BattleHawks Fall Short Against the Roughnecks in Week 2 Thriller

Houston QB PJ Walker evades the BattleHawks Jake Payne. (Credit: XFL.com)

HOUSTON – In the most exciting game of the weekend, the Houston Roughnecks and St. Louis BattleHawks traded jabs for four quarters of hardnose football. In the end, Houston (2-0) held on to top St. Louis (1-1) with a final score of 28-24. 

Two of the best quarterbacks in the league squared up and showed their stuff. Houston is led by the shifty PJ Walker. Walker was with the Colts alongside former NFL QB Andrew Luck. Andrew gave Walker high praise encouraging his dad, and XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck, to let Walker try out for the league. Andrew and Oliver both made good decisions as Walker has been one of the most fun players to watch over the first 2 weeks.  

And St. Louis’s own Jordan Ta’amu, the fleet-footed strong-armed 22-year old who is the youngest starting QB in the league.  

Week 2 saw St. Louis stick to their game 1 identity being a run-first team, carrying the ball 43 times for 126 yards. Rush attempts accounted for 54% of their plays this week, down from close to 60% week 1. The BattleHawks likely would’ve kept that 60% run/pass ratio had they not been down the entire second half. 

Matt Jones battled a knee injury during the week which impacted his carry total on the day. He also looked to have reaggravated his knee early in the second half. He ended the day with 16 carries for 44 yards. Christine Michael picked up carries this week with Jones nursing an injury and Keith Ford out for the game. Michael put up a similar line with 15 rushes for 38 yards. 

BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu impressed most of the day. He went 30/37 for 284 yards, 3 TDs, and 32 more yards on the ground. The blemish on his stat line is the two interceptions.

Houston’s Cody Brown and Jeremiah Johnson brought in the two picks for the Roughnecks. Interceptions are bad enough, but both guys added big returns after the inceptions to the St. Louis 1 and 6-yard lines, respectively. The Roughnecks didn’t miss a beat on offense following the interceptions adding two touchdowns with only a short field to work with. 

Trading First Half Punches

The opening drive for the Roughnecks started with a 37-yard kick return by Houston’s Ajene Harris. Houston moved the ball this series but the BattleHawk defense held them to a 44-yard field goal. 

The BattleHawks answered the Roughnecks opener with an opening drive touchdown for themselves. Both Matt Jones and Christine Michael started in the backfield with Jones getting the first carry of the day. 

The drive was highlighted by a 27-yard connection between Keith Mumphrey and Ta’amu and finished off with a short pass to Jones for a nice 25-yard catch and run touchdown to give St. Louis a 6-3 lead. 

Not stopping there, Houston responded with a 6 play 66-yard drive ending in the end zone on a PJ Walker pass to Cam Phillips putting the Roughnecks up 12-6; this duo went on to connect for 3 TDs together on the night.

St. Louis struggled to move the ball for the remainder of the first half. There next four drives went punt, punt, interception, turn over on downs. They went into halftime down 21-6.

Opening drives to start a game are usually scripted/ predetermined as part of a team’s gameplan. St. Louis opened their first drive by utilizing four straight plays with a man in motion, and 6 of 9 plays on the touchdown scoring drive. The remainder of the half saw very little motion. For something to be planned and executed well on the first drive and then thrown out for almost the remainder of the game wasn’t something you like to see. 

Second Half Sparks

Coming out to start the second half, the BattleHawks strung together a 13 play drive. Ta’amu and Pierson-El connected for a 23 yard gain, the pair finished off the drive connecting on a 1-yard reception to make the score 21-12. 

After the BattleHawks defense forced a 3 and out, the offense marched back down the field for another 13 play drive capped off by a 4 yard run by Ta’amu. This closed Houston’s lead to 3, 21-18. 

Not to be overlooked in the game is the BattleHawks defense. Week 1 they didn’t give up a touchdown against the Dallas Renegades. Many people brushed this off since the Renegades were without starting QB Landry Jones. 

Don’t let the 28 points-against be the nail in the coffin for this unit. 13 of those points only required the Roughnecks to move the ball a combined 7 yards. Houston was moving the ball well in the first half picking up big chunk plays of 33 and 20 yards. 

As good as the offense was in the second half, the defense was a half-step ahead of them to close out the night. The biggest play they gave up in the second half was a 15-yard scramble by Walker, the drive ended in Houston punting. 

