Houston Roughnecks running back James Butler

XFL Week 6 Power Rankings: The XFL is Like a Box of Chocolates

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By Jereme Jones March 10, 2020 0 Comment
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Any fan who sits down to watch a game in the XFL knows exactly what Forrest Gump meant when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates”.

Forrest Gump once famously said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Any fan of the XFL understands exactly what Forrest meant by that when they sit down to watch a game in this league. At times, it appears as if the teams are simply switching uniforms; that is how different some teams look from week to week. The only sure thing each week is that you’re going to be in for a wild ride.

#1 Houston Roughnecks (5-0)

The one thing I am sure of this week in the XFL is that the Houston Roughnecks are the best team in the league. The Roughnecks remained undefeated with a 32-23 comeback win at home against Seattle on Saturday. Houston never panicked in this one, even when they were down by nine in the third quarter. That says a lot about the leadership of Coach June Jones and quarterback P.J. Walker.

Lost in the final score is the fact the Roughnecks defense only gave up 201 yards to Seattle and had four sacks. It was one of the best overall performances by the defense this season. That performance helped the team overcome an uneven game by Walker, which included two interceptions. However, in the fourth quarter, when he needed to deliver, he found Cam Phillips for two touchdowns. On the day, Walker threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns.

The Roughnecks will need both sides of the ball to play well this week as they travel to MetLife Stadium to take on New York.

#2 St. Louis BattleHawks (3-2)

The BattleHawks turned in their worst performance of the season on Sunday at DC. The question is whether it was one bad week or the first sign of weakness in what has been a reliable team. St. Louis is dealing with injuries on the offensive line, and it showed up against the Defenders. The BattleHawks had four false start penalties, a holding penalty, and several missed blocking assignments, which led to four sacks by the Defenders.

The St. Louis problems weren’t limited to just the offensive line injuries. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu also struggled, going 15 of 25 for 174 yards. The offense looked out of sync all day. They also seemed to go away from the read-option, and RPO plays that had worked all season. On defense, the BattleHawks struggled against the run, allowing 229 rushing yards to a DC team that hasn’t been able to establish a run game all season. The worst part of the team for St. Louis on Sunday may have been the special teams; as they missed a field goal due to a high snap, had a kickoff not reach the 20-yard line, had a punt blocked and had another punt go into the end zone for a touchback.

It will be an excellent week for head coach Jonathan Hayes to get this team back on the same page. Especially now that they find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the XFL East. They also have a tough road trip to Tampa this weekend. The Vipers are a team that has a high-scoring offense and has shown an ability to stop the run.

#3 New York Guardians (3-2)

New York made the biggest jump in our power rankings this week after going on the road and blowing out the Renegades. This Guardians’ team looks completely different since Luis Perez became the starting quarterback two weeks ago. Perez doesn’t sling the ball around like P.J. Walker or Josh Johnson, but he is efficient and helps the offense move the ball.

One of the best things Perez is doing is finding a way to get wide receiver Mekale McKay more involved in the offense. McKay had three catches for 67 yards on Saturday and also caught a one-point conversion pass. Perez also seems to have a calming influence on the team that it lacked under the previous starter, Matt McGloin.  Perez doesn’t have to do everything because he can rely on a strong Guardians’ run game. Darius Victor, Justin Stockton, and Tim Cook combined to run for 144 yards against Dallas.

The Guardians also have an outstanding defense that forced three turnovers last week and held Dallas to only 56 rushing yards. With their front seven stopping the run, and a top-flight secondary, New York might be the best defense in the XFL. New York returns home this week, where they are undefeated for a massive game against Houston. A win this weekend could put the Guardians in the driver’s seat in the XFL East.

#4 Los Angeles Wildcats (2-3)

Los Angeles survived Tampa Bay, and #XFLAfterDark, on Sunday night in the wildest XFL game in the short history of the league. Quarterback Josh Johnson threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns against the top-ranked Vipers secondary. Despite Nelson Spruce missing the game and Tre McBride playing injured. Johnson is quietly making an argument to be in the conversation, with P.J. Walker, for the best quarterback in the league. His case is strengthened when you factor in that Johnson has had no run game to help him out this season. On Sunday, the Wildcats only gained 57 yards on the ground.

When it comes to the Los Angeles defense, you never know what you’re going to get. Against Tampa Bay, the Wildcats gave up 434 yards and 34 points, but they also forced three turnovers. One of those turnovers, a fumble recovery by Boogie Roberts, was returned for a Los Angeles touchdown. Another, an interception by Jack Tocho, came in the end zone with 33 seconds left to clinch the game.

Houston has shown you can win in the XFL, despite giving up lots of yards and points, if you have an explosive offense and an opportunistic defense. It will be interesting to see if Los Angeles can earn the second playoff spot in the West using the same formula.

