New York Guardians (1-0) at D.C. Defenders (1-0)
- Saturday 2 pm ET (Fox) Audi Field, Washington, D.C
- Point Spread: Defenders -6.5 Over/Under 47.5 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Forecast: High 39, Winds 10mph
- Injuries: (New York) G Garrett Brumfield (Head), C Ian Silberman (Thigh), DB Dravon Askew-Henry (Shoulder), DL Cavon Walker (Ankle) (DC) DT Kalani Vakameilalo (Ankle) WR Malachi Dupre (Thigh), CB Desmond Lawrence (Shoulder), TE Khari Lee (Foot), LB AJ Tarpley (Hand), S Shamarko Thomas (Thigh), WR DeAndre Thompkins (Foot), LB Scooby Wright (Knee)
Injury Notes: While DC’s injury report is lengthier than that of New York, the Defenders are relatively healthy going into week two. The Guardians, on the other hand, have two key injuries worth monitoring. Staring interior linemen Ian Silberman(C) and Garrett Brumfield may miss this Saturday’s game. Damien Mama would be in line to replace Silberman at the pivot, while Avery Young could replace Brumfield at guard. The Guardians may also miss their starting nickel on defense in Dravon-Askew Henry. The team released DeJuan Neal this week and has brought back Jeremiah McKinnon.
New York and D.C. are coming off huge victories at home in the opening week. The Guardians were 23-3 winners over the Tampa Bay Vipers, while DC topped the Dragons 31-19. Both these teams are vying to stay unbeaten and atop the standings in the eastern division. New York has the opportunity to go 2-0 in their division, before traveling to St. Louis for the BattleHawks home opener in week three. The three-game divisional stretch for NY completes half of their eastern schedule, before ending the season with three straight divisional games in weeks eight through ten.
Matchup: Guardians offense versus Defenders defense
Kevin Gilbride has taken on a CEO type role for the first time in his lengthy coaching career. Last week, Gilbride handed over his play-calling duties to former Steve Spurrier QB and disciple, QB’s coach G.A. Mangus. The results were mixed. New York struggled to get a ground game going, and McGloin was steady, not spectacular at the controls.
The Defenders employ a 3-4 defense under newly appointed Defensive Coordinator Louie Cioffi. Pep Hamilton handed over the coordinator reins to Cioffi when Jeffrey Fitzgerald departed DC for family reasons. The early returns were pretty positive for DC, while they did give up some big plays to Seattle in the passing game, the defense held up pretty well overall. The defense gave up over 300 yards, but was able to force Brandon Silvers into mistakes. The emerging star of the DC defense is cornerback Elijah Campbell. He had a great showing in week one in coverage, tackling, and even on special teams.
Look for the Guardians to try and establish a more balanced attack on the ground this Saturday. Seattle’s three-headed dragon backfield averaged over 5 yards per carry against DC’s defensive front. The Defenders do not have a dynamic standout player in their front seven, particularly from the edge-rushing position. DC will be getting Scooby Wright back on the inside, and that will help. In the passing game, one of the areas that the Guardians may target, that proved to be vulnerable for DC’s pass defense in week one, is their inside/slot coverage. Seattle’s Austin Proehl had a field day against whomever DC lined up against him. The Dragons also tested the Defender corners deep, and were nearly successful on multiple occasions. Matt McGloin has to show the patience that Brandon Silvers did not, and can’t afford to miss wide-open receivers. Protecting the football on the road is always paramount. McGloin will be tasked with doing just that.
Matchup: Guardians defense versus Defenders offense
The DC Defenders have a valid MVP candidate in Cardale Jones, a proven play-caller in Pep Hamilton, and one of the deepest rosters on offense in the entire league.
Look for DC to try and run the football against NY, the same way Tampa did in week one, to the tune of 150 yards. Running Back Jhurell Pressley, despite having a modest week statistically in week one, forced the second-most missed tackles (5) in the league, a trait he displayed while leading the AAF in rushing. The Guardians are massive upfront on the defensive line. TJ Barnes (350), Joey Mbu (330), Toby Johnson (350), and Cavon Walker (290). The issue is lateral speed and wearing down late in games because of their size. The Guardian linebackers were fantastic last week, making plays from sideline to sideline, led by their captain Ben Heeney. The one area that is a weakness in New York’s linebacking corps is their lack of size. Look for DC to try and get their impressive young linemen like mauler Rishard Cook to the second level to force New York’s smaller backers to disengage and beat blocks. The Guardians defense must also be prepared for dual-threat quarterback Tyree Jackson. The 6’7 monster from UB was used sparingly last week in the RPO game, but he could see his role increase, especially in red-zone packages. The Vipers had some success last week against NY with a similar player in Quentin Flowers.
Last week. the Guardians defense bent but didn’t break, and Tampa’s offensive line provided Aaron Murray plenty of time. But, because of stellar coverage, Murray had to eat five sacks. The same recipe won’t work for New York against Cardale Jones and the DC passing game. Cardale can shed defenders and make plays with his arm by using his feet. He escaped out of trouble several times last week. Jim Herrman will have to decide when to blitz Cardale, but his defenders will have to get Jones down immediately. Rashad Ross and DeAndre Thompkins are genuine home run threats on the outside. Eli Rogers is a great security blanket underneath for Cardale. New York has excellent speed and athleticism on the back end of their defense but one area that is lacking in size. The Vipers exploited this with Daniel Williams and Nick Truesdell last week. The Defenders present a different set of receivers than the Vipers have. Will Herrmann decide to shadow Jamar Summers on Eli Rogers or Rashad Ross? New York corner Bryce Jones is a former track star and has the speed to keep up, but he will be tested.
Special Teams Matchup: Guardians versus Defenders
The New York staff gave a good glimpse as to how the XFL kickoff will be schemed by most coaching staffs. Coaches Jeff McInerney and Ray Rychleski designed their returns and blocking schemes like running plays. Using movement and double team blocks to create running lanes. It paid off on Austin Duke’s 59-yard return at the start of last week’s opener. DC’s special teams’ coordinator Steve Wilson has probably spent the week preparing for New York’s return alignments. Both sides have dependable kicking specialists on their rosters. Ty Rausa redeemed himself after missing a short kick in week one, by nailing a 55-yard field goal at the end of the half. The elements have thus far played into these two northeast teams favor, despite it being February.
Both the New York and D.C. coaching staffs have something that they didn’t have going into last week. Game film to study their opponent. Before week one, XFL teams had to get creative in their game planning for their opponents. Most staffs resorted to going back to old footage of a teams’ coordinators or players in different leagues. Now, the game film to prepare is week one in the XFL.
This is a massive game for both teams. The winner of Saturday’s game will get a considerable boost in their season outlook. Especially New York, they play the Defenders later in the season at home. Stealing a division game on the road will feel like two wins. The Guardians are going into this game as heavy road underdogs. Lost in the hysteria of last week’s New York win, is that the Guardians were outgained by the Vipers, and didn’t play particularly well on both sides of the ball. When you win in pro football, your flaws are camouflaged. When you lose, they are magnified. If the Guardians are going to win this game, they will have to play better than they did last week. This is an excellent test for them to see how they handle not playing at home against a powerful and formidable opponent.