Week 2 of the XFL produced a mixed bag and our resident American Football expert Leigh Copson is offering his reaction to the second weekend of the 2020 XFL season.
Week 1 proved to be a critical and commercial success for the XFL thanks to some good football and both strong attendances and strong viewing figures, but that meant the pressure was on the league to deliver again in the second week and, in all honesty, at times it underwhelmed.
Sloppy football, poor quarterback play and a raft of turnovers plagued the first three games of the weekend, and it took some fourth quarter fireworks in Los Angeles and a thoroughly entertaining game between Houston and St Louis to ensure that Week 2 was not a major disappointment and ended on a positive note. Along with the negatives there were plenty of positives as some more stars were born, but XFL officials will be hoping to see some much cleaner ‘football’ in Week 3.
But before we look ahead of the third week of the 2020 XFL campaign, here are my takeaways (pun not intended)…
XFL Odds: Who Will Win It All?
BettingPro’s Week 2 XFL MVP: Cameron Artis-Payne
PJ Walker made history in Week 1 as he became the first man to be named our MVP of the Week and the league’s Star of the Week, and the Houston Roughnecks certainly made a major play to land those honours in Week 2 as he led the Roughnecks to a well-earned win over St Louis. Team-mate Cam Phillips also made his claim as he found the endzone no less than three times in a stellar showing, while there were also impressive performances from DC Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones and Los Angeles Wildcats wide receiver Nelson Spruce, so it was no easy task picking a winner for Week 2. However, for me the stand-out performer was Dallas running back Cameron Artis-Payne, who put his team on his back and carried them to victory in Los Angeles on Sunday night. The former Carolina Panthers running back racked up 131 all-purpose yards and rushed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Wildcats, including the winning score with just 74 seconds to go. The LA defense simply had no answer for Artis-Payne once he got going and for both TDs he showed great patience and vision to break to the outside and find the corner of the endzone. He more than deserves the Week 2 MVP honours.
Dominant DC Record First Shutout
The DC Defenders were given the honour of kicking off the XFL season and they took full advantage of the opportunity to send a message to the rest of the league, running out 31-19 winners against Seattle. The bookmakers immediately responded by slashing the odds on DC winning the XFL Championship this season, but with any new league and any new team it is not wise to get carried away until you see a bigger sample size. We now have a bigger sample size and it is fair to say that the Defenders are leading contenders to go all the way this season. The defense picked up from where it left off against the Dragons as it shutout the New York Guardians with a dominant display on Saturday night, and on offense Cardale Jones once again showed why he is one of the league’s top players, completing 23 of his 37 pass attempts for 276 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Receivers Rashad Ross and DeAndre Thompkins benefited the most, combining for 187 of those yards, and while they will face much better opposition than the Guardians between now and the end of the regular season it is safe to say that these Defenders are clearly the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The bookies have responded to that rout of New York by cutting DC’s odds once again and they remain the outright favourites to be crowned XFL champions this season.
Matt McGloin’s Meltdown
And before we move on from the DC-New York game, how can I not talk about what we saw from Guardians quarterback Matt McGloin? We have seen plenty of sporting meltdowns over the years, and the XFL experienced its first this past weekend as McGloin vented…. repeatedly… during the New York Guardians shutout defeat at DC. The Guardians had travelled to the capital in high spirits after a comfortable Week 1 win over Tampa Bay, but they never got going on offense and McGloin was unable to maintain his composure. He threw his team-mates and coaches under the bus during an interview with ESPN at half-time and was then caught doing the same thing when talking to head coach Kevin Gilbride on the sidelines in the second half. He was ultimately benched having completed just eight of his 19 passes for only 44 yards, while throwing a couple of interceptions. McGloin’s meltdown poses Gilbride with his first major problem though – has his moaning QB divided the locker room or will they merely put the whole mess down to frustration boiling over? It is difficult to see how team-mates will rally around a ‘leader’ who so happily threw them under the bus despite his own woeful performance. However, backup Marquise Williams hardly gave Gilbride a QB controversy when he was thrust into the action during the second half in DC, so the New York head coach has a huge decision to make as he prepares his team for what is likely to be a very tough game against the BattleHawks in St Louis.
