Week one of the XFL is in the books; from my standpoint, it did not disappoint. Seattle and Vegas both fought to the final play with a chance to win the game. St. Louis mounted a fantastic comeback, trailing 15-3 in the waning minutes. The new onside kick rule, where a 4th and 15 could be attempted instead of the traditional onside kick, was utilized. In my opinion, it was a great success.
We had all these great moments, then Orlando and Houston took the field. In a week that saw so much parity, this game was never close. After scoring the first touchdown, Orlando looked outmatched on their way to a 33-12 rout. With that said, let’s talk about it: The good the bad, and the ugly from week one.
Having mentioned Cody as a player to keep our eye on, he did not disappoint. On the first drive, he came up with the Orlando Guardians’ first touchdown. He wrestled away what would have been a sure interception from the Houston defender at the goal line. He finished the game with 5 receptions for 68 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. Going forward if the Orlando Guardians are able to accomplish any kind of offensive cohesiveness, he needs to be more involved.
The Run Game
Orlando had to change up the game design relatively early, as being down 21-6 will usually force you to abandon the run game. However, Jah-Maine Martin and Kelvin Taylor were both fairly effective. Martin had 10 carries for 42 yards, showing off some of the elusiveness that made him so good at North Carolina A&T. Taylor made the most of his 5 carries with 28 yards. When Coach Buckley looks at the game film, my guess is that he will realize that these two need a bigger role in this offense.
The Orlando Defense
I know what you are thinking, “Jesse how could a defense that allowed 33 points be considered a bright spot?” Down 21-6, the defense responded in the second half, intercepting Houston QB Brandon Silvers twice and sacking him 3 times. Matt Elam provided some brilliant flashes of what made him a first-round pick in the NFL. Jacoby Jones had 2 sacks, and it wasn’t until Eli Rogers fumbled on a punt that they finally broke.
From the outset of the game, Paxton Lynch looked like a quarterback that showed up halfway through training camp. He looked out of sorts, he was unable to lead receivers, and his only touchdown could have been ruled an interception. He never tried to push the ball down the field, allowing Houston to pin their ears back and come after him (more on that in the ugly section).
It wasn’t until Quinten Dormady came in that the offense looked like it had some purpose. Brought in at the point where he had to throw, he went 12-18 for 142 and had a 51-yard touchdown. He did have two interceptions at the end, but it’s hard to conclude this game wouldn’t have been a little closer had he played an entire game.
Looking at this roster when writing my preview, I had Eli Rogers as a guy to watch. His four years of NFL experience and multiple trips to the playoffs should have proven valuable to this team. Instead, he managed four receptions for 40 yards, which in and of itself isn’t terrible. However, There were at least two plays I can think of where it looked like he gave up on the play, including the 3-point conversion play, where he looked out of position at a crucial time.
We must also talk about the punt he muffed. Orlando’s defense had just gotten a stop at a point when it was 24-12, and we had a chance to cut into the lead again. His fumbled punt, and the touchdown that ensued several plays later sealed their fate.
As a leader on the Guardians team, we fully expect a high-level turnaround from Rogers.
The offensive line play was a sore spot in the game. Not necessarily in the running game, as the Guardians did average 5 yards a carry, but in pass protection they were terrible. Whether it was Lynch or Dormady, they were running for their life. Houston’s defense sacked a Guardians quarterback 7 times, with pressures on countless other plays. That relentless pressure also played a part in the 3 interceptions thrown. If Orlando stands any chance of righting the ship, this needs to be priority one.
The Quarterback “Situation”
As of the start of the game, Orlando had still not announced a starting Quarterback. Deondre Francois was inactive for this game, and Orlando went with Paxton Lynch. They pulled Paxton and put Dormady in, who provided an offensive spark, if not momentarily.
Toward the end of the game, the commentators said Orlando is planning on getting Francois involved next week. This left me dazed and confused. This team looks like it lacks on-field leadership on offense, and it feels like the revolving door of sorts at quarterback needs to be addressed quickly.
In the end, it is only week one, and my guess is that Houston will wind up in the running for a championship. Their defense was outstanding. Their offense looked unstoppable at times. Max Bhorgi looked like a great dual-purpose threat, a potential problem for the rest of the league. However, this game provided a “moment of clarity” if you will, on the Orlando side. They showed, very early on, that Orlando still has a long way to go this season.