20 Mar

Houston Roughnecks soar to No. 2, D.C. Defenders retain top spot

The first weekend of the XFL’s 2023 season had a little bit of everything. Saturday saw the Arlington Renegades rally past the Vegas Vipers and the Houston Roughnecks rough up the Orlando Guardians. Sunday’s doubleheader featured two close games, including the St. Louis BattleHawks’ thrilling comeback win over the Brahmas in San Antonio. In the nightcap, the D.C. Defenders rallied to defeat the Seattle Sea Dragons after trailing most of the game.

The Defenders and Renegades justified their first and second spots in our Week 1 Power Rankings. Houston, which was fifth in our initial rankings, had the most convincing win of the weekend, albeit it came against the team we had ranked at the bottom of the league.

How far did the Roughnecks move up? Did D.C. do enough to stay ahead of the field? We’ve got all those answers and more in our Week 2 Power Rankings below.

  1. D.C. Defenders (1-0)
    Last week: No. 1
    D.C. didn’t do anything to lose its grip on No. 1. It showed resolve in battling back to post a road victory against a gritty Seattle team that went into the game as the betting favorite.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ unit settled down after allowing a touchdown on the game’s first drive. Leading the charge was defensive back Michael Joseph, who had two second-half interceptions: first a pick-six, then a pick to set up Jordan Ta’amu’s game-winning touchdown run.

The Defenders won, but they will need more production from their offense moving forward. They particularly struggled in the passing game, as Ta’amu completed just eight of his 19 attempts.

  1. Houston Roughnecks (1-0)
    Last week: No. 5
    Wade Phillips’ squad jumps up three spots after its 33-12 thumping of Orlando. After allowing an early touchdown, Houston was in control the rest of the way while dominating play on both sides of the ball.

Brandon Silvers did throw two picks, but was otherwise solid with 272 yards and two touchdowns. He had a lot of success getting the ball to Deontay Burnett and Jontre Kirklin, who combined to catch 13 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Houston’s passing game was complemented by running backs Max Borghi and Dejoun Lee, who ran for a combined 77 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries.

Led by Trent Harris’ four sacks, Houston’s defense came up with several momentum-changing plays that included three interceptions and several stops on possession downs.

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  1. St. Louis BattleHawks (1-0)
    Last week: No. 4
    In the final 90 seconds of the BattleHawks’ opening win, they took full advantage of the XFL’s rules that differentiate it from the NFL. Down 15-3, St. Louis scored a touchdown, then made it a 15-12 game after a successful three-point conversion. The BattleHawks then were able to keep possession after choosing to try to convert on fourth-and-15. A.J. McCarron hit Austin Proehl to convert, then the duo connected on the game-winning score with 16 seconds left.

It was an extremely effective XFL debut for McCarron, a former NFL starter and three-time national champion at Alabama. Though he was sacked five times, McCarron managed to complete 18 of 26 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He went 11 of 14 for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

  1. Arlington Renegades (1-0)
    Last week: No. 2
    The Renegades’ defense was responsible for both of the team’s second half touchdowns in their 22-20 win over Las Vegas. The unit then stymied the Vipers’ game-tying, two-point conversion attempt before stopping the Vipers’ fourth-and-15 attempt to retain possession.

The Renegades’ defense did its job, but Arlington will obviously need more from its offense going forward. Sal Canella produced as expected with 70 yards on seven catches. But Arlington needs more players who can stretch the field for Drew Plitt, who threw for just 172 yards on 19 of 25 passing.

  1. Seattle Sea Dragons (0-1)
    Last week: No. 6
    There were plenty of things to like in Seattle’s season opener. Ben DiNucci threw for 282 yards while having immediate success connecting with Josh Gordon (six catches for 74 yards and touchdown), Jahcour Pearson (12 catches for 95 yards) and Blake Jackson (eight catches for 51 yards). Seattle’s defense, led by Emmanuel Smith, held D.C. to a meager 2.5 yards per carry.

DiNucci’s three turnovers (especially his fumble near D.C.’s goal line in the game’s final seconds) loomed largest, but the Sea Dragons’ inability to run the ball (just 51 yards on 17 carries) and their lack of a pass rush also contributed to the loss.

  1. San Antonio Brahmas (0-1)
    Last week: No. 3
    The Brahmas appeared on their way to victory before McCarron led the BattleHawks’ epic comeback. San Antonio’s defense, which dominated through three quarters, gave up 15 points and two touchdowns in the game’s final 90 seconds.

Lost in Sunday’s game was the fact that San Antonio’s offense also got things going late in the game. Led by Jack Coan’s passing, the Brahmas scored on their final two possessions to build a 15-3 lead. Coan completed passes to nine different players on the day, while Kalen Ballage gained 84 of San Antonio’s 133 rushing yards.

Big plays were missing from San Antonio’s offense. The unit had just two runs of over 10 yards and one pass that went for over 20 yards.

  1. Las Vegas Vipers (0-1)
    Last week: No. 7
    In a game that was decided by defense, the only thing the Vipers’ defense did not do was get the ball in the end zone themselves. That proved to be the difference in the game, as Las Vegas quarterback Luis Perez threw two pick-sixes that sank the Vipers’ Week 1 hopes.

The Vegas defense is good, but the offense is a major cause for concern. The Vipers ran for a paltry 25 yards on 15 carries, while former Steelers standout Martavis Bryant finished with a disappointing stat line of 28 yards on four catches.

  1. Orlando Guardians (0-1)
    Last week: 8
    Yes, they’re last in Power Rankings for a second straight week. And yes, they had the least impressive performance of Week 1. But there were some positives to glean from Orlando’s opening game.

In defeat, the Guardians received solid efforts by wideouts Cody Latimer, Andrew Jamiel and Eli Rogers. They were also able to run the ball against Houston’s defense. In fact, the Guardians should have run the ball more after averaging nearly 5 yards per carry on 16 attempts. Orlando’s defense also came up with splash plays in the form of two third-quarter interceptions.

Unfortunately for Guardians coach Terrell Buckley, the good things his team did against Houston were undone by poor quarterback play and several big plays allowed by his defense. Orlando tried to resolve the former problem by benching Paxton Lynch for Quinten Dormady during the second half.

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