It's been a heck of a start for the DC Defenders as they head out west to take on the reeling Los Angeles Wildcats at Dignity Health Sports Park on Sunday. The undefeated Defenders (2-0) will be looking to separate themselves from the rest of the XFL East. Meanwhile, the Wildcats (0-2) simply need a win to gain some momentum and salvage their season.
DC took it to the New York Guardians in a 27-0 blowout win last Saturday afternoon. Cardale Jones continued to take care of business at quarterback, completing 23 of 37 attempts for 276 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The offensive line was able to help generate enough space for the Defenders to rush for 108 tough yards, while the defense played lights out and caused New York quarterback Matt McGloin to have a halftime meltdown when interviewed by ESPN's Dianna Russini. Head coach Pep Hamilton has this DC team playing very well after two games. It will be interesting to see how the Defenders respond during this first road trip of the season.
Los Angeles showed that the decision to fire defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson was right after three quarters when the Wildcats held Dallas to three points. However, football is a 60-minute game, and the defense didn’t finish the job in a 25-18 loss on Sunday. Quarterback Josh Johnson showed some rust but did show flashes of potential as well in the fourth quarter. Turnovers ended up costing the Wildcats dearly — they were minus two in that department. If Los Angeles can build off of the good things, they did in the second half, they will have a chance to recover from the 0-2 start.
DC at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
Spread: Defenders -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Cardale Jones
Jones is right on the heels of Houston quarterback P.J. Walker in the MVP race after two games. The ability to avoid the catastrophic turnover, which is critical for quarterbacks at any level has been a huge plus. Also, Jones has done a good job of operating Pep Hamilton’s offensive scheme, which should help his future NFL aspirations. Looking ahead to Sunday, it will be up to Jones to hit the ground running and connect on some high percentage passes right away. Once the offense gets into a rhythm, look for Jones to take some deep shots down the field. Rashad Ross, DeAndre Thompkins, and Eli Rogers are the primary wide receiver targets for Jones. This trio of receivers caught 15 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown last week against New York. Bottom line, Jones does not lack for quality offensive skill players to spread the ball around to, which makes them very tough to stop.
2. Los Angeles offensive balance
Josh Johnson should play better this week after having another full week of practice with the starting unit. The best offensive weapon for Johnson right now is wide receiver Nelson Spruce, the XFL's leading pass catcher. In the loss to the Renegades, Spruce caught six passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns to build off of an outstanding first game in Houston where he caught 11 passes for 103 yards. Running the football with consistency has been an issue for the Wildcats — they are only averaging 72.5 rushing yards per game on the year. The offensive line needs to find a way to hold their own against the DC defensive front and open a few holes for Elijah Hood. The benefit of an effective running game this week will be the chance to play keep away from Cardale Jones and limit the time on the field for their defense.
3. Controlling the line of scrimmage
DC has done a nice job after two weeks of winning the all-important battle of the line of scrimmage. The Defenders had the New York offense out of sync and unable to sustain drives all afternoon long. Jonathan Celestin led DC with four combined tackles and one tackle for a loss. Anthony Johnson had 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss, fired up after Los Angeles traded him to the Defenders prior to last Saturday’s game. Johnson should have plenty of motivation this week against his former team and he'll have plenty of knowledge about the Wildcats offensive scheme. Look for defensive coordinator Louie Cioffi to turn Johnson and the rest of the defensive line loose this week to put Los Angeles under siege with different blitzes all afternoon long.
Playing on the road is always a bit of a challenge at any level of football. DC will need to survive that early wave of energy from Los Angeles and their crowd. Cardale Jones is the best quarterback in this matchup, and the Defenders have better personnel on both sides of the ball. In the end, DC will methodically wear down the Wildcats in the second half and pull away for a two-score victory and improve to 3-0 on the year.
Prediction: Defenders 27, Wildcats 15
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.