Sacks were elusive on the night largely due to PJ Walker’s awareness in the pocket. Andrew Ankrah was the only one able to record a sack on the day, also bringing home a team-high two tackles for a loss. Cornerback Darius Hillary also played a great game on defense. Hillary was tracking the ball well barely missing two picks, he was jumping the routes like crazy. 

Controversial No-Call

The controversial point in the game came with less than 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter. A perfect punt by Houston’s Austin Rehkow and a pair of offsides by the offense had the BattleHawks back up to their own one-yard line. After clawing their way into Roughneck territory, Ta’amu and the offensive line saw Roughneck MLB Frank Ginda jump offsides. Assuming the refs saw the play and called it, Ta’amu had a free play and threw the ball up to the receiver with the deepest route. Not a single ref threw their flag and Ta’amu’s lob was picked off. 

Ta’amu throws the ball in this situation thinking the play has only upside and any negative play will be taken off the board due to the defensive penalty. The no-call reversed the course of the game with 7 point swing in favor of the Roughnecks.

This season, XFL refs have called games very well. The use of the replay official in the booth has added transparency and is appreciated league-wide. It will be interesting to see how the XFL responds to this potentially game-changing call, arguably the biggest on the year so far.

The BattleHawks would drive and score one more TD with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game to make it 28-24. But the damage was done and Houston hung on to win a thriller, 28-24. 

In the end, Houston won the turnover battle 2-0 and that was the difference-maker this week. The teams competed for all four quarters and we all got to see a great game a football. 

The BattleHawks come home next Sunday, February 23rd for their home opener against the New York Guardians. 

Expect The Dome to be full and the stadium to be popping because football will be back in St. Louis!

Fight and fly on, BattleHawk Nation.

St. Louis BattleHawks vs. Dallas Renegades Week 1 Preview

St. Louis BattleHawks vs. Dallas Renegades

Sunday features the first game of the existent of the St. Louis BattleHawks and the Dallas Renegades. Both teams will be facing off at the Texas Rangers’ old ball park Globe Life Park in its debut as a football/soccer stadium. There are plenty of storylines with both teams in terms of offensive productivity and who will step up on defense. Let’s examine the top storylines between both teams.

Big Game Bob Stoops is Back

Fans haven’t seen Bob Stoops on the sidelines since the 2016 college football season. It will be odd seeing him coach professional athletics, but he seems to be up to the challenge. The goal of the XFL is to help develop players and Stoops is one of the best at it. He’s got a talented roster around him and built the team on pure speed. He may be rusty at the beginning with his coaching since the rules are different from college, but he shouldn’t lose a beat once he gets used to the flow of the game.

Landry Jones’ Injury Status

The knee injury occurred last month during the first week of training camp and we haven’t seen Landry Jones on the field until this week. He has been wearing a knee brace to protect it from further damage. No starter has been named at quarterback for Sunday’s game yet. He seemed to be moving around well in practice and threw the ball well too. He has been limited for most of the week so his status is still up in the air.

Jordan Ta’amu’s Professional Debut

We saw a glimpse of Jordan Ta’amu during preseason with the Houston Texans that did not end as well. The upside is that he is athletic. He can run for a first when he needs to and has a powerful arm. He may have to rely on his running game in Christine Michael and Matt Jones until he can ease his nerves into the game. There is plenty of upside to the young quarterback. He’ll need time and patience as he could eventually be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league.

Renegades Receivers vs. BattleHawks Secondary

This was one of the most intriguing matchups of training camp seeing the BattleHawks secondary try to stop the Renegades’ speedy receivers. On shorter routes, the Renegades usually had the advantage as receivers like Jeff Badet and Flynn Nagel are so good in open space to create extra yards with their speed. Freddie Martino could have a big day in short routes as well should Jazz Ferguson not be able to recover from his hand injury. When there were deeper routes, the BattleHawks had the advantage. Corners like Darius Hillary, David Rivers, and D’Montre Wade were able to play well in one-on-one coverage. Not to mention whoever plays quarterback for the Renegades will have to go up against Kenny Robinson and Will Hill at the two safety positions.

BattleHawks Will Ground and Pound the Defense

The combination of Christine Michael and Matt Jones should make for an interesting pairing. Michael is a pure power back who will be tough to take down on the initial contact. Jones will have fun running to the outside to utilize his speed. The Renegades’ linebackers will have to step up and make plays. If they are not able to contain the two backs, it could open up the offense for Jordan Ta’amu to sling the ball around the field or create running opportunities for the quarterback.

Final Outcome?

