The XFL kicked off its inaugural season this past weekend, and with each team completing their first game, we can start to develop a baseline of what to expect. One game is a small sample size, especially in a league with zero history, but it’s better than nothing! We know some players that might be worth paying a closer eye on, and we also have coaches who have shown what tendencies might stick from their former NFL, college, and CFL lives.
Renegades need more Raid
The Dallas Renegades hired Bob Stoops as head coach, but his choice of offensive coordinator is what made them interesting to football nerds everywhere. Hal Mumme is considered the Godfather of the Air Raid offense, and he’s bringing it to professional football for the first time. True to form for the mostly-10 personnel system that puts four or five players in the pass pattern on basically every snap, the Renegades had 48 pass dropbacks and just 14 rushes opening weekend.
Balance isn’t something the Air Raid is known for, but it usually puts up big numbers. However an injury to projected starter Landry Jones meant Philip Nelson got the start, and he might not have the arm to make the throws necessary. The Air Raid needs a QB with a cannon that can stick a 15-yard out, and Nelson’s 33-42 for 209 yards is way too much checking down for a system that needs vertical stretch.
With just 267 yards of total offense and only 1-10 on third down, the Renegades will likely need to turn it up in Week 2, or start making adjustments immediately.
We’ve got a coordinator firing already
No matter the level of football, you don’t often see coaches fired after just 60 minutes of football. But that’s exactly what the LA Wildcats and head coach Winston Moss did by firing defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson on Monday following their 37-17 loss to the Houston Roughnecks. The Wildcats gave up 23-39 for 272 yards and four passing TD’s to former Temple star PJ Walker, and were seventh of eight teams in defensive grade by Pro Football Focus on opening weekend.
Though the defense took the blame, starting quarterback Chad Kanoff from Princeton was just 21-40 for 214 yards, and the offense was seventh by PFF grade as well. 4.9 yards per pass doesn’t look like it will be enough to move the ball in the XFL.
Roughnecks Shoot to thrill
If Mumme is the Air Raid master, June Jones is modern father of the Run & Shoot. Once famously disparaged as the Chuck and Duck by defensive genius Buddy Ryan, it’s an offense that relies on quarterbacks and wide receivers reading the defense in real time, and patterns being run based on the coverage. And it seems to fit former Temple star PJ Walker pretty well (4 TD’s, 1 INT), as the ‘Necks lead the XFL in offense and scoring already. It was the revolutionary offense of its day, and it might be making a comeback.
The Shoot got Jones to the Sugar Bowl during his time at Hawai’i, but it fell out of favor because of advanced defenses starting to exchange coverages to confuse the routes. But it’s had something of a renaissance when mixed with modern spread concepts, its purest form of late via Nick Rolovich at Hawai’i, who won a Mountain West division championship by combining modern spread elements and RPO-style zone blocking. Rolovich heads to Washington State next season, replacing Mumme disciple Mike Leach, but his time on the islands likely helped Jones see how to make The Shoot more versatile.
And he’d know to look there too: Rolovich was Jones’s quarterback at Hawai’i in 2000-01.
Did the Vipers bite themselves?
The only XFL team that intentionally went with two quarterbacks opening weekend were the Tampa Bay Vipers, but the back-and-forth between Tampa products Aaron Murray and Quinton Flowers gave the side more questions than answers.
The only team in the XFL yet to score a touchdown, it was clear head coach Marc Trestman had a package in for the mobile Flowers at quarterback, limited though it was. While Murray struggled mightily (16-34, 231 yards, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s), Flowers moved the ball more efficiently in limited snaps. He also had a 37-yard completion in the fourth quarter for the biggest play of the game to Daniel Williams.
It was even more curious in the red zone, as Flowers drove the Snakes down to the New York 5-yard line at the end of the third quarter, only to be pulled for Murray who wasn’t able to punch it in. The ensuing field goal was the Vipers only points in their brief XFL history.
With color commentator Greg Olson dragging the QB Bingo and Trestman for not sticking with the more efficient Flowers during the broadcast, there would appear to be momentum for the Vipers to make a change if Murray doesn’t improve. The replies to the Vipers Twitter account, filled with USF fans in Tampa that loved Flowers during his four years with the Bulls where he was the best player in school history, might force a move before the home opener in Week 3.