2020 LA Wildcat takeaways and a sneak peak into 2021

LA Wildcats quarterback Josh Johnson (Credit XFL.com)

Because of the COVID-19 shortened season, the LA Wildcats only played 5 games in 2020, finishing 2-3. Although this is a smaller sample size than expected, let’s check out some key takeaways from the season, take a look at what players might make the jump to the NFL and look forward to 2021. 

3 Key Takeaways

  1. Josh Johnson can lead this team for at least another season

Josh Johnson, QB for LA, was injured all throughout training camp and did not play in Week 1 against Houston because of a thigh injury that limited Johnson during the entire season. In the 4 games Johnson played, he totaled 1,076 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes with only 2 interceptions. Johnson was 2nd in yard passing, 2nd in touchdowns and led the XFL in QB rating and yards per attempt. Assuming Johnson remains in the XFL with LA, he showed the league that he can and will lead the Wildcats and be one of the best in the league while doing it. Now with PJ Walker gone, Johnson is the clear #1 QB in the entire XFL. 

  1. The Wildcats were not wrong to fire Pepper Johnson

After their disappointing loss in Week 1 against the Roughnecks, the Wildcats fired then defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after surrendering 25 unanswered points in the 2nd half to Houston. While LA still finished bottom in the league in points allowed, the team was tied for first in the XFL in takeaways and clearly had a defensive unit that was improving under head coach Winston Moss. The Wildcats played uninspired football on defense in Week 1, and that attitude never resurfaced after DC Johnson was let go. With another full training camp for the defense to mesh, their takeaway prowess will help the Wildcats reemerge as one of the most dangerous defensive units in the league in 2021. 

  1. LA needs a running back

The LA Wildcats did not have a running back in the top TWENTY in the league in rushing yards in 2020. Let that sink in. One of the reasons Josh Johnson had so many passing yards is because Elijiah Hood and DuJuan Harris could not be counted on to carry the offensive burden. And this was not a game plan issue, both the LA backs are actually rated lower in the league when you look at yards/carry compared to just total yards. If LA wants to succeed in 2021, pairing Josh Johnson with a dynamic backfield is paramount to success going forward. Getting a running back like CAP in Dallas or the duo backs in Tampa Bay would open up an entire part of the offense that we did not see from the Wildcats this season. 

Wildcats to the NFL?

Who from LA should go to the NFL you ask? What an amazing question with an amazing answer. 

Offense: Josh Johnson, Tre McBride and Nelson Spruce

Defense: Cedric Reed, Mike Stevens and Ahmad Dixon

Overall, in order for LA to have success in 2021, they need an improved running game and more consistency on defense. They have shown as a team that they can create takeaway and have big plays on offense, but both need to be more steady in their production for extended success next season. Just a few more playmakers on both sides of the ball would go a long way for the Los Angeles Wildcats. 

A New Stadium for the LA Wildcats?

Will the LA Wildcats be moving to the Banc of California Stadium? (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The fifth week of the XFL season once again saw several teams put up solid attendance numbers. The Houston Roughnecks had 19,773 fans attend their home game against Seattle. The Dallas Renegades welcomed 15,950 fans to Globe Life Park and the DC Defenders hosted a crowd of 16,342 on Sunday. 

Lost in the shuffle was that once again, the Los Angeles Wildcats struggled to pack Dignity Health Sports Park, announcing a crowd of 12,181 fans for their thrilling 41-34 win over Tampa Bay. After three home games, the Wildcats are averaging just 13,124 fans per game. While those numbers are respectable, LA is the only team in the XFL that hasn’t cracked 15,000 fans at a game yet.

Thankfully, it has been reported that the team and the XFL are being proactive about options to grow the Wildcats fan base. 

The biggest concern appears to be location. While Dignity Health Sports Park is a nice enough stadium, the LA Chargers have already shown that playing in Carson, Calif. is not ideal. The stadium is too far of a drive for many fans and it has limited public transportation options. 

The goal appears to be to move the Wildcats to a more centralized location. Early reports state that the XFL is focusing on moving its LA franchise into the city proper, most likely playing at the new Banc of California Stadium. Built in 2018, it is currently the home of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC and it sits across the street from the University of Southern California.