Matt McGloin at halftime to @diannaESPN: "We need to change the whole entire gameplan."
Head coach Kevin Gilbride: "I need to go talk to him & figure out what the problem is because he needs to play better."
Then McGloin threw a pick-six on their next drive. @xfl2020 pic.twitter.com/R2ssCwfzfx
— ESPN (@espn) February 15, 2020
Dallas Doubts Creeping In?
Dallas were installed as pre-season favourites to win the XFL Championship, but ever since the 2020 campaign got underway the Renegades have seen their odds drift. A surprise home defeat to St Louis on opening night had many wondering if the team had been over-rated coming into the new season, but Bob Stoops’ men deserved the benefit of the doubt because they had gone into the matchup without starting quarterback Landry Jones. He returned for Sunday night’s trip to face the Los Angeles Wildcats and hopes were high that he would be able to get Dallas back on track at the expense of a defense that performed so poorly in Week 1 that they fired the defensive co-ordinator after only one game. However, Jones, by his own admission (Matt McGloin, take notes), did not deliver at times. While he did pass the 300-yard mark for passing, a couple of sloppy interceptions threatened to cost his team out in California and the Renegades had running back Cameron Artis-Payne to thank for the victory as he rushed for a couple of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. Those scores were enough to hand Dallas their first win of the season, but they had once again underwhelmed and the bookmakers have responded by lengthening their outright odds once again. So do we give them the benefit of the doubt once again – after all, Jones had not played a competitive game of football for quite some time and may well have been a little rusty? Or did many, many people simply get it wrong when they made the Renegades favourites for the crown? The Week 3 game in Seattle should go some way to finally helping us answer that question.
Three-sy Does It! LA Make XFL History!
And sticking with the Dallas-LA game, Sunday night’s matchup provided the XFL with an historic moment – the first successful three-point conversion in league history. Unlike the NFL, the XFL offers three options for teams after scoring a touchdown – run a play from the two yard-line for one point, the five-yard line for two points or the 10-yard line for three. The Wildcats decided to go for three in their loss to Dallas and were given a helping hand when a five-yard penalty moved the ball forward to the five. LA made the most of that as quarterback Josh Johnson hit Adonis Jennings for the score.
— ESPN (@espn) February 16, 2020
Roughnecks Are The Real Deal
In my Week 1 column I asked the question, ‘are the Houston Roughnecks the real deal’ in the wake of a comprehensive win over the Los Angeles Wildcats. I believe Week 2 provided us with an answer to that question and the answer is most definitely ‘YES’! PJ Walker once again staked his claim to being the best QB in the entire league as he threw three touchdown passes, rushed for a conversion and also showed some incredible highlight reel scrambling including an incredible 11-yard run that saw him evade multiple tackles. The victory was not all down to Walker though – he got plenty of assistance from Cam Phillips as the wide receiver hauled in eight of his 10 targets for 63 yards and three touchdowns. The defense more than played its part too as they fought back when St Louis threatened to overwhelm them in the second half. The Roughnecks had taken a 21-6 lead into the break, but the BattleHawks made some crucial adjustments during the half-time interval and came out firing in the third quarter. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu capped off two long drives as he hit De’Morney Pierson-El for a score before rushing in himself, and the young St Louis signal-caller appeared poised to lead his team to a go-ahead score in the fourth when he moved them into Houston’s half of the field. The Houston defense desperately needed a turnover to create a much-needed spark, and they got it when Jeremiah Johnson cut underneath the receiver for a huge pick that set up Phillips’ third score. There was still plenty of time left on the clock, but it was arguably the biggest moment of the matchup because it derailed St Louis’ momentum. The Roughnecks then closed out the win to improve to 2-0, and the bookies wasted no time in clipping their odds once again. In just two games they have gone from sixth favourites to second favourites – it is safe to say that Houston are for real and may well be the cream of the crop in the Western Conference.
Week 2 XFL Highlights
Tampa Bay Vipers 9 Seattle Dragons 17
New York Guardians 0 DC Defenders 27
Dallas Renegades 25 Los Angeles Wildcats 18
St Louis BattleHawks 24 Houston Roughnecks 28