- When: Saturday, Mar. 18 at 7 pm ET
- Where: The Dome at America’s Center
- Tickets: Ticketmaster and StubHub
- How to watch: FX/ESPN+
The D.C. Defenders and St. Louis Battlehawks get round two after a week three thriller that saw the Defenders edge out the Battlehawks 34-28 at Audi Field. The contest featured high tensions between both squads throughout, which foreshadowed the physical squabble that eventually broke out during the fourth quarter. On top of the eight players/coaches that got fined as a result of the brawl, linebacker Francis Bernard (Defenders) & tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith (Battlehawks) remain suspended by the XFL for their involvement.
Historically, the Battlehawks are 3-0 at The Dome, with their most recent win coming last week against the Arlington Renegades 24-11 in their home opener. The game broke XFL attendance history with 38,310 on hand to witness the return of pro football to St. Louis in an event three years in the making. This week, the Battlehawks will once again be home in a game that’s expected to draw similar attendance figures.
The Houston Roughnecks lost to the Seattle Sea Dragons on Thursday night, meaning the Defenders are the only unbeaten team left in the XFL. It’ll surely be a tough task to hold onto that tag with the aforementioned circumstances and injuries not helping their case, but Reggie Barlow’s group is more than capable with what they’ve already accomplished this season.
Their secondary headlined by shutdown corner Michael Joseph and the physical DeJuan Neal, complemented by the likes of cornerback Anthoula Kelly, who made eight tackles last weekend against the Vegas Vipers & safety Kentrell Brice, who had a key interception against the Battlehawks last time.
The Defenders front seven combined for four sacks and held the Battlehawks rushing attack to just 56 yards during week three. Improvement in these departments for St. Louis will be essential if they want a shot at victory. And FYI, watch out for Davin Bellamy off the edge, he’s been electric for D.C. and has only improved with the season’s progression. Reggie Northrup has also been phenomenal from his outside linebacker spot for D.C. with 17 tackles on the season, including two for loss.
Offensively there’s been some more ups and downs, but the D.C. offense, led by quarterbacks Jordan Ta’amu & D’Eriq King, has seemingly found its groove as it’s put up 30+ points in each of its last two matchups. Expect receivers Lucky Jackson & Chris Blair, who led the team in week three, to continue as top targets.
Earlier this week, the Defenders signed running back Raymond Calais, who will likely be active tonight. The Super Bowl LVI champion will serve in relief to starter Abram Smith in wake of a Ryquell Armstead calf injury. A tough blow for the Defenders considering they like to spread rushing duties out. Armstead is third on the team in rushing, with 37 carries for 156 yards.
The Battlehawks get their shot at redemption at their house against the Defenders, and as stated before, there are two things they must do better if they want it: 1) protect A.J. McCarron & 2) establish the ground game.
The Battlehawks have all the talent they need at their skill positions & McCarron has played like a top quarterback when he’s had sufficient time in the pocket – but that’s been a struggle. The protection has shown promise as it kept McCarron clean last week against the Renegades but will need to maintain consistency against the Defenders defense, a whole different beast.
The Battlehawks don’t run at the same rate as the Defenders but possess talented backs like Brian Hill and Mataeo Durant. The group ran for 102 yards against the Renegades, almost double their total against D.C.
Overall, blocking will be the make-or-break factor for the Battlehawks tonight.
As of today, the game serves as a preview to the XFL North semifinals. With that being said, it’ll be captivating to see if the tension from their week three matchup boils into this one.