This move seems like an ideal fit for LA’s XFL team. Banc of California Stadium is a beautiful, new venue that seats 22,000 fans. It isn’t a behemoth like MetLife Stadium (where the New York Guardians play) or Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Vipers). Plus, it’s in the heart of Exposition Park and would be a much more viable location for an up-and-coming pro football team. 

While the XFL’s more immediate concerns are to deal with the logistics of the recent corona virus outbreak, it’s great to see that the league is still focused on the long-term growth strategy for the Wildcats.

LA will play its next game on Sunday night, travelling to Seattle to take on the Dragons at 4 p.m. PT. Fans will not be able to attend in person, but the game will air on ESPN2.  

XFL Week 5 – Players of the Week – “Fan’s Choice” by XFLBoard.com

Josh Johnson (LA Wildcats), Kenny Robinson (St. Louis BattleHawks), Boogie Roberts (LA Wildcats) and Jameer Thurman (DC Defenders)

Welcome to our Week 5 XFL “Players of the Week” results. Voting began immediately at the completion of the final game on Sunday. We gathered over 3,500 votes before the closing of polls at 6PM Eastern on Tuesday 10 March 2020. We thank all who voted!

Fans were asked to nominate any player they deemed worthy of the honor, in four categories: Offensive, defensive, lineman, and special teams.

Winners below are based on the number of votes received for each player.

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Josh Johnson, QB, LA Wildcats

Quarterback Josh Johnson engineered a Wildcat comeback over the surging Tampa Bay Vipers. Johnson went 24 for 36 passes, for 288 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception.

Fan comments:

  • Josh Johnson was a man possessed. Player of the week! (Anonymous)
  • Johnson engineered the comeback of the XFL season. (XFL Wildcats)
  • Threw four touchdowns to break the Viper’s back. (Mark Jackson)

Honorable Mentions

  • Cam Phillips, WR, Houston Roughnecks
  • Jhurrell Pressley, RB, DC Defenders
  • James Butler, RB, Houston Roughnecks
  • Taylor Cornelius, QB, Tampa Bay Vipers

 

Defensive Player of the Week: Kenny Robinson, Safety, St. Louis BattleHawks

St. Louis BattleHawk Kenny Robinson had a beautiful fingertip interception, showcasing his athletic ability. Combined with one sack and five combined tackles, Robinson was a bright spot in the BattleHawks loss.

Fan comments:

  • Made a beautiful pick that had to be reviewed… and it was good! (Gerald)
  • He is making plenty of plays for such a young player. (XFL #1)
  • If Robinson keeps playing like this he is sure to picked up in the NFL draft. (Anonymous)

Honorable Mention

  • Ryan Mueller, DE, New York Guardians
  • Jack Tocho, CB, LA Wildcats
  • Jordan Martin, SAF, Seattle Dragons

 

Lineman of the Week: Boogie Roberts, Tampa Bay Vipers

After his teammate Cedric Reed sacked Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius, Boogie Roberts scooped the ball and rumbled into the end zone, thus extending the Wildcats score over the Vipers.

Fan comments:

  • Scoop and score, the Wildcats way (Anonymous)
  • Put the score beyond reach at a time the Vipers were mounting a comeback. (XFL Fan Forever)
  • Scooped the ball and “Boogied” into the end zone. (Anonymous)

Honorable Mention

  • Cedric Reed, DE, LA Wildcats
  • Beniquez Brown, LB, Houston Roughnecks
  • Greer Martini, LB, Dallas Renegades

 

Special Teams Player of the Week: Jameer Thurman, LB, DC Defenders

Jameer Thurman’s amazing blocked punt led to a  field goal, and gave the DC Defenders an edge against the St. Louis BattleHawks.

Fan comments:

  • Blocked a punt at the right time in the game.  (Anonymous)
  • A gentleman and scholar. He blocked the punt and let his teammate recover the ball. (Sammy J.)
  • Big player on DC Defenders special teams. Jameer is making things happen out there. (Anonymous)

Honorable mention:

  • Austin Walter, RB, Dallas Renegades
  • Jonathan Celestin, LB, DC Defenders
  • Tyler Rausa, K, DC Defenders
  • Mattt McCrane, K, New York Guardians

Preview: XFL Tampa Bay Vipers at Los Angeles Wildcats

Game: Tampa Bay Vipers at Los Angeles Wildcats
Date: Sunday
Time: 6 p.m.  (Pacific)
Location: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
TV: ESPN
Spread: LA -2.5

The XFL’s midway point is this weekend, and although there are still five weeks left in the season, it’s fair to call Sunday’s clash between the Los Angeles Wildcats and the Tampa Bay Vipers as a must-win game for each team.  Both teams come into the game sitting at 1-3 and needing to start a second half push if they’re going to make the playoffs.

