The business of weekly football has begun in the XFL. Week two is in the books. Let’s take a look at the games that transpired and where the league stands after two weeks.
DC DOMINATES, MCGLOIN MELTS DOWN
The head coach/quarterback combination often determines the quality of a football team. Two weeks in, the D.C. Defenders have uncovered stars at its two most important positions.
Long time NFL and college assistant, Pep Hamilton is getting his first opportunity at being a pro football head coach. The existence of the XFL has afforded Hamilton that opportunity, and thus far, Pep Hamilton is passing the test with flying colors. The evidence of his success is the work that he is doing with early-season MVP candidate Cardale Jones.
The XFL access provided by the league’s broadcast partners has picked up on the quality of Pep Hamilton as a coach and play-caller. Hamilton’s demeanor and decision making have been on full display the first two weeks, and he’s showing that he was meant for the job. The same thing applies to Cardale Jones. A player who turned down practice squad opportunities this past NFL season, because he wanted to be a starting quarterback. The XFL has afforded Cardale that chance, and like his coach. He’s more than ready for it, and it shows.
The play-caller/quarterback relationship is most vital to a team’s success. On Saturday in D.C., at the opposite end of the field. The New York Guardians Matt McGloin showed what happens when a signal-caller is not on the same page as his offensive coordinator. G.A Mangus, the Guardians O.C., had his quarterback go off the rails and lose his composure. McGloin’s on-field performance was horrendous (8/19 44 yards, and two interceptions), but his antics on the sidelines were somehow ten-times worse. McGloin took issue with the teams play-calling, suggesting that the entire gameplan be changed at halftime, and then commented on how he knew that the team would not be successful.
After the Guardians 27-0 defeat at the hands of the D.C. Defenders. Matt McGloin tried to downplay his comments during the game by suggesting that the league’s unprecedented access provided something relatively common when players are frustrated and in the heat of the moment. While some of that may be true, it doesn’t excuse his poor temperament as a leader. McGloin’s antics were so uncharacteristic of his reputation and unbecoming of a leader. Kevin Gilbride has a tough task at hand, just getting his team on the right page again after this Saturday’s meltdown.
Matt McGloin spoke with USA Today’s Tom Schad after Saturday’s game. Here are quotes from the Guardians starting quarterback.
“So I don’t care what people may think about the way I act on a football field. I really don’t. That’s not who I am as a person — it’s not — but when I play, I’m competitive and I want to win. Because I know how hard I work, personally, and I know how hard everyone else works.”
“Is this not the access that everybody has asked for?” McGloin said. “This is the stuff that goes on through the course of a professional football game. It gets hot out there. It gets frustrating. That’s the way it is.”
SEATTLE SHOWS UP
Many of the XFL’s harshest critics have pointed out on multiple occasions, the XFL’s unwise decision of selecting markets that already have NFL teams — ignoring the fact that no college football or NFL is happening at this time of the year. No matter where you fall in the argument, there’s no denying that the XFL chose well when picking Seattle as one of its eight markets.
Seattle has always been one of the countries best sports towns. The people of the city are open-minded and are very passionate about their teams. The story of the Dragons 17-9 victory over the Vipers was that 29,172 fans showed up for their first-ever home game. Seattle fans not only showed up in usual rainy conditions, but they showed out. The atmosphere and crowd were electric.
The story of the football game itself wasn’t a great representation of the league. On a short week and with only two practices, the Tampa Bay Vipers trotted out two quarterbacks who have never started a pro football game at the position, and it showed. Quinton Flowers and Taylor Cornelius struggled to generate offense.
The talented but inexperienced duo rotated in and out of the game with below-average success. The Dragons weren’t much better on offense. Brandon Silvers made one big play on the day, when the team needed it most, connecting on a long touchdown pass to Keenan Reynolds when Seattle was down 9-0. A comical interception by Quinton Flowers backed up on his end, directly into the hands of Dragons pass rusher Marcell Frazier, turned into an easy score and eventually the victory for Seattle.
This game showed the promise of the XFL (the enthusiasm and fan turnout), and the pitfalls of starting a new league. (the early season struggles and quarterback uncertainty)
By Sunday morning, the non-believers and doubters of the XFL were coming down hard on the league for its poor quarterback play on Saturday. Matt McGloin’s antics overshadowed the ascent and growth of Cardale Jones as a quarterback. Seattle and Tampa both featured a trio of inexperienced signal-callers.
