Week two of the XFL is in the books, and this week we saw some teams starting to separate themselves on the field. Houston, St. Louis, and DC all advanced to 2-0. Others got their first win. Finally, some continue to head in the wrong direction falling to 0-2 and leaving us with far more questions than answers. Orlando is one of those teams.
Week 2 almost mirrored week one. After an early touchdown drive where Orlando showed flashes of having it all together, mistake after mistake killed any chance of winning this game. That said, let’s dive into it: The good, the bad, and the ugly from week two.
The Running Game
Truth be told, I didn’t have to look too hard to find something I liked about this game. Jah-Maine Martin and Kelvin Taylor were able to run very effectively until the score dictated a change of scheme. The offensive line did a great job at times of pushing San Antonio off the ball and creating holes for the two running backs. Martin also broke off a 38-yard run on the first drive, oddly enough on a 3rd and forever.
This run, we would be told later, is currently the longest run of the season for any team. Orlando would finish with 100 yards rushing on 19 carries, averaging 5.7 per. Which absolutely begs the question, why are we giving up on our rushing game?
Coming into this game, San Antonio was the champion for old-school football. In week one, they ran the ball 39 times. Kalen Ballage and Jaques Patrick are both big bruising backs capable of running people over and dragging defenders with them. Orlando’s defense held the best rushing team in the XFL to -6 yards rushing at the end of the first half. As a team, Orlando’s Defense had ten tackles for loss, led by Mike Lee and Caeveon Patton, each with two.
Jack Coan was sacked once and pressured several times. Matt Elam let a potential game-changing pick-six bounce right off his fingers. It wasn’t until the second half, tired from constantly being on the field that they finally broke. Little help from the offense, consecutive 3-and-outs, left them stranded.
The Passing Game
It was obvious to all in attendance that the passing game was horrific. Between Paxton Lynch, and Deondre Francois, who made his first appearance, the Guardians managed just 87 passing yards. Eighty-seven yards passing for an entire game is indicative of a time when football was played with leather helmets, not in 2023. It did not matter who was in at quarterback the results seemed the same. Paxton Lynch rarely had time to look downfield, but when he did the result was usually a one-hopper, or a badly placed pass giving the receiver no chance to make a play.
The first touchdown pass to Eli Rodgers was by far the best pass of the game, with Lynch hitting Rodgers in the corner of the endzone after a play-action fake. Francois fared no better, missing open receivers, and throwing an interception near the end of the game that looked like a miscommunication. Even Francois’s touchdown pass to Latimer was the result of 3 pass-interference plays that kept the drive alive.
The Offensive Line
I said many good things about the offensive line in the running game, now unfortunately I must look at the rest of the game. In pass protection, Francois and Lynch were running for their life. Some of that was the result of play-calling. Orlando tried many times to establish a screen and short-yardage passing game. However, even when it wasn’t by design, Francois and Lynch both had to make hurried throws because they were unable to slow the Brahmas pass rush. The Orlando offensive line was responsible for many of the guardian’s 13 penalties.
On the first drive, a holding penalty negated a first down pass, forcing the guardians into a 3rd and long. Toward the end of the third, Martin’s touchdown run was negated by a holding penalty. Anybody who is an avid football fan knows that the game starts with the offensive line. For Orlando, improved and more disciplined offensive line play is a must.
If you ever heard the expression that a team beat themselves? You really don’t have to look any further than this game to see what they are talking about. Orlando had numerous drives start out with promise only to stall out at midfield at the hands of an unfortunate penalty. On the first drive, a holding penalty almost ruined the amazing field position. In the second quarter, San Antonio scores a touchdown off a drive extended by a late hit out of bounds. On that same drive, Matt Elam drops what very well could have been a drive-ending interception, giving up a touchdown one play later.
In the third, a missed blocking assignment led to a blocked punt. This gave San Antonio the ball on a short field, turning this game into a rout. On a fourth down that Orlando needed to have, a miscommunication between Francois and Andrew Jamiel led to Francois air mailing an errant interception. That interception once again led to great field position and a field goal that added insult to injury.
It’s been suggested and stated that in the first two games, Orlando is trying out different things hoping to figure out their identity. Two weeks in, only the Vipers and Orlando look like they are still struggling to find leadership. Last week, it was obvious that the lack of a starting quarterback presented a problem. This week, the one bright spot from the Houston game, Quinten Dormady, was inactive. The staff wanted to see Francois and Lynch. This move left many, myself included, scratching our heads.
It would have made far more sense to have Francois and Dormany active for this game if that was the intention. Martin, mere plays after reeling off the XFL’s longest run, was seen on the bench for several series in favor of Kelvin Taylor. While Taylor was not ineffective, the logic of pulling out the running back who is in a rhythm is questionable at best.
The playcalling and time management on Orlando’s two-minute drill was also questionable. A handoff at midfield, while producing a four-yard gain, wasted almost 20 seconds before the next play. At that moment, Orlando still had three timeouts to use.
Not stopping the clock forced Orlando to attempt a 56-yard field goal, with no time left, that was just short. Terrell Buckley, in his post-game press conference, made much to do of accountably. He talked about being very frustrated with hearing his punt block team say the missed block “wasn’t their gap”. He also mentioned the complete lack of awareness by Stansley Maponga on the play that resulted in a late hit. It feels alarming and confusing to hear a head coach talk that way about mistakes made. Doubly so when hearing Hines Ward talk about the failures in week one being his responsibility.
Sometimes you lose a game knowing you never stood much of a chance (Georgia vs. TCU). When you lose a game this way, while the sting of defeat still hurts, you know that there wasn’t much that could change the outcome.
Orlando’s loss, even though the score was 30-12, was the result of too many mistakes. These games are the ones that hurt the most because one or two plays had a dramatic impact on this game. Going forward, this game serves as a lesson learned for the Guardians, that this team could be really special when it all comes together.