The Wildcats return home following a 17-14 loss to the New York Guardians. Los Angeles has the third best scoring offense in the XFL (22 PPG) thanks to the league’s best passing offense. Behind the stellar arm of quarterback Josh Johnson, the Wildcats are averaging 244.5 passing yards.

Tampa Bay heads across the country after winning its first game of the season last week. The Vipers dominated the DC Defenders, 25-0. The Vipers lead the XFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 171.5 yards on the ground. It showed against DC as Tampa Bay’s tandem of De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick each eclipsed the 100-yard mark last week. Smith finished with 122 yards while Patrick had 108 yards and one rushing touchdown.

The Vipers also have the XFL’s top-ranked defense. Tampa Bay has allowed just 237.3 YPG, while picking up five sacks and two interceptions in four games.

As LA returns home, it must overcome several key injuries. The Wildcats leading receiver, Nelson Spruce, did not practice all week as he battles a knee injury, and LA’s leading rusher, Martez Carter, was limited in practice with a hip injury. Meanwhile, LA kicker Nick Novak was put on injured reserve and replaced by former Oakland Raider and Atlanta Falcon kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Tampa Bay’s one notable injury is Smith, who was limited in practice this week with an injured foot.

Off the field, the Vipers were in the headlines this week because of a budding quarterback controversy. Quinton Flowers briefly left the team and was replaced at starting quarterback by Taylor Cornelius. Flowers has since returned to the team but has requested a trade, which has not been granted. The current Vipers depth chart lists Cornelius as the starter, with Flowers as the third-string quarterback behind Aaron Murray.

Los Angeles will host the Vipers on Sunday night at 6 p.m. For fans that can’t attend in person, the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

XFL LA Wildcats sign new players including kicker Giorgio Tavecchio

Former University of California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

The Los Angeles Wildcats are gearing up for a big home game against the Tampa Bay Vipers on Sunday night at 6 p.m. In preparation for that game, the Wildcats have made a handful of roster moves designed to give LA its best chance at victory.

The most notable change comes at the kicker position. Nick Novak, who started the last three games for LA, struggled mightily last week in a 17-14 loss to the New York Guardians. The former Maryland kicker missed two field goals, one of which was blocked, as the Wildcats fell by three points at MetLife Stadium. It was rumored all week, and confirmed on Tuesday, that Novak was hurt. Therefore, LA sent him to injured reserve and signed former University of California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio.

Tavecchio, a native of Milan, Italy, spent two seasons in the NFL. He played for the Oakland Raiders in 2017,  converting 16-of-21 field goals and 33-of-34 extra points. The next season, Tavecchio found himself on the Atlanta Falcons roster. He played in three games and was a perfect five-for-five on field goals to go along with a stellar eight-of-eight on extra points. His career long field goal is 56 yards.

The Wildcats also signed defensive tackle Andrew Stelter, defensive end Victor Ochi and defensive end Alex Jenkins. Along with Novak, LA placed defensive tackle Trevon Sanders on injured reserved and waived wide receiver Kermit Whitfield.

Currently, the Wildcats have 51 players on their roster with one open roster spot.

XFL Week 5 Power Rankings

Four weeks are in the books, and just when you thought you had it all figured out, we have another week where the league shakes up again. The XFL has parity and that is a wonderful thing. At this point, I can honestly say, no team is truly out of it, and while we may have a pretty good idea at who the #1 seed for each conference will be, that race for the #2 seed is going to be interesting and exciting as the season progresses. But for now, let’s look at where we stand heading into Week 5.