It really all comes down to two things: can Landry Jones play and can the BattleHawks corners stop the passing game. We all know what the Renegades can be capable of in Hal Mumme’s offense. We know what the secondary of St. Louis can do in man coverage. One or two turnovers can change the outcome of the game. Another injury to the Renegades offense could put them in a lot of trouble. While both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, this will be one of the more exciting games of the weekend.

Dallas Renegades 2020 Season Preview

Photo: XFL.com

It’s hard to believe that the XFL season kicking off is less than a few days away. Two years in the making. Eight teams created and crafted together for February 8th and 9th. One of those teams put together might have a chance of winning the XFL Title: the Dallas Renegades.

The journey began with XFL commissioner Oliver Luck appointing Bob Stoops to coach and manager the Dallas franchise. Stoops was able to build a strong coaching staff that includes Hal Mumme at offensive coordinator and Chris Woods as defensive coordinator. Then comes Landry Jones. The first player in XFL history. Also the first player in Dallas Renegades history. He comes in as the alpha of the league and the leader of Dallas.

Bob Stoops built a strong team through the draft that includes Jeff Badet, Jazz Ferguson, Derron Smith, Lance Dunbar, Cameron Artis-Payne, and Frank Alexander. We saw a lot of players step up during camp and some under the radar players becoming potential stars. We take a look at the team as a whole and see how they may look this season.

Offense

Landry Jones has been the starter since day one. There was no question about that. Questions started to pop up when he went down with a knee injury week one of training camp. A scary moment for Jones, the Renegades, and fans. It seems to not be too serious of an injury, but serious enough that he could be out for the season opener against the St. Louis BattleHawks. If he can’t go, then comes in Philip Nelson as the most likely starter. Nelson throws a great deep ball and should be comfortable in the offense since he’s been with the team since mini-camp. Eric Dungey will provide the team as an effective backup who could be plugged in should another injury happen.

The running backs could have a committee of players that is headlined by Cameron Artis-Payne and Lance Dunbar. A potentially dangerous one-two punch. Artis-Payne will grind it out for tough yards using his strength and Dunbar provides an added weapon to the offense. Dunbar can catch and run out of the backfield. Expect him to be their speed back. Don’t sleep on Austin Walter and Marquis Young. Both guys ran the ball well with Walter showing flashes of greatness in the passing game and Young was dominate running the ball during training camp. Those two could see playing time should Dunbar’s injury issues continue to pop up.

Jeff Badet was the big name in the receiving core with his blazing speed and reliable hands. One receiver that popped out of nowhere was Jazz Ferguson. Small school fans will know his name and know what he can do. He one of the few receivers on the roster that is over 6 foot, 1 inches tall. He made spectacular catch after spectacular catch in mini and training camp. Having strong hands and being a threat in the red zone should make him one of the top targets. Flynn Nagel is a perfect slot receiver who has great hands. Should make a good compliment to Badet and Ferguson. Freddie Martino impressed in camp in his short time with the team which should earn him playing time.

Donald Parham showed great ability during camp as his size will make him a threat in the red zone. He got strong hands and is tough to bring down. Sean Price also showed how well he plays the game with his receiving ability. He played well during his time in the AAF so it should seem the same will apply in the XFL. Julian Allen adds good depth to the position.

The offensive line has great versatility and have great pass blocking ability. Willie Beavers will be responsible for cover the quarterback’s blind side. Alex Balducci can play either center or guard as he’s used to being the anchor and leader of the line in professional football despite being a defensive linemen in college. Pace Murphy has plenty of experience to help solidify the right side of the offensive line.

Offensive Depth Chart Week 1

QB – Landry Jones, Philip Nelson, Eric Dungey

RB – Cameron Artis-Payne, Marquis Young

WR – Jeff Badet

WR – Freddie Martino, Jazz Ferguson

WR – Flynn Nagel, Jerrod Heard

TE – Sean Price, Donald Parham, Julian Allen

LT – Willie Beavers, Justin Evans

LG – Salesi Uhatafe, Josh Allen

C – Maurquice Shakir, Josh Allen

RG – Alex Balducci, John Keenoy

RT – Pace Murphy, Darius James

Defense

The defense this season will be running a 3-4 defense which will consist of the front seven being fast off the line. Frank Alexander and Winston Craig shouldn’t have any trouble doing that. Alexander’s NFL experience with the Carolina Panthers should help. Craig is quick off the line and should have opportunities to sack the quarterback since Alexander will be getting plenty of attention. Gelen Robinson looks to be the starting nod at defensive tackle as the main run stopper in the middle of the line.

