One of the great things about the XFL is that there are no secrets. The league makes it a point to show you everything that’s going on as it’s unfolding, warts and all.
And the biggest wart of the season thus far came in Saturday’s 32-23 win by Houston over Seattle. The mistakes were layered, but it started when Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker opted to take a knee on fourth-and-23 with about two or three seconds left in the game instead of hurling the ball deep and out of bounds to wind out the clock. The officials on the field didn’t identify that there was still time on the clock, declared the game over, and ran off the field. Afterward, officiating supervisor Wes Booker told ABC’s Steve Levy that there should have been time remaining for the Dragons to run one more play, but that the game was over anyway.
It was an egregious error and one of the most bizarre endings for a football game in a while. While the outcome may not have changed if Seattle had an opportunity for one more play and a three-point conversion, the Dragons nevertheless deserved the opportunity to send the game into overtime. With that in mind, the logistics of getting those plays off after the fact are difficult. To wrangle up all the players, coaches and various staff members and get them back out on the sidelines is a chore. Communication is key and obviously the league, still in its infancy, wasn’t prepared for a miscue like this.
The league did the right thing (the only thing) by issuing a statement later that evening, acknowledging the game should not have ended as it did and reassigning Booker to another position. You don’t like to see anyone be made an example of, but a precedence has to be set. Booker got the worst of it, but the officials on the field have to do a better job as well. Multiple Seattle players pleaded their case that time was still on the clock and they went unheard.
This was a learning experience for the XFL on how to handle mistakes in real time, and it won’t be the last. These are the growing pains of a new league whose purpose is to provide opportunities for all people — not just players. But the league did what it should have done by being transparent. The mistake has been made and there’s no going back, but you won’t lose anyone’s respect by owning up to it.
While the XFL’s officiating gaffe was the weekend’s biggest story, there were plenty of other takeaways from each of the four games. Here’s what else we learned from Week 5.
There’s no defending Houston’s explosiveness
At least not for 60 minutes. Seattle’s run-heavy offense was a good matchup on paper for Houston’s passing attack. By controlling the clock with the run game, the Dragons could shorten the game and keep Walker and Co. off the field. It worked for three quarters; the Dragons had a 23-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter and the offense had a season-high 32 rushing attempts for 100 yards and three touchdowns. Using quarterback B.J. Daniels’ legs was a nice complement to Kenneth Farrow and Trey Williams.
But you have to pick and choose your spots to live on the edge when you’re playing the Roughnecks. Why? Houston scored 26 of its 32 points in two quarters. Obviously, having Walker, Cam Phillips, Sam Mobley and others helps, but the comeback was also a credit to coaching. June Jones has little, if any, regard for down and distance. At some point this is going to be to a fault, but for now it means Houston enjoying the fruits of being arguably the most aggressive team in the XFL. And, candidly, this is not a league for conservative play-calling. The best example of this was Seattle coach Jim Zorn opting to punt on fourth-and-1 near midfield in the second quarter. One play later, Walker connected with Mobley for 42 yards. Zorn would have been just as well served to go for it and fail to get it. Houston has been playing it close a lot and one of these weeks it’s going to bite them in the rear, but that won’t happen until their opponent matches that aggressiveness.
DC’s defense was the difference vs. St. Louis
The Defenders took down the BattleHawks 15-6 Sunday afternoon in a battle of field goals. The only thing more impressive than DC’s defensive effort was the beer snake fans put together in the stands. But that’s another story for another day. DC’s defense showed up in a big way against the second-highest scoring offense in the XFL by allowing zero touchdowns, less than three yards per play and nabbing four sacks on quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. St. Louis, playing behind the sticks practically all day, was 25% on third downs (4-of-16) and 0-for on two key fourth-down attempts. And when he wasn’t sacked, Ta’amu was almost constantly on the run. For a team that loves to run the ball, those types of negative plays are lethal. DC’s quarterback switch from Cardale Jones to Tyree Jackson did just enough offensively to come away with the win, but the defense, which had allowed 32 points per game in its previous two losses, was lights out. There’s something to be said for XFL teams playing at home vs. on the road. Other than Dallas, which has enjoyed all its success away from Globe Life Park, just about every XFL team has been much better at home. That was definitely the case for DC’s defense on Sunday. Still, when the Defenders needed a win, the defense played arguably its best game yet.
New York’s success rooted in its ground game
Yes, the Guardians are 2-0 since switching to Luis Perez at quarterback. And, to be sure, he’s been better for the offense. However, don’t overlook what the running game has done for this offense. New York had its best day on the ground this season with 144 yards on 32 attempts — a healthy 4.5 yards per carry with only three tackles for loss. Perez does a better job making good decisions with his passes. His lone interception against Dallas in a 30-12 win was more of a great individual play by Josh Hawkins. But with Darius Victor emerging as a nice bell-cow back, there’s more of a reliability to New York’s offense that wasn’t there in the first couple of weeks. This is true for a lot of teams and it’s a byproduct of not having a preseason. With its second win in a row, New York is now 3-2 and tied for first (!!!) in the East division.
Dallas’ struggles are more than the quarterback
You couldn’t pin the Renegades’ Week 1 loss on Philip Nelson, and Saturday’s loss to the Guardians was bigger than just him, too. Obviously, throwing two interceptions, including a pick-six, wasn’t ideal, but neither was playing from behind for the second half. In all, the Guardians only ran 62 plays to Dallas’ 67, but the Guardians had four successful scoring drives resulting in offensive points to the Renegades’ two — neither of which resulted in a touchdown. Landry Jones — who has seven interceptions, mind you — won’t be back for another week or two, but at the halfway point it’s fair to wonder if Dallas’ problems are more than whoever’s at quarterback. There’s no running game and the defense has progressively taken a step back each week. The six yards per play allowed Saturday was a season low.
Week 5 MVP: L.A. Wildcats QB Josh Johnson
When he wasn’t berating his offensive coordinator, Johnson was throwing dimes down the field to the tune of 288 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-34 win over Tampa Bay. Johnson overcame a slow start and helped his team come from behind thanks to some gorgeous downfield throws. The subplot with him and offensive coordinator Norm Chow will be something to watch moving forward, but he was money on the field Sunday evening.