8. DC Defenders (2-2) Last Week (4)

Yes, they are 2-2. Yes, I still believe in this team. Yes, I would still pick them over New York and Tampa Bay to grab that #2 seed. But, nobody has looked worse these past two weeks than the DC Defenders. I mean they have looked BAD. At least when Tampa Bay was looking rough those first two weeks, they were at least moving the ball downfield. Their issue was they just couldn’t get into the endzone. DC however, they can’t even move the ball downfield. Every time their offense took the field Sunday night, I had absolutely no confidence in them whatsoever. The real problem though is, neither did they. Their body language was one of defeat, and Pep Hamilton has got a huge test in front of him. We shall see if he can rally his troops, because if he can’t, DC has a shot to end up last in the East. They head back home this weekend, so that should help things, but they face a major test in the St. Louis Battlehawks. And if they play like they have the past two weeks, it is going to get ugly fast. They sit at no. 8.

7. Seattle Dragons (1-3) Last Week (6)

Welcome to the league BJ Daniels. Unfortunately, it took Jim Zorn all the way up until halftime of Week 4 to realize that BJ Daniels was his best option at quarterback. I was tempted to put Seattle a little higher, because they almost upset a really good team in the Battlehawks, but ultimately, I have to see more. And they face a big test this weekend in the undefeated Roughnecks, so we will see what this Dragons team with Daniels at the helm really looks like. From what I saw from the 2nd half on Saturday night though, I am really intrigued to see what this team can do. Now that Daniels will be getting starting reps, and they can form a game plan around his strengths, we will see how serious this team can be in making a run. Their defense is still as solid as ever, and they kept Seattle in that game against St. Louis. But it’s going to come down to the Dragons offense scoring points and not turning the football over. If they can start to do that, they will have a shot. For now, they sit at no. 7.

6. Los Angeles Wildcats (1-3) Last Week (5)

Consistency. Consistency! C’mon guys! This team has the talent. This team has the star power. This team has the weapons. But they can’t seem to string together consecutive strong performances. Even within the same game. They look good one drive. They look lost the next. Their defense makes a huge stop. Their defense allows a big play. What is this team? I know what they can be. They can be the team that absolutely destroyed the Defenders last week. But for some reason, some weeks, they would rather be the team that played Saturday afternoon. I get that it was cold. I also understand that Nelson Spruce, their leading receiver, was out. But they had their chances, and they just couldn’t capitalize. They play a much improved Vipers team at home this weekend, so we will see if they can get back on track. For now, they sit at no. 6.

5. New York Guardians (2-2) Last Week (8)

Turns out, they didn’t need to “change the entire game plan”, they just needed to change the quarterback. Now, Matt McGloin was out with a injury, but they would be crazy not to go back to Luis Perez. Perez had that offense moving the best it had all season, and the most important thing is, they didn’t turn the football over. Perez isn’t going to light it up on the stat sheet, but honestly, with this team, their offense just needs to be serviceable and turnover free. Their defense is good enough to get the job done, and if their offense can now play clean football and score enough, this team could make a serious run at that #2 seed. Their defense can create takeaways, as they did Saturday, and they will give this offense chances to capitalize. They play Dallas this weekend, who won’t have Landry Jones, so we shall see what they can do. They sit at no. 5.

4. Tampa Bay Vipers (1-3) Last Week (7)

Here come the Vipers! This is the Vipers team we thought we were going to get at the beginning of the season. Well, better late than never I guess. This team has found its identity on offense, and that is pounding the rock. They not only provided the XFL with their first 100 yard rusher, they also provided them with their second. Both Smith and Patrick were phenomenal Sunday night against the Defenders, and the Vipers brought the fight to DC on all levels. Defense, offense, and special teams were all clicking, and the East should be terrified, because this team has all the potential. Cornelius looked good, and as long as he isn’t turning the football over, he should improve week by week. I do wish that they would use Quinton Flowers, but with Flowers requesting for a trade, it seems that that ship has sailed. But nevertheless, this team can hang with the best of them as we have seen the past two weeks. Hopefully they can continue this momentum, because if they can, that #2 seed is ripe for the taking. For now, they sit at no. 4.

3. Dallas Renegades (2-2) Last Week (3)

Thank God Landry Jones’ injury was not as serious as first thought to be. He should be back Week 7 it seems like, so if Phillip Nelson can just hold down the ship until then, the Renegades should be okay. This team is for real. Landry Jones turned the football over three, THREE times…..in the 1st quarter. Yet, they still only lost by one possession, with a real chance to tie or take the lead at the end. Yes, they need to limit the turnovers, but this team is good, and it all starts with their running game. Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar have done an excellent job moving the chains and making plays when nothing else seems to be open. Donald Parham continues to be a beast, and this defense doesn’t get enough credit for how good they are. They held that high powered Houston offense to just 21 points, which is excellent when you consider that they went into that game averaging 33 points a game. Hopefully Jones can make a quick recovery, because this team to me is the clear favorite right now to take that #2 seed in the West. They sit at no. 3.

