Can the Defenders' offense find the end zone against the Guardians' defense?
Week 1 of the 2020 XFL season left quite an impression on the football world, and fans are excited for what Week 2 will have in store. We could be in for a treat early on, as the second week starts with matchup between two teams atop the power rankings that found success in last week's openers. The DC Defenders (1-0) continue their homestand against the New York Guardians (1-0) who are hitting the road for the first time this year. Both teams contributed to last week's successful league debut, and now they must face one another and what could be a pivotal game moving forward.
The Guardians put on a strong defensive showing in last week's 23-3 home win over the Tampa Bay Vipers, while the Defenders put together plenty of highlight-reel material in front of a near-sellout crowd in their 31-19 win over the Seattle Dragons. These two teams and the St. Louis BattleHawks are tied for first place in the XFL East. The winner of this game will give themselves some separation in the standings.
New York at DC
Kickoff: Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Audi Field (Washington, D.C.)
Spread: Defenders -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Defenders offense vs. Guardians defense
It's too early in the season to call this a David vs. Goliath matchup, but it's close enough. The Guardians limited Tampa Bay to just a single field goal in five trips to the red zone and racked up a ton of chaotic plays on defense. In addition to their league-leading five sacks, they registered eight QB hits, seven tackles for a loss, and three forced fumbles. And now they look to inflict the same punishment on a Defenders squad that seemingly moved the ball at will against Seattle last week. But the Defenders won't go down so easily.
Former Ohio State star Cardale Jones put on a show and even got some "MVP" chants from the home crowd. He finished 16-of-26 for 235 yards with two touchdowns of 30+ yards, which was good for a 116.7 passer rating. And critically, he had no turnovers. The Defenders averaged 5.3 yards per play, went 2-for-2 on fourth down conversions, and gained a good portion of their yardage using quick-strike plays from a variety of formations.
The key for this week will be to neutralize the Guardians' pass rush while also maintaining their efficiency. The Guardians pass rush will be challenged by Cardale Jones, who's more athletic than Aaron Murray and a better passer than Quinton Flowers. Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride is known for his offense but has a nice security blanket on the defensive side of the ball.
2. Another quarterback showcase
Both signal-callers got the job done last week in different ways. Cardale Jones did it with his arm strength, mobility, and by distributing the ball to eight different receivers. As for New York's Matt McGloin (15-of-29, 182 yards, 2 total TDs), he was efficient when needed. With the New York defense shutting down the Tampa Bay offense, McGloin didn't need to be spectacular. But he did need to be on point when his chances came, and that's exactly what he did.
Both players will need to step their games up on Saturday. Jones will need to play with a sense of urgency in order to keep New York's pass rush at bay. McGloin, on the other hand, must pick up the pace against a DC team which will provide a much tougher challenge than Tampa did.
Of course, these teams have not met before. But back in Week 13 of the 2007 NFL season, the Chicago Bears hosted the New York Giants. Pep Hamilton was the Bears quarterbacks coach under Lovie Smith, while Kevin Gilbride was calling the Giants' plays as their offensive coordinator. New York won that game 21-16. That loss would ultimately end the Bears' postseason hopes, as they finished 7-9 that year, while the Giants went on to win Super Bowl XLII. So in one way, Gilbride is already 1-0 against Hamilton.
While I don't expect many points to be scored, thanks to New York's defense, DC's offense is too good to be completely shut out. The Guardians make it interesting, but the Defenders win a much closer game than last week.
Prediction: Defenders 24, Guardians 21
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.