The XFL had quite the debut last week following a 19-year hiatus between snaps. Not only did the brand’s local rep, the St. Louis BattleHawks, claim victory but overall the League received mostly positive praise from both the media and from the general public.
Could the vibe remain on the up-n-up for the XFL’s second week? Per custom this season, a pair of Saturday and Sunday games was played and the end results provided a little more light as to which teams could make a potential push to a trophy game appearance in April.
Saturday saw the DC Defenders shut out the New York Guardians, 22-0, to remain undefeated (2-0) and the Seattle Dragons edge the Tampa Bay Vipers, 17-9, to even their record to 1-1. Sunday’s pair of turf wars saw the Dallas Renegades stave the Los Angeles Renegades, 25-18, and the BattleHawks fell to 1-1 following a 28-24 heartbreaking road loss to the Houston Roughnecks.
For this article, did the XFL strengthen itself after the debut weekend and were they able to minimize some of the errors simultaneously experienced?
Armed with a different elixir of iced lemon tea, I decided to give it another go this weekend by watching all four games in real-time and make assessments in the four categories featured last weekend at Arch City Media.
Most importantly, was it just wishful thinking on my part that the XFL could improve in Week Two or would the viewings make me wonder if this League really had its best showing last weekend just based on the novelty?
GAME APPEARANCE: B
After seeing the 20,000-seat venue jam-packed opening weekend, Washington, DC’s Audi Field for the DC/NY game saw large areas of seating in the lower bowl unoccupied. This was a little disheartening, seeing how electric the atmosphere was seven days prior. That being said, the locals were entertained and were vocal throughout and perhaps advancing to 2-0, and now positioning themselves as a legit contender for the trophy, might help boost sales.
CenturyLink Field in Seattle was the featured venue of the weekend and with the turnout of almost 30,000 spectators in the spitting rain for the Dragons/Vipers match-up, one could kind of feel that the franchise from Washington State might contain the more rabid fan base. That place became unglued following defensive end Marcell Frazier’s scoreboard-flipping pick-six in the third quarter. Pre-game cauldron lighting by Seahawks Hall of Famer Steve Largent was a nice touch. Great vibe for their XFL home debut.
The enthusiasm at Dignity Health SportsPark in Carson, California for the LA home opener was the same although the numbers in attendance was thinner. It honestly didn’t look like there could have been more than 12,000 in attendance. This still led to some online chiding where there are more in the seats than when the San Diego Chargers played there for two seasons. Ba-da-bum! They had the nicer weather of the weekend, so I imagine the experience was fine.
Back-to-backs at TDECU Stadium for Houston resulted in the about the same amount of fans in their meeting with the BattleHawks, so it appears that a successful home opener resulted in audience retention. They also had an entertaining game to watch as well and were treated to 21 first-half points scored by the locals. And do my ears deceive me, but I think I heard an actual live band playing there.
TELEVISION PRODUCTION: A
The highlight of XFL Week One was a really nice presentation of play for broadcast with a universally-applauded aspect of their transparent official reviews with live video and audio between the replay judge and officiating. This trend continued and improved for Week Two. Also, the overwhelming audio issues were a little scaled back, resulting in a cleaner feed. The ABC-produced broadcasts stayed true to form and the FOX-produced broadcasts got more active with information such as the current drive stats. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to criticize about.
After being critically panned for their lengthy games last week, the pace did pick up as three out of four games clocked in a two hours and forty minutes. That twenty-minute shaving from last week’s average was a major improvement. The rapid length of intermission flies by but ABC’s locker room treatment of the DC/NY game contained nothing of importance. It was mostly players standing around, unintelligible locker room garbling and a really uncomfortable shot of a big lineman fumbling with the drawstring on his pants. I could do without live coverage and just deal with a taped coaches’ pep-talk before the beginning of the second half.
Again, the live microphones on coaching personnel continue to be a highlight. Listening to LA offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Dallas counterpart Hal Mumme try to maintain sanity with offenses that can’t fully execute makes one feel sympathy. Then there’s LA head coach Winston Moss just chillaxin’ on the bench while his team only has three points on the board. In the early stages of the Hoston/Battlehawks game, we heard St. Louis offensive coordinator Chuck Long call a play called “Fat Larry” and I immediately guffawed. So far, the XFL coaching personnel are already becoming the more individual breakout stars of these broadcasts.
GAME PLAY: C-
Trailing 12-0 at halftime of the DC/NY game, Guardians quarterback Matt McGloin stated on camera, “We need to change the whole entire game plan.” On New York’s first drive of the second half, McGloin threw a pick-six and promptly tried to pry his right cleat out of his mouth. He was pulled from the game in the fourth quarter with a hearty 44 yards in passing, a pair of interceptions, a stellar QB rating of 10.1 and a newfound negative reputation. Yep, it’s the game plan that needs fixing, Matt. DC looked okay overall in a really underwhelming game and Defenders Head Coach Pep Hamilton seems like a guy you’d want to hang out with and chat about things that have nothing to do with football.
