20 Mar

Hines Ward’s Brahmas make biggest jump, D.C. and St. Louis set for showdown

Despite being a two-time Super Bowl champion, a former Super Bowl MVP and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ career receiving leader, it’s safe to say that Hines Ward’s first win as a head coach is up there in his list of career achievements.

Ward earned his first victory as a head coach after his San Antonio Brahmas whitewashed the Orlando Guardians in the XFL’s second week of action. It came a week after Ward’s team suffered a shocking, last minute loss to the St. Louis BattleHawks, who remain undefeated after pulling off a similar comeback in Week 2 in Seattle.

Both teams solidified spots in the top half of our XFL Power Rankings. Neither, however, was able to supplant the teams who continue to command the top two spots on our list. Here’s a look at the Power Rankings ahead of the XFL’s third week.

  1. D.C. Defenders (2-0)
    Last week: No. 1
    For a second straight week, the Defenders won despite a slow start. D.C. trailed Las Vegas 6-0 at halftime before outscoring the Vipers 18-0 in the second half.

A dominant running game and Gregg Williams’ equally dominant defense has been the Defenders’ recipe for success. Led by Abram Smith, the Defenders gashed the Vipers to the tune of 229 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. But like their first game, the Defenders again did not get much in the passing game. Look for D’Eriq King, who scored a touchdown against the Vipers, to get more work under center if Jordan Ta’amu continues to struggle.

We’ll find out more about D.C. this weekend when they take on one of the XFL’s other two unbeaten teams in the St. Louis BattleHawks.

  1. Houston Roughnecks (2-0)
    Last week: No. 2
    No team has been more impressive through two weeks than Houston, which backed up its 21-point win over Orland in Week 1 by defeating a solid Arlington Renegades team.

After a back-and-forth first half, Houston outscored Arlington 12-0 in the second half. Along with getting impeccable play from his defense, Roughnecks coach Wade Phillips received efficient play from quarterback Brandon Silvers, who threw two touchdowns while not turning the ball over. Silvers has taken advantage of arguably the XFL’s best group of pass catches, led by Jontre Kirklin, Ben Putman, Cedric Byrd and Deontay Burnett.

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  1. St. Louis BattleHawks (2-0)
    Last week: No. 3
    St. Louis keeps it spot at No. 3 after pulling off another impressive comeback. For a second straight week, the BattleHawks overcame a 12-point deficit on the road to come away with a win. In both games, St. Louis received strong play by quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has quickly become one the league’s most recognizable players.

Though his numbers don’t jump off a page, McCarron has been clutch in big moments. He has yet to throw an interception while seldom putting his offense in bad spots. Like Silvers, McCarron has a talented receiving crops that includes Hakeem Butler, Austin Proehl and Marcell Ateman. The BattleHawks’ offense also features Mataeo Durant, who spent four months with the Steelers last summer following an impressive college career at Duke.

As good as they’ve been so far, the BattleHawks’ defense would benefit by putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They didn’t have a sack last week after having two in their season-opener. We’ll see if they can step up this Sunday against the No. 1 Defenders.

  1. San Antonio Brahmas (1-1)
    Last week: No. 6
    Ward’s team had the perfect bounce-back opponent last week in the form of Orlando, which justified its ongoing status as the league’s last-ranked team (more on that later). After a tight first quarter, the Brahmas pulled away by scoring three touchdowns in the second and third quarters. They shut out Orlando during that span before Ranthony Texada’s fourth-quarter pick set up San Antonio’s final score.

The Brahmas’ defense balled out, but their best player may have been quarterback Jack Coan, who on Sunday became the XFL’s first player this season to throw three touchdown passes. Coan also took care of the ball while completing nearly 67% of his passes. The Brahmas’ running game could be better, though, after they averaged 3.4 and 2.5 yards-per-carry during their first two games. Big plays have also largely been missing from San Antonio’s offense through two games.

  1. Arlington Renegades (1-1)
    Last week: No. 4
    The No. 2-ranked team in our Power Rankings prior to Week 1, Arlington continues to move in the wrong direction after failing to hang with Houston this past weekend. Arlington’s defense is good, but it’s clear that it needs more help from its offense in order to succeed.

The Renegades scored their first offensive touchdown of the season on Sunday, but Bob Stoops’ offense continues have issues. They gained just 163 yards against Houston that included a meager 43 yards on 19 carries. Along with not getting much help from his running game, quarterback Drew Plitt was often hung out to dry by his offensive linemen as he was sacked five times.

  1. Seattle Sea Dragons (0-2)
    Last week: No. 5
    Seattle has been the hard luck team of the XFL so far. It lost a hard-fought game to the Defenders in Week 1 before being on the wrong side of McCarron’s most recent comeback last week.

The Sea Dragons have received solid quarterback play from Ben DiNucci, who threw two touchdowns against the BattleHawks. More importantly, DiNucci took care of the ball after committing three costly turnovers in Week 1. Seattle’s offense has found a player in Morgan Ellison, who had four catches against St. Louis while also averaging five yards per carry.

With teams focusing on Josh Gordon (who was targeted just twice last week), DiNucci needs to develop more trust with the rest of his receiving corps in order for Seattle to have more success offensively.

  1. Las Vegas Vipers (0-2)
    Last week: No. 7
    The only thing worse than the Vipers’ offense in Week 2 was the playing conditions on Vegas’ Cashman Field, which was very slick in the rain. Those conditions certainly didn’t help the Vipers’ offense, which had less than 200 yards of total offense. The Vipers, who received nothing from former Steelers wideout Martavis Bryant, are in desperate need of a playmaker.

Las Vegas made an interesting decision last week in replacing Luis Perez with former Packers quarterback Brett Hundley, who went 11 of 18 for 98 yards while failing to direct a scoring drive.

  1. Orlando Guardians (0-2)
    Last week: 8
    Along with losing games, Guardians coach Terrell Buckley appears to be in jeopardy of losing his team. Buckley basically threw his entire team under the bus following the 30-12 loss to San Antonio. Buckley said that he saw players who “are not competing” during Sunday’s game.

As stated here following their Week 1 loss to Houston, the Guardians’ season won’t get turned around until they get better play from quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Deondre Francois. Until that happens, Orlando needs to lean more on what has been a solid rushing attack, led by Jah-Maine Martin.

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