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Week 5: Defenders vs. BattleHawks Preview

Defenders QB Cardale Jones and BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta'amu.

The top two teams in the East face off for the first time as the DC Defenders (2-2) host the St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1) in Week 5 of the 2020 XFL season at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 8.

The Defenders hope to snap their two-game road losing streak with a return to Audi Field, where they have outscored opponents 58-19. 

The task won't be easy. The BattlHawks feature Jordan Ta'amu, one of the top two quarterbacks in the XFL, and a turnover-hungry defense ready to make plays.

Defenders vs. BattleHawks kicks off at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 8, and will be broadcast on FS1. 

DEFENDERS VS. BATTLEHAWKS PREVIEW

Matchup: DC Defenders (2-2) vs. St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1)
Game Location: Audi Field, SW Washington, D.C.
Date & Time: Sunday, March 18, at 3 p.m. ET
TV Broadcasters: Curt Menafee (Play-by-Play), Greg Olsen (Color Commentary), Jenny Taft (Reporter)
Live Stream: FOX Sports Go (Live Stream)
Radio Station: 106.7 FM The Fan (Live Stream)  Sirius/XM (Channel 81)
Radio Broadcasters: Grant Paulsen (play-by-play), Logan Paulsen (Analyst)

WHAT TO WATCH

1. Going back to Audi, Audi: Through four games, the Defenders are an entirely different team at home. On the road, the Defenders are 0-2 and have been outscored 64-9. But at home, the team is 2-0 and has outscored its opponents 58-19. The scoring differential isn't the only thing that is impacted by the Audi Field faithful. The Defenders forced six turnovers and have committed just one in their two home games, while they committed seven turnovers on the road and forced just one. Audi Field has instantly become one of the toughest places to play in the XFL, and the Defenders will need all the support they can get when the BattleHawks come to town.

2. It's in the Name: The Defenders need to defend. DC registered 18 points on turnover touchdowns in the first two games, yet were only able to force one single turnover in their two most recent games. QB Jordan Ta'amu has been unflappable early on for the BattleHawks, making plays with both his arm and his legs. The former Ole Miss quarterback has a 105.9 passer rating through the first four weeks and has 186 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown as well.

The Defenders will need to make him uncomfortable and will need to force him into making a mistake if they want to get back to their winning ways. The defense doesn't need to score, but at the very least, it needs to win the turnover battle.

3. Landing Punches: Part of the Defenders' struggles on the road stemmed from their inability to counterpunch. In Week 1 against the Dragons, the Defenders had an answer for every shot. When the Dragons tied the game 19-19 in the third quarter on a 57-yard touchdown strike from Brandon Silvers to Austin Proehl, the Defenders responded with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Cardale Jones to Rashad Ross, then followed up with a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown by Bradley Sylve. But in Los Angeles and Tampa Bay, the punches missed. When the Wildcats took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter of Week 3, the Defenders responded by throwing an interception, that led to a quick score by the Wildcats and a 20-0 hole.

The Battlehawks have punching power. Can the Defenders stay in the fight by making plays? It worked the first two times around at Audi Field. Will it happen again?

4. Make Them Guess: In the team's losses in Week 3 and Week 4, the Vipers and WIldcats never looked uncomfortable. Wildcats quarterback Josh Johnson was in complete control, and the LA defense always seemed to know what was next. The coverage over the middle was suffocating and Jones seemed to be under constant pressure. On the very first offensive play against the Vipers, Jones handed the ball off to Donnel Pumphrey on an inside draw that the entire defense saw coming, resulting in a five-yard loss.

The Defenders have relied heavily on north-south running attacks, which varying results. Keeping the defense honest and controlling the pace of the game will go a long way toward keeping the Defenders in position to make a big play, something they've been able to do inside the friendly confines of Audi Field.

DEFENDERS: STAT LEADERS

Passing: Cardale Jones -- 39-for-63, 511 yards, 4 passing TDs, 9 carries for 42 yards

Rushing: Jhurell Presssley -- 23 carries for 63 yards; long of 17; 27 average

Receiving: Rashad Ross -- 6 receptions for 147 yards on 7  targets; long of 40; 1 TD

Defense: Jameer Thurman -- 12 combined tackles, 8 solo tackles. 1 tackle for loss, 1 INT, 1 Def. TD

