Well what a week that was! And welcome to our tenth edition of The Week That Was but the first ever after a gameday. I had been wondering when exactly to release XFL Plus’s own flagship column. Last year in the offseason it didn’t really matter what day of the week, but now it does. I had originally thought of Tuesday or Wednesday morning. But as I got writing it just naturally flowed to late Thursday or Friday gathering information and observations. And like all things on XFL Plus I just try to let it flow organically and not force it.
So, with this column we bid adieu to The Week That Was of 2019. And start anew with Friday Night (morning?) lights in the XFL. Whether you are having a cocktail with us late Thursday or Friday night, or maybe coffee early Saturday morning before the games, we will have a refresher of The Week That Was and a short primer for the weekend that is here.
Two Year Buildup Comes to Fruition
Well there it was, finally, XFL 2020 opening weekend kicked off. A lot of us have been waiting two years since the announcement of the league for this weekend. Judging by Twitterverse, a lot of us were also new XFL fans since last month and some of us have been back burner hoping for almost 20 years. And here it was, came and went like Christmas for us superfans, months of anticipation and then over in day or two.
Like a lot of events we anticipate, it was worth the buildup and wait. From the simple things like the uniform presentation, to complicated things like the actual football play, I think it all came off very well. I watched every play of all four games, and while there was the typical ‘miscues’ and ‘not readies’, the play was fast and looked pretty sharp for the first week of a brand-new league.
Since the Renegades were home, we were able to get firsthand access to opening weekend. The transformation at Globe Life Park was complete, changing from the Texas Rangers’ red and blue to the Dallas Renegades’ light-bright-blue and black. I don’t know if light-bright-blue is a color but that is really what it looks like in person. Just a neat color. You can read more on that game and see some sideline pics in the XFL Plus archives.
All in all, it was a great weekend with some eventful, unpredictable games. The speed of the play itself, not just the game flow, was fast and sharp. This looked like the pro football it was and the players were flying around after around seven months of workouts and practices.
Just a wonderful payoff of games for all the work Oliver Luck and company painstakingly put in over the past couple years. And he proudly watched his baby come to life from the sidelines of the final XFL game of the weekend.
Dragons at Defenders: 19 – 31: Jones, quarterback for DC played well as we expected, garnering a 116.7 QB rating and getting the win. I thought DC would win but maybe not by that much. Although, two other teams lost by 20 so, maybe 11 isn’t that much this first week.
Wildcats at Roughnecks: 17 – 37: P.J. Walker had a great game. He threw for four touchdowns and led his team to the highest score of any team this weekend.
Vipers at Guardians: 3 – 23: Guardians dominated this game, offensively and defensively. Tampa Bay had some of the best odds to win the championship so, was New York that good and does Tampa Bay bounces back strong?
Battlehawks at Renegades: 9 – 15: Renegades were the heavy favorites coming into the game giving up 9 and half to odds makers. Well, it went 6 the other way. Like Tampa Bay, we are asking if Dallas will bounce back this week.
By the Numbers:
11: Number of receivers targeted by the Renegades. Nelson’s 33 completions were also the most in the league by 10 over the next guy.
17,454: Average number of fans at each game.
652: Difference in number of fans from highest to lowest attendance between the four stadiums. Close to the high-end of attendance goals and all four being that similar is pretty remarkable predicting by the marketing people. Rumor has it there are a couple games that will break 20,000 in the next two weeks.
0: Three-point PAT attempts. Probably because unlike the one- and 2-point conversions this is much harder and will normally only be used toward the end of games and in only situations that call for it.
37: Percent of one and two PAT attempts that were successful. Definitely not a gimme play to go to the fridge during.
3.3: Million viewers for the first XFL game. The last game of the weekend drew 2.5 million and that was on cable only ESPN, putting it in line with NBA games. Hopefully there won't be a significant drop off for week 2.
3: Number of touchbacks on kickoffs. This means more than 90% of kickoffs were returned. Kickoffs are back in pro football baby!
9.5: The betting spread as listed on ESPN's TV graphics that show all game, by the score at the bottom of your TV. This is not your father's pro football league.
The overall product on the field looked good this week. I expected to see more miscues and random forgetfulness that accompanies some first week football play, let alone the first week of league existence play. I can’t wait to see the second week after finally getting some game time under everyone’s belt. One of Oliver Luck’s main goals of the league was quality football. I think they hit it this week and things should only get better in that area as we go along.
The attendance was pretty good in all four cities. The league had been hoping for around 20 thousand on the high side and as noted above they came close to that in all cities. With good news coming out of Seattle and St Louis for the next couple weeks, as far as ticket sales go, hopefully we will see an increase and get the entire league average up and around twenty thousand. LA and Seattle get their chance this weekend to raise the bar, while Houston and DC fans see if they can keep it up. St. Louis is rumored to be good in presales and they get their chance in two weekends. In a startup league like this it will be kind of fun watching this little internal fan competition among the teams.
Only two running backs got over 50 yards rushing, 3 if you count a quarterback. Even with the focus on QB assignments before the draft and such, I really thought there would be a bit more. Although, the teams did average using over 4 and half backs each splitting up the carries, with a couple teams employing six different runners.
The stadiums did a good job of focusing on mostly only selling tickets in the lower bowl at least for this first game. According to some reports the “get in the game” price right before the event went up quite a bit for some seats. In person at the Dallas game, and on the TV broadcasts you could hear the crowd pretty well when they got into it. With the lower bowl at Globe Life Park full it made for a good loud crowd to kick off the last game, of the first week, of the second, first XFL season.
That is a cumbersome way to describe the Battlehawks at Renegades game this week, but the play and feel was anything but cumbersome or confusing. If a small percentage of fans tuned in remembering the original XFL they were not treated to any kind of spectacle this time. This was good, quality, fast paced football, as advertised.