#5 Dallas Renegades (2-3)

The last two weeks have not been kind to Dallas. They have lost their quarterback, offensive coordinator, and two games. We know that Jeff Jagodzinkski will be the new offensive coordinator, and Bobby Blizzard will call plays. Blizzard has played and coached under former offensive coordinator Hal Mumme, so you would expect the offense to look similar. The real question is, who will be running that offense at quarterback? Phillip Nelson again showed an inability to get the ball down the field Saturday against New York. He was 28 of 49 for 210 yards and had two interceptions.

Dallas may need to make a change if they want to salvage their season and hold on to the second playoff spot in the West. The other options on the roster are former Syracuse signal-caller Eric Dungey and former Cleveland Brown training camp invitee Brogan Roback. Both options offer more questions than answers. With the uncertainty at quarterback and play-caller, the team will need to rely more on running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar. The duo combined for only ten carries and 44 yards versus New York.

The Dallas defense will also need to bounce back after an uncharacteristically poor performance last week. It helps that their next opponent, the DC Defenders, have quarterback issues of their own. But if the Renegades can’t stop the run again, they gave up 144 rushing yards to New York, Dallas might find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

#6 Tampa Bay Vipers (1-4)

The Tampa Bay Vipers have found more ways to lose a game than any team in the XFL. Early in the season, they couldn’t score but played good defense. Against Los Angeles last week, they scored 34 points and still lost. They are a team who’s parts are much greater than their sum right now. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius mostly played well Sunday, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also threw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter. His growing pains continue, but his growth is easy to see. The Tampa Bay running game was excellent early but became ineffective after Jacques Patrick was injured in the second quarter.

The real head-scratcher Sunday was the play of the Vipers defense. They came into the game allowing the fewest yards in the league and then proceeded to give up 345 yards to Los Angeles, including 288 yards and four touchdowns through the air. They also seemed to be much more passive in their schemes and were unable to record a sack. The defense must get back to playing at a high level if they are going to climb out of the XFL East basement and challenge for a playoff spot.

This week will be a massive game for Tampa Bay as they host a St. Louis team coming off a lousy performance in DC. If the Vipers find yet another way to lose this weekend, it will be this season that is ultimately lost for the team.

#7 DC Defenders (3-2)

It wasn’t pretty, but the Defenders pulled the upset Sunday and got back in the win column with a 15-6 victory over St. Louis. After an early Cardale Jones interception, Pep Hamilton replaced Jones for the third straight week with back-up Tyree Jackson. From there, the game plan was simple; keep the ball on the ground and let the defense win the game. Jackson was only 9 of 14 passing for 39 yards and a touchdown. The biggest surprise was the effectiveness of the DC run game as they pounded out 229 yards on 41 carries. Back-up Jhurell Pressley led the way with 107 yards on 15 carries. Jackson also picked up some big first downs on the ground, rushing for 32 yards on seven carries.

While discovering a run game was notable for DC, they must figure out the passing game if they want to remain in first place in the XFL East. After the game, Hamilton announced that Jones would remain the starter despite Jackson leading the team to a victory. If they can’t get the passing game fixed, it will be crucial for the DC defense to repeat their strong performance from last week. The Defenders gave up plenty of yards, 319, to St. Louis, but played great inside the red zone and kept the BattleHawks out of the end zone. The question is, how much of that was the defense and how much of it was self-inflicted mistakes by the BattleHawks?

The good news for DC is that they get to stay at Audi Field this week, where they are 3-0. The even better news is that they welcome in another team with major quarterback issues, the Dallas Renegades. I don’t think there is much substance behind this DC team, which is why they are only seventh in these rankings. But if they continue to win, even ugly, I may be forced to change my mind.

#8 Seattle Dragons (1-4)

The Dragons have found a quarterback in B.J. Daniels. The veteran did enough Saturday, especially in the run game, to almost lead Seattle to an upset of Houston. But, once again, the Dragons came up just short of getting a much-needed win. Despite Daniels’ emergence, the Seattle offense still lacks in too many areas. At wide receiver, Austin Proehl has been hit or miss this season, and Keenan Reynolds has too many drops and not enough production. The run game has been good, but none of the three backs have taken control of the position. And head coach Jim Zorn continues to struggle with the play calls.

On defense, the Dragons were able to force three Houston turnovers, but couldn’t make enough big plays late. They also gave up 440 yards of total offense, including 101 yards on the ground. For a defense who had been the strength of the team up to this point, that was a disappointing performance.

Time is running out for the Dragons to figure things out in the Pacific Northwest. This week they host Los Angeles in what can only be described as a must-win game. Can the defense slow down Josh Johnson? Can the receivers step up and make plays against the Wildcats defense? Will Jim Zorn make it through an entire game without being confused? Tune in Sunday night to find out.

Playoff Predictions After Week #5

East Semi-FInal: New York at St. Louis

West Semi-Final: Los Angeles at Houston

XFL Championship Game: St. Louis vs. Houston

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