NEW YORK GUARDIANS (1-1) AT ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS (1-1)
- Sunday, February 23, 3 pm ET/2 pm CT (ESPN) The Dome, St. Louis, MO
(New York) G Garrett Brumfield (Head), C Ian Silberman (Groin), WR Joe Horn (Shoulder), S Andrew Soroh (Thigh), DE Ryan Mueller (Wrist), LB Garrett Dooley (Ankle), RB Darius Victor (Head)
(St. Louis) WR L’Damian Washington (Ankle), DL Will Clarke (Calf), RB Matt Jones (Knee), CB David Rivers (Head), RB Keith Ford (Knee), WR Brandon Reilly (Knee)
Injury notes: The Guardians played without two of their starting offensive linemen last week in Center Ian Silberman and Guard Garrett Brumfield. Silberman has been limited in practice all week, and maybe close to returning to this Sunday. Brumfield has yet to practice. Both Avery Young and Damien Mama will be in line to start if either or both miss the game. Running back Darius Victor was cleared for practice and appears to be on track to play. Head injuries can be tricky, however.
The BattleHawks leading rusher Matt Jones has been battling a knee injury. He played through it last week. WR L’Damian Washington, who has shown good chemistry with rookie Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, is questionable heading into this game. A critical injury not noted here is the loss of St. Louis starting offensive linemen Jake Campos. He was lost for the season and placed on injured reserve. Campos had been starting at left tackle. Andrew McDonald and Brian Wallace would be in line to replace him.
Both New York and St. Louis come into this game sporting 1-1 records, but the overall outlook for each franchise couldn’t be any more different. St. Louis is coming off an impressive two-game road stretch at Dallas and Houston. The BattleHawks, led by rookie sensation quarterback Jordan Ta’amu has been one of the league’s most impressive teams thus far. The BattleHawks will be on an emotional high in front of a sold-out home crowd in the Dome. Pro football has returned to St.Louis, and the city has embraced the team with open arms, hearts, and wings.
The Guardians, despite sharing the same record as the BattleHawks, are coming into this electric atmosphere, with a different vibe and feel. New York suffered a demoralizing loss in DC last weekend. The Guardians have struggled out the gate offensively, under signal-caller Matt McGloin and Offensive Coordinator G.A. Mangus. New York’s offense has only converted two first downs in their first two games. Last week’s drama attached to the offense, and Matt McGloin, has dimmed the outlook for the team moving forward. This has been a crucial week of preparation for the Guardians, in getting on the same page.
MATCHUP: The Guardians offense versus the BattleHawks defense
Under G.A. Magnus, New York has employed a ‘Fun N Gun’ style offense. Magnus, a former quarterback and coaching disciple of Steve Spurrier, hasn’t had much fun thus far. New York has taken multiple shots down the field in the passing game in the first two weeks but with little to no success.
The BattleHawks employ a 4-2-5 defense, similar to the Guardians week one opponent, the Tampa Bay Vipers. Under Co-Defensive Coordinators Jay Hayes and Tim Lewis. St. Louis has an athletic front seven that can play sideline to sideline. Andrew Ankrah is a defensive end/linebacker tweener type, who can line up on the line of scrimmage, to stand up and rush. Linebacker Terrance Garvin is an excellent football player, terrific in space. Linebacker/safety Dexter McCoil displays the hybrid nature of the BattleHawks defense. He’s held up well at linebacker and gives their defensive unit scheme versatility. The Guardians will look to run the football against the speed lineup that St.Louis utilizes on defense. New York has two power runners in Tim Cook and Darius Victor, who are fully capable of breaking tackles and winning battles with smaller defensive backs/linebackers. New York has been running the football a lot from the shotgun formation. It may serve them better to utilize the talented group of blocking tight ends; they have on their roster.
The Guardians passing game is still missing two of its top players in DeAngelo Yancey and Tanner Gentry. The uncertainty at the WR spot, outside of Mekale McKay, has held up the teams’ passing attack early in the season. The BattleHawks secondary has a very talented safety duo in future NFL draft pick Kenny Robinson and quality pro-veteran Will Hill. New York will look to attack St. Louis at cornerback. The BattleHawks have held up well there thus far, but may be missing former Guardian David Rivers. St. Louis struggled last week in coverage with XFL star of the week Cam Phillips. Look for Mekale McKay to be targeted often this Sunday, as well as Colby Pearson, who has been underutilized thus far.
Matchup: The Guardians defense versus the BattleHawks offense
The story of the St.Louis offense thus far has been the symmetry developed between BattleHawks Offensive Coordinator/QB’s coach Chuck Long and Jordan Ta’amu. Long, who took over the reins of the offense for Doug Meacham, who departed for TCU, has done a masterful job designing a game plan that plays to Ta’amu’s talents. Despite having an Air-Raid background, Long has developed a ball-control offense that focuses heavily on running the football out of spread sets, and the offense has gotten good mileage out of Ta’amu’s running ability. New York’s strength on their defensive front is their size. Cavon Walker (288), TJ Barnes (360), and Joey Mbu (330) will need to stand up to the challenge and help shut down the BattleHawks ground attack led by Matt Jones and Christine Michael.
St. Louis has the league’s biggest receivers and uses them to block on the edges. Hybrid TE/WR Marcus Lucas fills this role as well. The Guardians have a speedy and athletic back seven of the defense. Players like D’Juan Hines and Ben Heeney, who are linebackers in safeties bodies, may be expected to spy on Ta’amu on passing downs. The Guardians strength in their secondary is their coverage skills, but the size is an issue for New York. Talented cover players like Jamar Summers, Ranthony Texada, and Bryce Jones need to improve their tackling to matchup against the size STL has on the outside.
De’Mornay Pierson El is Jordan Ta’amu’s favorite target underneath. Taking away that easy option from the rookie QB will be vital to the Guardians’ success on third down. New York has struggled to generate a consistent pass rush in the first couple of weeks of the season. St. Louis has employed a quick and simplified passing attack, with easy reads for its signal-caller. The Guardians will be looking for a way to disguise coverages and get Ta’amu out of his comfort zone.
This is a turning point game for the New York Guardians. A win on the road against St.Louis would erase the debacle in DC last weekend. It would also put the Guardians in strong standing for a potential playoff spot in the eastern division. New York would be 2-1 in their division, with victories over both Tampa and St. Louis. The Guardians do not play another divisional opponent until week 8. So completing the first half of their divisional schedule with a 2-1 record would set them up nicely and change the makeup of their entire season.
Winning at St.Louis in their home-opener is a tall task for any XFL team, let alone a struggling Guardians team. The BattleHawks will be flying high on the emotional boost from their home crowd. This is one of those games where New York can afford to lose, but can’t afford to put forth their effort they did last week. A loss wouldn’t kill New York but a loss that resembles last weekend might. If New York continues to struggle offensively, Kevin Gilbride may need to reaccess his decision to relinquish play-calling duties. Gilbride has taken on a CEO role for the team, but he may have to take full ownership of the offense moving forward. How the entire New York Guardians team responds to last week is almost as important as the result of this game.
BattleHawks 26 Guardians 10
I don’t see this as a good matchup overall for New York. The Guardians have to survive the early tidal wave of emotion that will guide the BattleHawks at the outset of this game. If New York can do that, their confidence can grow as the game moves forward. St. Louis is built to play ball control, and they will most likely do that well during this contest. The Guardians have an uphill battle ahead of them. This game will reveal the character of New York, and how they respond to adversity moving forward.