Oliver Luck also chose the St. Louis vs. Dallas game to view opening week in person. He watched most all the game right from the sidelines and not some comfortable suite. He gave an in-game interview mentioning how opening weekend went as great or better than he could have expected it. Troy Aikman also visited the sidelines to wish his old buddy “Moose” Johnston good luck in his first game as upper management of the Renegades. He is of course, Director of Player Personnel but Bob Stoops has repeatedly joked/serious about him having assistant General Manager duties.
About the only thing that looked different or “gimmicky” as some might say, was the kickoff. But that ended up being a great success so far. It appeared much safer while still providing 91% of kickoffs to be returned. And like before the NFL instituted its changes in the name of safety, most drives started in the same general area after a return, with only a couple being broke for bigger gains providing a good balance.
This also meant with the new kickoff formation you wanted to make sure you were in your seat when the actual kickoff happened. Unlike, not really caring until after the first commercial, when TV comes back after the 'kickoff' was downed. So, good stuff right from the start.
Another observation I had were some of the big hits this past weekend. There were some good ones, but most all appeared clean. The coaches and players have really embraced the new way of teaching for hitting and tackling.
XFL Plus Player of the Week
This one is not too hard this week with PJ Walker of Houston passing for four touchdowns and leading his team to the highest score of the weekend. But there was quite a bit of good play this week and my Plus 1 includes the punter from St Louis, Marquette King with a couple nearly 70-yard-in-the-air punts. But in a league that featured and assigned QBs even before the inaugural draft I am even more leaning to call out a good player here this first week.
Walker had a league leading 272 yards passing with 4 TD and 1 INT. A rating of 106.5 and he also ran four times for 26 yards. In a league that rightly put the focus on QB play while building the league, he came out firing the first week and deserves the XFL Plus Player of the Week award.
Last Weeks Questions Answered:
Which QB is going to step up above the rest? That was answered in Houston. PJ Walker stood straight and tall above the rest. He got mine and couple other site’s player of the week choices.
What will be the most popular extra point? That would be the one pointer. The two pointer was used almost as much while no one went for three.
How will the kickoff play out? By most all accounts it was a great success. The return rate was 91%. It put the ‘Xcitement’ back in the kickoff that is for sure.
How will the broadcasts be, and ratings return? I thought all four TV broadcasts were good quality. The play-by-play and color people fit the right spots. The sideline reporting was great, and as promised more and ‘in the moment’ interviews with players and coaches. All of them had pretty good opening themes. Call me corny but I put a little bit of weight in the opening music and splash screen of images and opening video production. That is what helps get you fired up for the kickoff. The TV ratings were good as well going from cable only 2.5 to a 3.3 and higher for the terrestrial TV games. This is comparable to decent NBA games and by most accounts’ good numbers.
Fab Four + 1 Looking In
1. New York Guardians – I had debated about Houston here, but I leaned on the side of the first half of New York’s play on offense and their good defensive performance. Only 44 yards of rushing is a concern though.
2. Houston Roughnecks – Great QB play with 4 TDs coming from Walker. Like NY only 50 team rushing yards though.
3. DC Defenders – One of two teams to score over 30. Jones also had 2 TDs and the highest QB rating in the league with 116.7.
4. St. Louis – This first week I had to basically put the four winners here. Not too much known yet. They could be number one next week with their good QB play and strong running game.
5. Dallas – I will give them the benefit of the doubt after most everyone picked them number 1 before the season and their starting QB was out week one. Landry Jones, is back this week and maybe we will get a different indication of their power rankings.
The Week That Is
I went 3 and 1 missing by 8, 11, 7 and 18 for a total of 44 last week. Not too bad for the first week of a new league. But the game I felt the best about was the one I lost.
New York vs. DC: NY by 7 – New York’s first road game, so maybe harder to predict but I am leaning on their defense to hold court or ‘field’ I guess it should be.
Tampa Bay vs. Seattle: Seattle by 10 – Seattle’s first home game and I think that goes a long way this time. And they played a tough DC team last week and looked good.
Dallas vs. LA: Dallas by 8 – I think Dallas gets back on track here with Landry starting, but LA played a good Houston team last week and still almost doubled the Renegades score from week one. Might be a close one.
St. Louis vs. Houston: Houston by 11 – This is the game I am most looking forward to. It might be a good test for St. Louis to move up the power ranking if they can get two wins in a row and this one over what might be the best team in the XFL.
Four Questions I Want Answered
How does Landry Jones stack up? Now that we have seen what a good XFL QB is I wonder where will Landry fit in. He was the first signing of the XFL and rightly considered one of the best QBs the XFL signed.
Do the TV ratings take a dive after the first week? In 2001 the first week of TV was pretty good but the second and following weeks died off pretty good. Let’s hope for some staying power this time. I do think it will be a bit lower but not the tank like last time.
Will the running games take off? We only had two rushers go over 50 yards. I guess that is 25 percent of the starters, but I thought it would be a little higher and at least one close to 100 yards. But it is a good sign the passing games are taking off somewhat strong.
Will we see a kickoff return touchdown? I will be rooting for one. But I think it is going to take one more week of watching film and executing better now that they are getting some full, live action on what essentially is an entirely new play, blocking and scheme wise.
Well that sure went by fast. After what seemed like eternity on the two year build up, the two-day opening weekend has come and went. I do believe the games were exactly as advertised and a great success. And if you were one of the lucky fans to get to go to opening weekend it will be a game you remember.
I can’t wait to see what the next 11 weeks bring us. I keep talking about a ride we are taking with the XFL but that is exactly what if feels like. Some slow turns, some fast ones, some unexpected and some heart racing.
We will see you next week for The Week That Was and go enjoy The Week That Is.