Top five performances, plus a handful of burning questions and playoff picture


Top five performances, plus a handful of burning questions and playoff picture

Say this for the XFL: it’s packed a lot into the first five weeks. Officiating controversies! In-game quarterback rants! Back flips in the end zone! About the only thing the league hasn’t enjoyed yet is overtime — and that’s a matter of when. With the second half of the XFL season beginning in earnest, let’s take a moment to enjoy what’s transpired so far and discuss what’s ahead both in the regular season and the playoffs.

Below are the five best individual performances through the first five weeks, followed by five burning questions for the second half of the season, and a quick glance at the playoff race with April quickly approaching. CBS Sports’ XFL coverage is here for you with our Midseason Awards, individual stats leaders through Week 5, Power Rankings and much more.

Top five performances of the first half

  1. Houston Roughnecks QB P.J. Walker vs. Tampa Bay Vipers (Week 3)
    Stat line: 24 of 36, 306 yards passing, 4 total TDs

It wouldn’t be a list of the five best performances without Walker. The Roughnecks star could claim a few games for this selection, but his most exciting came against the Vipers in Week 3. He posted season-best numbers through the air (306 yards, long of 84, 120.8 passer rating) and on the ground (34 yards) while tying his game high of four touchdowns.

  1. L.A. Wildcats QB Josh Johnson vs. Tampa Bay Vipers (Week 5)
    Stat line: 20 of 36, 288 yards passing, 4 TDs, 1 INT

Johnson started the XFL’s highest scoring game of the season by throwing an interception. He ended it with nearly 300 yards through the air, four touchdowns and two phone calls to berate his offensive coordinator, Norm Chow. Audio of Johnson telling Chow to “calm down” and “just call plays … stop it” only adds to the lore. I can’t tell if this is something to be concerned about or simply Johnson’s in-game demeanor. In any case, it was peak XFL.

  1. DC Defenders DT Siupeli Anau vs. St. Louis BattleHawks (Week 5)
    Stat line: 4 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QBH, 1 FF

To be abundantly clear: DC wasn’t doing a whole lot of defending between Weeks 3 and 4, allowing 64 points to Tampa Bay and LA. But in Sunday’s 15-6 win vs. St. Louis, DC’s defense had arguably its best performance so far. The BattleHawks got their yards, but Anau and the Defenders’ defensive front made sure they got nothing else. St. Louis went 25% on third downs, and 0-for on fourth-down and red zone attempts.

  1. Houston Roughnecks CB Deatrick Nichols vs. Dallas Renegades (Week 4)
    Stat line: 3 tackles, 2 INTs

Landry Jones’ very bad day was a great day for Nichols, who grabbed two of Jones’ three interceptions. The first came off a tipped pass, but the second was a nice zone coverage read in which Nichols undercut a route. The Roughnecks haven’t exactly been a shutdown defense, but they have been opportunistic with the league’s highest sack rate (7.7%) and second-highest interception rate (4.4%). Negative plays and turnovers are how the Roughnecks get their stops.

  1. Tampa Bay’s running game vs. DC Defenders (Week 4)
    Stat line: 266 yards rushing, 2 TDs

A bit of a cop-out because it’s shared among three players, but the Vipers’ ground game was unstoppable in their only win of the season. De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick rushed for 122 and 108 yards, respectively, each at 5.1 yards per rush. Those still represent two of the highest individual totals to date. Even quarterback Taylor Cornelius got in on the action with 36 yards and a touchdown on just four attempts. Tampa Bay may be 1-4, but they’ve played far better over the past three weeks and the running game is a leading reason why.

Five burning questions for the second half

  1. Who will finally beat the Roughnecks? For as good as Houston’s been, I would be surprised if it goes undefeated. That’s a hard feat for any team. Consider that since Week 1, the Roughnecks’ average margin of victory has been 6.75 points — about a touchdown and one-point conversion. In fact, Houston hasn’t won by more than one possession since the opener against a Josh Johnson-less L.A. Wildcats team. There are some tricky games coming up, too, in Week 6 at New York and in Week 7 vs. DC. The Roughnecks are the favorites for a reason, but someone’s going to trip them up.
  2. Is this the Josh Johnson we’ve been waiting to see? Johnson came to the XFL as one of its most experienced signal callers. That’s finally starting to pay dividends. Since Week 3, Johnson has been en fuego with the league’s highest passer rating and an 11-2 TD-to-INT ratio. With quarterback problems in Dallas and Seattle, L.A., even at 2-3, seems like the West team best equipped to make a playoff run, next to Houston. Week 7 (at St. Louis) and Week 8 (vs. Houston) should be fascinating.
  3. Will the Vipers finally turn the corner? I’ll continue to stump that Tampa Bay has the most-improved offense since Week 1. That’s a credit to coach Marc Trestman for actually giving himself less to do by handing the play-calling to offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. Though just 1-2 since Week 3, the Vipers have scored 28.7 points per game in that span, which ranks third in the XFL. Those two losses? To Houston and L.A. — the two highest-scoring offenses — by exactly seven points apiece. Things don’t get any easier with St. Louis coming to town in Week 6, but at some point it feels like the Vipers are about to turn the corner. And in the East, the playoff race remains wide open.
  4. Can DC’s defense even out? Look, most teams in the XFL are going to struggle on the road. Only two teams — Houston and Dallas — have won two road games. One is the best team in the XFL. The other is enigmatic with zero home wins. As it relates to DC, the Defenders are allowing 8.3 points per game at home and 32 points per game on the road — literally four times as many. So what lies ahead for DC? Oh, just three road games in the final five weeks against Houston, New York and St. Louis, all of whom are above .500 with an offensive identity. With offensive production going down by the week and a revolving door at quarterback, the Defenders may have to lean on their defense. The question is: can they?
  5. Can Dallas patch up its offense? There’s no other way to describe Landry Jones’ nagging knee injury other than it’s a bummer. The Renegades are averaging 23 points per game when he’s the starter and about 10.5 when he’s not. Philip Nelson has been doing his best, but he’s been put in a tough spot and the offense isn’t nearly as capable of opening up when he’s taking snaps. Jones should be back by Week 7 and the Renegades may need him sooner than later if they’re going to try to make a playoff run. With two legit running backs and a game-changer at tight end in Donald Parham, the missing piece is a quarterback who can distribute the ball and not turn it over. (And to that point, Jones has seven interceptions.)

Playoff Race
East Division: It’s up for grabs. Three teams — the BattleHawks, Defenders and Guardians — are locked at 3-2. The Vipers are 1-4, but are 1-2 in the last three weeks with both losses by seven points. Of the three teams tied for first, the Guardians probably have the most advantageous home schedule, with DC, Houston and St. Louis all going to New York. The Defenders, on the other hand, have to go to Houston and St. Louis. Road teams are 6-14 straight up this year.

West Division: It’s Houston’s to lose, that’s for sure. The undefeated Roughnecks have a three-game lead on Dallas and L.A. with wins over both and can clinch a spot by Week 7. Though the Renegades, Wildcats and Dragons area all under .500, L.A. might be the only team with the offensive firepower to actually compete with Houston. L.A. doesn’t have a win over a divisional opponent yet, but does get Houston at home in Week 8. The Renegades will be without starting quarterback Landry Jones for at least another week, maybe two.

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