2. St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1) Last Week (2)

Nothing has changed at the top of the East. That still belongs to the BattleHawks, whose only blemish this season comes against the undefeated Roughnecks, on the road, in a game they could have won. This team is so good, and it all starts with their fantastic head coach Jonathan Hayes. He has this team in a great position to succeed, and his belief and confidence in his players has really shown through. Jordan Ta’amu continues to be a star every single week, making plays with his arm and legs, and the most impressive thing about him is his quick decision making. He protects the football, and he trust his receivers to make plays in the open field. Pierson-El has done just that, and he is quickly becoming a breakout star as well. Of course, you still have Matt Jones, Keith Ford, and Christine Michael holding down that running game, and this defense is the best in the league. I don’t see anyone slowing down this team, and they might roll into DC and crush their season this Sunday. This team is awesome, but they are still no. 2.

1. Houston Roughnecks (4-0) Last Week (1)

Because the Houston Roughnecks have still not tasted defeat. This team is impressive on so many levels. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Houston offense is unstoppable. You can maybe slow them down a bit, but as long as PJ Walker is under center, you are not shutting them down. Four weeks now, and it’s pretty clear, PJ Walker is the BEST quarterback in the XFL. He is phenomenal! Whether it’s throwing passes like the one he finessed to Nick Holley on the sideline, that was just BEAUTIFUL. Or if he’s running over defenders and knocking them down like he did Sunday afternoon. He has been magical, and there is no stopping him. Now, Dallas’ defense was able to shut down Cam Phillips, but other guys stepped up. Like I mentioned before, Nick Holley was one of those guys, but you also had Khalil Lewis, Sam Mobley, Sammie Coates, and James Butler and Andre Williams all made contributions Sunday afternoon. But again, we already know how good their offense is. But their defense has been suspect this season. They give up a lot of yards, they give up a lot of points, but give them credit, because they somehow ALWAYS come up with a big play. And Sunday afternoon, they came up with a bunch of them. Four interceptions total, five total takeaways, and none greater than the one that sealed the game by Gates at the goal line. Dallas was fixing to punch it in to possibly tie or take the lead, and De Marquise Gates made an excellent interception to seal the game, by never letting that ball off of Nagel’s hands touch the ground. It was spectacular. The defense has sealed the past three wins with game saving interceptions. At some point, that might not be the case, but the point has not come. So they are still the best team in the XFL.

Tre McBride bursts into the XFL with the Wildcats

Tre McBride finishes off a 40-yard catch with a dive over the goal line. (Credit: XFL.com)

One of the XFL’s biggest selling points is that it’s a showcase league for players that never got a proper shake in the NFL. Over the past two weeks, the player that has absolutely made the most of his opportunity is Los Angeles Wildcats wide receiver Tre McBride.

McBride is a native of Killeen, Texas who played at FCS lightweight The College of William & Mary. He impressed NFL scouts just enough that the Tennessee Titans took a seventh round flyer on him in the 2015 NFL Draft, landing McBride with the 245th pick.

McBride spent two frustrating seasons with the Titans. In both 2015 and 2016, McBride started the year on Tennessee’s practice squad, only to be called up late in each campaign due to injuries. He was active for just nine games and was only targeted four times over two seasons. He finished his career in Nashville, Tenn. with two receptions for eight yards and one touchdown, adding another eight yards on his only NFL carry.

From there, McBride was signed by the Chicago Bears. He played in eight games during the 2017 campaign, hauling in eight balls for 144 yards. Again though, McBride was never going to be the focal point of Chicago’s offense and he was waived on November 28, 2017.

Since that fateful day, McBride has been a journeyman workhorse, bouncing around the fringes of pro football. He found himself on the practice squads of three different NFL teams, spending time with the New York Jets, Washington Redskins and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Eventually, he gave up on the NFL and saw the XFL as an opportunity to re-invent himself.