There was overall more action in the Seattle/Tampa Bay game and while the Vipers still had an active offense, they have still not scored an offensive touchdown yet this season. Tampa Bay head coach Marc Trestman is a hard book to figure out. He calls really passive offenses in red zone situations and you look over at defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville’s big shades and you wonder when the flip/flop occurs. Game really picked up in the second half and the Vipers’ red-zone collapse that resulted in zero points (muffed field goal attempt) in the fourth quarter and their late-game rush for a possible tie was defanged by a personal foul. Already two games in, Tampa Bay is collectively a big mess.
The over/under heading into the LA/Dallas game was 45.5 points. Prior to halftime, that plummeted to 24 points. This was direct result of a really turnover plagued game where it seemed like neither team could catch or hang onto the ball. It looked like that this would be a real snoozer but then a really incredible fourth quarter occurred as both teams perked up offensively. We also had our first XFL three-point conversion and all of a sudden it looked like hitting the over was possible as we had 43 points on the board with a minute left and LA with one last possession, trailing by seven points. We never got that overtime we were craving and Dallas improved to 1-1.
Sunday’s Roughnecks/BattleHawks meeting featured enough offense, clutch third and fourth down conversions and stellar defensive stops to make the weekend finale the easy pick of the game of the week. The late surge by St. Louis provided the sizzle needed for a dramatic finish. This is what the XFL wishes it could be.
Troubling is that with the exception of DC’s Cardell Jones, Houston’s PJ Walker and St. Louis’ Jordan Ta’amu, there not much at quarterback to be found across the board. True, some starters were second-stringers due to injury but boy the difference in good and bad helmsmen was apples and oranges,
I guess what saves this from being a lower grade was that the defense for all eight teams was pretty good across the board this weekend, although many were aided by horrendous offenses within select teams.
The four separate teams of personnel that were featured last week at the XFL re-launch remained intact for Week Two and it’s already a safe bet that they’ll stay that way unless there is some kind of panicked upheaval mid-season. I think that‘s good for consistency as all four teams were technically good last weekend although some tweaks were necessary just to make them even stronger in Week Two.
ABC’s combo of Steve Levy and Greg McElroy was just as polished as last week but were scaling back the gushing man-praise that was a little excessive in the season opener, and that was a good thing. Better this time out was sideline reporter Tom Luginbill, who wasn’t held back by audio issues the week prior. Meanwhile, sideline reporter Dianna Russini was fine in spots but often times never identified who she was interviewing. Sure, graphics on the fly would have helped but it shouldn’t have to come down to that.
The Saturday FOX pairing of Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt for the Seattle/Tampa Bay game had a much better overall performance, mainly due to Menefee having a more enthusiastic delivery and a little more drama to call, especially deep in the second half. Klatt is a well-rounded analyst and had another solid outing. Sideline reporter Brock Huard, who I heaped deserved praise for last week, was seen very little during the first half Saturday and I was beginning to wonder if something was amiss. When he was featured more in the second half, then my concern subsided.
Sunday’s ABC crew of Tom Hart and Joey Galloway for the LA/Dallas game got more airtime this week with the absence of sideline reporter Pat McAfee, who was in Hawaii celebrating his wedding anniversary. They’re a solid crew that got saddled with a really poor first half. When the play improved, they improved. Cole Cubelic and Molly McGrath filled in nicely for McAfee and I kind of hope to see them utilized more in the future because I thought this tandem was better than the other ABC crew of Luginbill and Russini.
The FS1 pairing of Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen was much significantly better in Week Two, mostly because they had the best game to call this weekend. Remember, they had that New York/Tampa Bay yawner in Week One. Olsen was much more animated this week and while he sometimes got fooled on whether a play resulted in points or not, Burkhardt had a pretty smooth delivery. Sideline reporter Jenny Taft had another strong performance. The group, as a whole, had a much better week.
OVERALL GRADE: C
The Saturday games were a little brutal at times, especially the lack of any execution by New York, but the frenzied Seattle crowd helped the Dragons/Vipers slopfest at least fun. Late game drama did provide some interest so at least I hung around until the end. Same could be said for LA/Dallas game. Should we be now treating the XFL much like the NBA and only tune in during the final quarter?
DC and Houston’s performances only proved that those two are the premier teams of the XFL right now and making an early prediction of those two being in trophy finale is a safe bet, although St. Louis really have opened eyes through two weeks.
Overall, the XFL just barely stayed out of academic probation this week, thanks to the BattleHawks game.
Game of the Week: St. Louis vs. Houston
Stinker of the Week: DC vs. New York
What will be interesting to gauge is the final Nielsen ratings that are achieved in Week Two as both the NBA All-Star weekend and the prolonged Daytona 500 could impact the overall numbers. That and the fact that the Houston/St. Louis game was seen on FS1 rather than on the broadcast television, so it is a safe bet that the overall viewership will be down compared to Week One.
I would suggest that you see the action live when the BattleHawks play at the Dome this season. Get your tickets for next Sunday’s opener here.