Two teams looking for their first win of the 2020 XFL season will square off at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, on Sunday afternoon. The Dallas Renegades (0-1) will hit the road to take on the Los Angeles Wildcats (0-1). This is a critical game for both West Division teams since they can ill afford to start their seasons in an 0-2 hole.
The Renegades dropped a hard-fought 15-9 contest in their home opener against the St. Louis BattleHawks last weekend. The Renegades did not do a good enough job of keeping drives alive on offense. Dallas was just 1-for-10 on third down, while the defense allowed St. Louis to convert on half (6-of-12) of its opportunities.
Philip Nelson completed 33-of-42 passes in place of the injured Landry Jones, but that only went for 209 yards. The problem for Nelson was his inability to punish the BattleHawks secondary by hitting deep balls down the field. They also had trouble stopping the run; St. Louis rumbled for 191 yards on 42 attempts, which can’t continue if the Renegades want to contend in the West.
Los Angeles at least got off to a good start down in Houston by jumping out to a 14-6 lead in the second quarter of their game. However, the Wildcats were not able to make it last, as they ended up losing 37-17 to the Roughnecks. Wide receiver Nelson Spruce was the bright spot for the Los Angeles offense with 11 receptions for 103 yards. Charles Kanoff was inconsistent filling in for an injured Josh Johnson at quarterback, going 21-for-40 through the air for 214 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Additionally, the Wildcats' defense did not have any answers for Houston quarterback P.J. Walker, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 272 yards, four touchdowns, and just one pick. The unit's one bright spot came against the run, holding the Roughnecks to 50 yards on the ground.
Dallas at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
Spread: Renegades -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dallas offense
The good news for the Renegades is that they will have Landry Jones at quarterback after missing the opener with a knee injury. Jones will probably try and connect with Flynn Nagel, who caught six passes for 43 yards last week. Even with Jones' return, Dallas needs to look at running the ball more. Even though the ground game totaled just 50 yards last week, the Renegades averaged 4.8 yards per carry with two of them going for at least 13 yards. With Jones at quarterback, this offense isn't going to run the ball 45-50 times in a game, but if it can maximize the 15-20 rushing attempts and average close to 100-110 yards, it will help keep defenses honest. As for throwing the football, this should be the game where fans get a better look at coordinator Hal Mumme's Air Raid passing attack. Expect Mumme to dial up a couple of early deep shots by Jones to test the Wildcats defense.
2. Los Angeles defense
One thing that has helped Vince McMahon build his WWE empire is having soap opera-type storylines for wrestling fans. It appears that this has carried over to his XFL as Los Angeles head coach/general manager Winston Moss has already shaken things up on his team after just one game. Following last week's loss to Houston, Moss fired defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson and then followed that up by trading linebacker Anthony Johnson, who served as a team captain last week. This level of dysfunction should give the ABC broadcasting crew plenty of things to talk to about. It also will be interesting to see how the Wildcats defense responds mentally in the face of adversity should it strike early in this game. Will the defense quit on Moss or will they rise to the occasion?
3. Turnover battle
The Renegades had a plus-two turnover margin against the BattleHawks last week. Dallas was not able to convert those two turnovers into many points, which proved to be costly at the end of the day. After missing last week, Jones needs to do his part to not force things and avoid the inopportune mistake. The Wildcats finished dead even in the turnover department last week, turning the ball over twice on offense but also producing a pair of takeaways. Josh Johnson is expected to start at quarterback so his presence may help the offense settle down but he too must be wary of taking too many chances with the football. If either defense is able to come up with a big turnover it could swing the momentum in this game.
Home teams went 3-1 last week in the XFL, so I would expect Los Angeles to hang in there for a while offensively against a salty Dallas defense. However, with the instability on that side of the ball for the Wildcats, they will wear down in the second half against the Renegades' passing attack that will look quite different than last week with Landy Jones at the helm. Look for Dallas to improve to 1-1 after picking up a nice win on the road.
Prediction: Renegades 26, Wildcats 18
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.