Unfortunately, McBride’s path to pro football’s newest spring league couldn’t even go smoothly. McBride was originally drafted by the DC Defenders, the final player taken in the second round. Four months later, McBride was on the move again. He was traded to the Wildcats for Rashad Ross. Then, when the XFL season finally kicked off, McBride was forced to sit out with an injury.

That is a twisted path to play pro football. However, McBride, like so many other players in the XFL is playing for the love of the game. In his case, the wait has been worth it. Over the past two weeks, McBride has become a Wildcats sensation, hauling in 13 balls for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Despite missing half of the season, McBride is now the fifth leading wide out in receiving yards in the XFL.

Two weeks ago, McBride burst onto the scene with a five-catch, 109-yard performance with a pair of touchdowns. His phenomenal showing helped LA win its first ever XFL game, beating McBride’s old DC Defenders team 39-9. Last week, despite LA losing 17-14 to the New York Guardians, McBride has a tremendous day with eight receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown.

Los Angeles will look to have more of the same from its newfound go-to receiver on Sunday when the Wildcats host the Tampa Bay Vipers at 6 p.m.

Three key takeaways from the LA Wildcats loss to the Guardians

LA Wildcats QB Josh Johnson
LA Wildcats QB Josh Johnson – LA Wildcats At NY Guardians 29 Feb 2020 – Credit Adam McCullough

There’s an old football adage that the hardest games to win are cross country trips, taking a team from the West Coast to the East Coast. The Los Angeles Wildcats learned that lesson the hard way on Saturday, falling 17-14 to the New York Guardians. The Wildcats were competitive throughout the contest at MetLife Stadium, but couldn’t overcome a strong defensive showing from the home team.

Here are three key takeaways from LA’s loss, dropping it to 1-3 on the young XFL season.

#1. Offensively, the Wildcats are too one dimensional

The passing display between LA quarterback Josh Johnson and wide receiver Tre McBride was something special on Saturday. The dynamic duo took New York by storm, connecting for 127 yards and a touchdown. Over the past two weeks, Johnson has found his favorite target 13 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

The problem is that while LA’s passing game is superb, the ground game is nowhere to be found. On Saturday, the Wildcats ran the ball 13 times for just 40 yards. This created too many third-and-long situations and forced the Wildcats into predictable passing situations. The result was a team that went just 2-of-12 on third down with a woeful conversion rate of 17 percent.

#2. Defensively, the Wildcats mean business

Los Angeles head coach Winston Moss made waves when he fired LA’s defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson, one game into the season. Johnson is a decorated NFL player and coach, winning a combined five Super Bowls and spending 13 years as an assistant coach under Bill Belichick. However, after the Wildcats gave up 37 points against the Houston Roughnecks in their opener, Moss felt that he needed to make a change. That move has paid off over the past two games.

On Saturday, LA held the Guardians to 250 total yards and just 5-of-13 on third down (38 percent). The defense also sacked New York quarterback Luis Perez three times, keeping the Wildcats in the game until the final minutes of the contest. Last week, against the D.C. Defenders, the Los Angeles defense was even better, allowing just nine points against one of the XFL’s most potent offenses. It’s a small sample size, but right now, the LA defense is keeping the Wildcats competitive.

#3. Even in a league that is trying to limit special teams, kicking matters

As Moss and the Wildcats head back to Southern California, they can find positives in almost every aspect of their game. The one area that needs an immediate upgrade though is the kicking game. Right now, the Wildcats have converted just 2-of-5 field goals this season. On Saturday, LA could have won, or at least forced overtime, if kicker Nick Novak knocked down his field goals. Unfortunately, he had one kick blocked and pushed his second attempt wide of the uprights. Those miscues were the difference between an LA team flying home happy with a .500 record and a squad looking to rebound at 1-3.

Looking ahead, the Wildcats have a great chance to get back to their winning ways next week. On March 8, LA will host a struggling Tampa Bay Vipers team at 9 p.m.

XFL Week 4 Preview: Los Angeles Wildcats at New York Guardians

Los Angeles Wildcats (1-2) at New York Guardians (1-2)

  • Saturday, February 29th, 2 pm ET/11 am PT (ABC) MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
  • LA-7.5  Over/Under 39.5
  • Game Time Temperature: 37, Winds 10-20 mph

Game Overview

The Los Angeles Wildcats (1-2) travel to the east coast to face the (1-2) New York Guardians. Both teams share the same record after three weeks of play, but appear to be headed in opposite directions. Los Angeles is coming off a dominant 39-9 home victory over the DC Defenders. Quarterback Josh Johnson has stabilized the LA season after missing week one due to injury.

