You can blame it on the fact that Jones missed the game with an injury and the offense never got off the ground. But that’s not the full story.
The reality is this league is going to have more parity than expected. Tampa Bay, the second choice of oddsmakers to win the league, also lost 23-3 to the New York Guardians.
One week into the season, the outlook has changed. Maybe the Renegades and Vipers bounce back. Maybe not. Week 1 showed us that any team can win the league. That’s the biggest story out of Week 1.
Here are eight other things we learned from kickoff weekend.
This running game may become a bigger deal.
In Week 1, only St. Louis (191) and the Tampa Bay Vipers (150) had more than 100 total rushing yards. Avoiding the run seemed to be the formula everyone else thought would win. Until St. Louis took to the ground in the final game of the weekend, it looked like throwing the ball was the way to go.
But St. Louis’ win could change all that. Professional sports generally produce copycat leagues. By beating what was supposed to be the league’s best team with a heavy dose of the running game, including 85 yards from former NFL back Matt Jones, the Battlehawks may change offensive philosophies around the XFL.
Maybe he’s not too short.
Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker is the early favorite for Most Valuable Player. He threw for 272 yards and four touchdowns in the opener.
So who the heck is Walker and why is he in the XFL? Walker was the starter for most of his four seasons at Temple but went undrafted in 2017. He’s spent the last three years bouncing on and off the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad but never has been on the 53-man roster.
Why? Mainly because he’s only 5-foot-11.
But if Walker can continue putting up big numbers, he could get a real NFL shot. After all, his height isn’t much different than that of Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
(Note: Walker also won the first Star of the Week poll.)
All he needs is a chance.
Speaking of quarterbacks who looked good in the opener, the DC Defenders' Cardale Jones was another one.
He threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 28 yards. A fourth-round pick by Buffalo in 2016, Jones never has been able to get any traction in the NFL while spending time with the Bills, Chargers and Seahawks. He’s 6-5 and 250 pounds with a strong arm.
The problem is Jones simply hasn’t played a lot of football. He started only 11 games in three seasons at Ohio State. But he’s going to get plenty of playing time for the Defenders.
Cloning Ricky Proehl
If you thought Seattle Dragons receiver Austin Proehl looked familiar, he should. Proehl is a virtual clone of his father, long-time NFL receiver Ricky Proehl, who spent two years with the Seattle Seahawks.
The father was a stereotypical slot receiver long before the position became as popular as it is today.
The son is similar to the father. He doesn’t have great size or speed, but he gets open. In Seattle’s opener, Proehl was targeted 10 times. He had five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns, including the first touchdown in the history of the league.
A shot at redemption
The XFL has plenty of guys who have been in the NFL and are trying to get back there. You know about most of the skill-position players. But here’s a guy that plays a non-glamor position that’s worth keeping an eye on: Houston defensive end Kony Ealy.
He was a force in the opening game. He was credited with half a sack, five quarterback hurries and two tackles for a loss.
That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Ealy has some credentials. He was a second-round pick by Carolina in 2014. In his second season, Ealy had three sacks in the Super Bowl against Denver.
However, Ealy was traded to New England a year later, and his career sputtered. He bounced around a bit and was out of football last year.
But if Ealy can play like he did in the opener all season, he’s going to be one of the best pass-rushers in the XFL.
Guardians: best defense in the league?
New York coach Kevin Gilbride is known as an offensive guru and the Guardians’ offense, led by quarterback Matt McGloin, was just fine as they put up 23 points in the opener against Tampa Bay.
But the real coaching star of the game was defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann. The Guardians look like they might have the XFL’s best defense. They held Tampa Bay to three points. The Guardians had two interceptions, a fumble recovery, five sacks, eight quarterback hurries and seven tackles for losses.
QB controversy in Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay has two local heroes at quarterback. The Vipers also have the league’s first quarterback controversy.
Aaron Murray, who played football at Tampa’s Plant High, got the start in the opener and struggled. Murray threw for 231 yards but completed just 47 percent of his passes and was intercepted twice.
He was replaced late in the game by Quinton Flowers, who played at the University of South Florida. The original plan was to use Flowers as a running back and sprinkle him in periodically at quarterback. But coach Marc Trestman needs to re-evaluate his quarterback situation before Week 2.
Wildcats need Josh Johnson back soon
Johnson is supposed to be the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Wildcats, but he missed the opener due to injury. Charles Kanoff got the start but completed just 53 percent of his passes.
Johnson, 33, is the league’s most experienced quarterback, but he’s bounced around the NFL since 2008. The Los Angeles offense was built specifically for Johnson, and it isn’t going to click until he is the starting quarterback.