The linebackers are the strongest position on the defense. Ray Ray Davison is solid in coverage and will be asked to blitz from the outside often. Johnathan Calvin also is a perfect fit in the defense as he will help in pass rushing. Greer Martini also showed good coverage skills and rarely misses a tackle in the open field.

Derron Smith has been talked about for his ballhawking skills all camp long and it hasn’t disappointed. He has a chance of being one of the best safeties in the league who will create plenty of turnovers. Josh Hawkins brings his NFL experience to the secondary as he will help as a starter as a corner. Treston Decoud was exceptional in man coverage during camp covering the fastest of receivers on the Renegades roster.

Defensive Depth Chart Week 1

DE – Frank Alexander

DT – Gelen Robinson, Tomasi Laulile

DE – Winston Craig, Tony Gueard

OLB – Johnathan Calvin, James Folston

ILB – Ray Ray Davison, Asantay Brown, Tegray Scales

ILB – Greer Martini, Reshard Cliett, Tre Watson

OLB – Hau’oil Kikaha, Tobenna Okeke

CB – Josh Hawkins, Josh Thornton

CB – Treston Decoud, Donatello Brown

FS – Derron Smith, Micah Abernathy

SS – Tenny Adewusi, Doyin Jibowu

Special Teams

Austin MacGinnis showed to be accurate with his kicking and has some range to make field goals from 50 or more yards. Drew Galitz also has good foot strength and will be asked to be smart with his punting since the new rules make punting more of a challenge. Jeff Badet and Marquis Young both have a ton of speed to them as they will be handling the return game on special teams.

Special Teams Depth Chart Week 1

K – Austin MacGinnis

P – Drew Galitz

H – Drew Galitz, Jerrod Heard

PR – Jeff Badet, Flynn Nagel

KR – Marquis Young, Austin Walter

LS – Christian Kuntz

Final Analysis

The Renegades are one of the early favorites to win the league title in the first year. It all comes down to their offensive weapons and their linebacking core that can make or break this team. They seem to be dealing with lots of injuries to key positions before the season starts. The depth of the team could be tested right away. It’ll be important for the team to get off on a fast start. Landry Jones’ performance could tell the story on how this team will fair this season.

Final Prediction: 7-3 record, 1st in the West, XFL Champions over DC Defenders

What I want for an XFL Christmas

What I want for XFL Christmas

All of the XFL players and staff have returned home from the inaugural team mini-camps and will no doubt rest up before official training camps begin in January. At this time of the year I was thinking of what I want out of Christmas for the XFL, so I decided to write down a list for Santa Claus and hope he’ll deliver it not on Christmas Eve, but make a “special” delivery in early February 2020.  This is what I am asking Santa for this Christmas:

  1. A league that will stay around. We have all experienced spring football leagues and while Americans love their football there seems to be something wrong with keeping around professional football after February.  The USFL did a great job of spring and summer football the first two years in existence and gave us later NFL legends since as Jim Kelly, Reggie White and Steve Young but when the USFL challenged the NFL to play in the fall that league disappeared with a $1 lawsuit settlement.  The Alliance of American Football (AAF) tried to rush out and put a season together earlier this year and fell apart just as the league was getting interesting, hurting the players, the coaching staffs, and the fans who were just warming up to the AAF. If the XFL wants to win over fans then please Santa help this league stay around for years and years to come!
  2. Players that are truly dedicated to making the game a special event for fans. In a day and age where players in most professional sports are seemingly disconnected from their fans,  XFL players need to bring some excitement and genuine enthusiasm for the game back to the stands. Football is a game of passion, and we need players and coaches who truly love the game and are excited to be out on the field every moment of every game. I have already seen a lot of passion and true desire in this infant XFL season and want to see everybody “go hard” on every down.
  3. Fans are an integral part of the XFL and find a team you can support and stick with them no matter the outcome of the season.  Other sports have “bandwagon” fans and the XFL needs true fans who bleed with their chosen team no matter if they win or lose. The players, coaches and management staff are putting together a great league, and let’s get behind the teams and show them that the XFL has a place in professional sports and can keep football excitement going long into the spring each year.

My Christmas wish is that the XFL builds a special football bond between the teams and their fans, and that this league hangs around for many, many years to come.  The players and coaches are getting ready for the season… let’s get ready with them!

Happy Holidays and bring on February 2020!