In a new league, not only are the teams trying to win the favor of their fans, but the league itself is trying to win the battle of perception and credibility. Sunday’s afternoon game on ABC between two 0-1 teams in the Dallas Renegades and Los Angeles Wildcats, was lined up to help the league sway the critics who were turning on the league.
With the XFL’s two most experienced Quarterbacks set to make their season debuts in Landry Jones and Josh Johnson. The two veterans would surely enhance the quality of play. After two-quarters of the game on Sunday, things were not going as planned or advertised for LA, Dallas, or the XFL.
The Renegades and Wildcats played to a 3-3 tie at halftime. Going into the 4th quarter, the Renegades kicked a field goal to take a 6-3 lead. The league that was supposed to be fast-paced and up-tempo wasn’t living up to its billing. A sunny 70-degree day with Hal Mumme and Norm Chow calling plays for two experienced NFL quarterbacks amounted to only three field goals in three quarters.
In the 4th quarter, the entire tide of the game turned. Los Angeles and Dallas would combine for five touchdowns and 34 total points. Both teams had 40 plus yard returns. L.A. even connected on the league’s first-ever three-point conversion. Both Landry Jones and Josh Johnson started making big plays down the field. The Renegades run game led by Cameron Artis-Payne erupted in the exciting final frame, and it would lead to an exciting Renegades 25-18 victory over the Wildcats.
Landry Jones and Josh Johnson are two veterans who were pursued by NFL teams during the NFL season, but since they were under XFL contracts, they were unable to be signed away. On Sunday, both quarterbacks showed some rust after long layoffs, but they also displayed why they were valued so much by the league to begin with.
‘MVPJ’ WALKER AND THE THROWIN SAMOAN
While the early afternoon game in L.A. had the XFL’s two most experienced signal-callers, the XFL’s final contest of the weekend featured two of the league’s brightest young stars in Quarterbacks PJ Walker and Jordan Ta’amu.
In the first two weeks of the season, PJ Walker has been the league’s most dynamic playmaker. As chronicled here recently, Walker’s entry in the league came as a result of an Andrew Luck recommendation, but Walker is proving how much talent he has. It’s on full display now, in games that matter, and PJ Walker is in a great system run by June Jones and Chris Miller, but it goes beyond that. Walker has all the physical tools that modern-day football is pushing towards in the year 2020.
The player who is exceeding expectations thus far is Jordan Ta’amu. Unlike Walker, Ta’amu has the prototypical size (6’3 220) that pro teams look for, but he just doesn’t have the experience. Despite being a stud in his final year at Ole Miss, second in the SEC in passing and 4th in the FBS, Jordan Ta’amu only started for a season and a half in college. He spent last summer as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans before being released on cutdown day.
As a rookie, still learning on the fly. Ta’amu will make his share of mistakes (2 ints on Sunday), but he has the complete package as a thrower and runner. That was evident in his stat line in the BattleHawks 28-24 loss in Houston. Ta’amu was 30/37 for 284 yards with an additional 32 yards on the ground, and he accounted for four touchdowns. 3 through the air, one on the ground.
The XFL’s football operations and scouting department hit a home-run with PJ Walker and Jordan Ta’amu. As is the case with any football team, you can only go as far as your quarterbacks take you. The XFL as a league has three excellent young quarterbacks to hang their hat on in Cardale Jones, PJ Walker, and Jordan Ta’amu. It’s an excellent place to start and can only serve to elevate the league moving forward.
FINAL WEEK TWO XFL IMPRESSIONS
In the coming weeks, the naysayers are going to point to any dips in ratings or attendance, as signs of impending or inevitable doom. I expect it to be the main focus of some of the XFL’s coverage moving forward, as is usually the case with a new pro league, especially a pro football one. The business model is something that will receive the most attention and scrutiny.
One need not look any further than the dearly departed Alliance of American Football. Most of the headlines surrounding that league were not on the actual teams, players, or the games themselves.
Two weeks in, and the play in the XFL and the presentation overall has been stellar. It only stands to reason that it will get better as the teams play more games and that the broadcasts will improve as well.
The business side could be tricky. The XFL is going to have to go through some storms along the way to survive. There will be peaks and valleys, and every first-year business goes through them. Particularly a first-year pro sports league. The XFL won’t be built in a day, but the foundation in place is secure. The early success in the ratings and the respectable attendance for a league that has never played any games has been promising. Still, the overall success won’t be an overnight thing.
Based on the first two weeks, the XFL has a real chance to stick around and carve out its place on the sports landscape. Tread lightly though that won’t be the message sent in the coming weeks by the naysayers.