New York is coming off two straight demoralizing road losses within their division. The Guardians were outscored 56-9 in those two defeats. The most recent, a 29-9 loss to the BattleHawks in front of nearly 30,000 rabid St. Louis football fans.

The Guardians’ offense has been one of the league’s worst after three games. Unlike LA, New York has uncertainty headed into this game at the Quarterback position. Opening day starter Matt McGloin (thorax) is listed as out. New York will turn to backup Quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Luis Perez. Both have split reps all week in the lead up to this game. Williams and Perez could both see action on Saturday.

Injuries

New York and LA are coming into this game off a short week of preparation. The Wildcats will be missing some vital pieces of their offense on Saturday. A good portion of LA’s main contributors from last Sunday’s win showed up on this week’s injury report. A few of them won’t be playing.

(New York) QB Matt McGloin (Out-Thorax), OL Avery Young (Probable-Shoulder), LB Garrett Dooley (Probable-Ankle), LB Jawaun Johnson (Probable-Head), John Kling (Probable-Shoulder), RB Darius Victor (Probable-Ankle).

Guardians Wide Receiver Tanner Gentry has been activated off of short term injured reserve. It remains to be seen if he will be active for Saturday’s game.

(Los Angeles) WR Nelson Spruce (Out-Knee), RB Martez Carter (Doubtful-Hip), DB Mike Stevens (Questionable-Thigh), DL Latarius Brady (Questionable-Knee), DB Harlan Miller (Questionable-Thigh), QB Josh Johnson (Questionable- Thigh), QB Chad Kanoff (Questionable-Shoulder), CB Jaylen Dunlap (Probable-Ankle), RB Larry Rose (Probable-Foot), WR Tre McBride (Probable-Thigh), TE Brandon Barnes (Probable-Knee).

Wildcats Fullback Winston Dimel has been activated off of short term injured reserve. LA’s ground game could get a boost with his presence.

Matchup: The Guardians offense versus the Wildcats defense

LA plays a 3-4 defense but has been disguising their alignments and coverages well in the last couple of weeks. Winston Moss, with help from his defensive staff, has taken over the play-calling duties since letting go of former Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson. The Wildcats frustrated Defenders QB Cardale Jones last week by mixing coverages and disrupting the timing of DC’s pass routes. The change in play-calling was swift, and seemed like an abrupt move by Winston Moss to outsiders, but it has paid off thus far. Winston took ownership immediately of a failing unit.

As a complete contrast, despite the Guardians’ immense struggles offensively, Offensive Coordinator G.A. Mangus remains in control of  New York’s attack. Kevin Gilbride has opted not to take the reins of the offense. Gilbride is an accomplished long-time offensive coordinator with years of success and experience, but he has decided to retain a CEO role as Head Coach/GM, rather than go back to what he does best.

Last week, the Guardians eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time all season with Tim Cook and Darius Victor both rushing for over a hundred yards combined. Both running backs averaged at least five yards a carry, and the team will lean on this committee to move the ball down the field with a banged-up Matt McGloin and an inexperienced duo at QB in Perez and Williams.

Despite playing in mostly a spread attack with ‘Fun N Gun’ elements from his days as a Steve Spurrier disciple, G.A. Mangus used some more base sets last week with multiple tight ends, and it worked to some degree. Look for New York to try and establish the run more. The Wildcats rank seventh in the league in rush defense. They have talent in their front seven, but players who have very little experience playing in an odd defensive front. One player who could factor into this week’s gameplan for New York is Justin Stockton. The former Texas Tech back, had some good contributions in the passing game last week and provides big-play potential.

New York has had instability upfront, and discipline issues. Center Ian Silberman is coming off of a horrible performance last week, which saw him lose his cool on multiple occasions before ultimately getting benched. Starting Guard Garrett Brumfield was placed on injured reserve. Veterans Damien Mama and Avery Young, who have seen extensive time in the first few weeks, could be utilized more in the interior. The Guardians added reinforcements upfront this week, with the additions of former CFL All-Star Derek Dennis, and former New England Patriots, and 4-year NC State starter Tony Adams. Keeping the pocket clean against LA’s active front will be crucial towards New York’s success. The Guardians have struggled in this respect mightily.