DC DEFENDERS: PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

QB: #12 Cardale Jones, #3 Tyree Jackson
RB: #24 Donnel Pumphrey, #26 Jhurell Pressley, #31 Nick Brosette
WR: #1 DeAndre Thompkins, #10 Simmie Cobbs
WR: #15 Rashad Ross, #19 Malachi Dupre
WR: #4 Eli Rogers, #5 Deion Holliman
TE: #86 Khari Lee, #85 Derrick Haward, #80 Donnie Ernsberger
LT: #79 De'Ondre Welsey, #69 Cole Boozer
LG: #75 Chris Brown, #72 Logan Tuley-Tillman
C: #64 Jon Toth
RG: #74 Rishard Cook, #70 Terronne Prescod
RT: #78 Malcolm Bunche

DE: #93 Tracy Sprinkle, #91 Tavaris Barnes
DE: #96 Jay Bromley, #90 Peli Anau
NT: #92 Elijah Qualls, #95 Kenny Bigelow Jr., #94 Kalani Vakameilalo
MLB: #58 Scooby Wright, #59 A.J. Tarpley
WLB: #52 Jonathan Celestin, #53 Jameer Thurman, #54 Jonathan Massaquoi
EDGE: #56 KeShun Freeman, #97 Anthony Johnson, #99 Sam Montgomery
CB: #28 Elijah Campbell, #21 Doran Grant
CB: #25 Desmond Lawrence, #37 Deion Harris, #23 Joshua Jenkins
S: #38 Shamarko Thomas, #29 Tyree Kinnel
S: #45 Rahim Moore, #20 Carlos Merritt

Special Teams: #2 Tyler Rausa (K), #7 Hunter Niswander (P), #42 Brian Khoury (LS)

DC DEFENDERS: INJURY REPORT

Injured Reserve:OC James O'Hagan

On Wednesday Injury Report: CB Elijah Campbell (abdomen, limited), CB Doran Grant (hip, DNP), CB Des Lawrence (back, DNP), OT De'Ondre Wesley (shoulder, full)

BATTLEHAWKS: STAT LEADERS

Passing: Jordan Ta'amu --  82-for-109, 876 yards, 5 passing TDs, 2 INTs. 36 carries for 186 yards. 1 rushing TD. 

Receiving: De'Mornay Pierson-El -- 21 receptions for 210 yards on 23 targets. 2 TDs. Long of 41 yards. 11 receptions for 180 yards on 20 targets. 16.4 avg. 1 TD. Long of 42 yards.

Rushing: Matt Jones -- 67 carries for 244 yards. 3.6 avg. 1 rushing TD. Long of 47 yards.

Defense: S Will Hill -- 21 combined tackles, 18 solo tackles, 2 INTs. 2 tackles for loss. 2 pass deflections.

BATTLEHAWKS: PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

QB: #10 Jordan Ta'amu, #6 Taylor Heinicke
RB: #24 Matt Jones, #33 Christine Michael, #36 Keith Ford
WR: #2 L'Damian Washington, #14 Carlton Agudosi
WR: #84 Alonzo Russell, #17 Keith Mumphrey
WR: #15 De'Mornay Pierson-El, #87 Brandon Reilly
TE: # #85 Marcus Lucas, #83 Wes Saxton
LT: #69 Andrew McDonald
LG: #61 Bruno Reagan, #66 Dejon Allen
C: #67 Brian Folkerts, #64 Michael Miller
RG: #76 Kent Perkins
RT: #73 Matt McCants, #75 Brian Wallace

DT: #99 Jake Payne, #98 Will Clarke, #92 JoJo Wicker
DT: #90 Casey Sayles, #96 Davonte Lambert
DE: #54 Dewayne Hendrix, #95 Channing Ward
DE: #55 Andrew Ankrah, #53 Gimel President
ILB: #57 Terence Garvin, #45 Andrew Jackson
CB: #29 David Rivers, #27 Marquez White
CB: #22 Ryan White, #28 Robert Nelson
FS: #23 Kenny Robinson, #21 Harold Jones-Quartey
SS: #25 Will Hill, #44 Joe Powell
S: #26 Dexter McCoil, #42 Shaq Jones
S: #41 Darius Hillary

Special Teams: #5 Taylor Russolino (K), #7 Marquette King (P), #48 Tanner Carew (LS)

BATTLEHAWKS: INJURY REPORT

Injured Reserve:  OG Jame Campos, LB Ro-Derrick Hoskins, TE Cole Hunt

On Thursday Injury Report: RB Sherman Badie (knee, DNP), RB Matt Jones (knee, full), Christine Michael (illness, full), CB Marquez White (illness, full)

Inactives: TE Connor Davis, OT Brian Fineanganofo, QB Nick Fitzgerald, LB Andrew Jackson, DB Robert Nelson, RB Lenard Tillery