Quarterback Marquise Williams has a big arm and is very mobile. His skill-set could aid a struggling Guardians offense in moving the chains and extending drives.

New York’s passing attack has been erratic. Big play receiver Mekale McKay continues to be underutilized. Austin Duke had arguably the best showing for a Guardians wide receiver last Sunday with 43 yards on four catches and a touchdown. The former all-time leading receiver at Charlotte has earned himself more playing time. The return of Tanner Gentry can help the Guardians passing attack, but it remains to be seen how ready he is to contribute on a short work week and a long layoff.

One of the hidden storylines in this game is Luis Perez, potentially facing off against the team that traded him in LA. Perez was initially assigned to the Wildcats back in October and was positioned as the leader of the team early on. Perez, along with Norm Chow, worked extensively together with the Wildcat receivers before minicamps and training camp had commenced.

The addition of Josh Johnson changed Perez’s role with Los Angeles. Luis was traded to New York late in camp for backup quarterback Chad Kanoff. Perez was a prolific college player who showed flashes of his ability with Birmingham last year in the AAF. If Perez is up to speed on New York’s offense, only a month after being traded for, he could provide the spark the Guardians need, and he already has added motivation going into this contest.

Matchup: The Guardians defense versus the Wildcats offense

The Wildcats offense under Norm Chow has started to hit its stride in recent weeks. A big part of the early season turnaround has been the leadership of Quarterback Josh Johnson. One of the league’s most experienced signal-callers, Johnson has taken control of the offense rather quickly and has brought stability to the entire franchise.  Johnson has always had the ability to make big plays on the fly with his arm and legs, but it’s his vast experience as a pro that has helped his Wildcats teammates on offense get on the same page.

The Guardians have struggled mightily to stop the run. They rank last in the XFL in rush yards allowed per game (138). New York has really struggled to find the right mix in their front seven. The Guardians boast a large defensive line, with experienced pro defensive tackles, TJ Barnes and Joey Mbu manning the middle, but the Guardians undersized linebacking corps has not held up well taking-on and shedding blocks.

LA comes into this game potentially without emerging runner Martez Carter. The original starter at tailback Elijah Hood was benched last week for fumbling issues. The talented runner may be leaned upon again, in combination with Larry Rose. LA is big upfront on their offensive line, but has struggled early on to establish a consistent ground attack (last in the league in rushing). Look for the Wildcats to try and emulate what opposing teams have done to the Guardians defense in the first three weeks.

Tre McBride officially arrived on the scene last week for LA with five receptions for 109 yards and two scores. He should be LA’s main target with star receiver, Nelson Spruce, out with a knee injury. New York has had problems containing mobile quarterbacks and getting them down on the ground. Josh Johnson presents a similar issue for New York that they had with Cardale Jones and Jordan Ta’amu.

Defensive End Bunmi Rotini has emerged as one of the Guardians better defensive players, but the Guardians pass rush has been largely inconsistent since week one. Taking McBride out of the game, and pressuring Johnson will be key for New York, especially with safety valve Nelson Spruce not playing.

Final Summary/Prediction

New York is heavy underdogs at home against LA, and with good reason. The Guardians have yet to establish their team identity on either side of the ball. New York has looked like a team that is still playing preseason games, while Los Angeles is finally starting to establish its identity offensively and defensively.

This is a crucial part of the XFL season, where teams start to get into midseason form before they make a push towards playoff contention. LA looks like they are ready for that challenge. New York does not.  A bye week would have benefited the Guardians in potentially resetting the franchise, but the short week keeps NY in status quo mode.

Normally, having a team from the west coast fly out to play on the east coast on a short week, would play into the home teams favor. The Wildcats are banged up and playing what is a morning game for them. (11 am PT). This should favor the Guardians but with their uncertainty at Quarterback. It’s hard to bet against Josh Johnson and what LA has shown so far with Norm Chow and Winston Moss.

This game takes place on leap day. Based on the Guardians’ performance in recent weeks, I am not ready to take a leap of faith yet in them turning things around.

Wildcats 23 Guardians 15