After a two-game homestand, the Seattle Dragons will hit the road to America’s heartland where they will take on the St. Louis BattleHawks on Saturday afternoon at The Dome at America’s Center. These two teams have hosted the three highest-attended XFL games, which is giving the league a nice boost.
Seattle (1-2) got off to a great start last week against the Dallas Renegades when they jumped out to a 12-6 halftime lead. However, the Dragons couldn’t finish and were shut out in the second half for a 24-12 loss, their second straight defeat. Seattle's offense was still too one-dimensional, with only 99 rushing yards. That was not enough to slow a Renegades offense that took off in the second half. Brandon Silvers took a step forward, completing 62 percent of his passes while throwing for two touchdowns to just one interception. But the defense took a step back by surrendering 374 total yards, including 274 through the air by Landry Jones.
The chants of "Kroenke sucks" bellowed through the crowd on Sunday — referencing the Rams owner who moved their NFL team to Los Angeles — as St. Louis welcomed back pro football to their city. On the field, the BattleHawks (2-1) crushed the New York Guardians 29-9 in front of 29,554 fans, good for the largest crowd of the XFL season to date. Quarterback Jordan Ta'amu was efficient throwing the ball, going 12-of-19 for 119 yards. Matt Jones and Christine Michael took care of business on the ground by helping sustain drives for St. Louis and keeping their defense fresh. The defense won the turnover battle, got off the field on third down, and forced New York to play a trio of quarterbacks that was unable to find any rhythm all day long.
Seattle at St. Louis
Kickoff: Saturday, Feb. 29 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: The Dome at America's Center
Spread: BattleHawks -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seattle offense
Offensive coordinator Mike Riley and head coach Jim Zorn will need to establish the running game right away on Saturday. The Dragons' offense can ill afford to get themselves into 3rd-and-long situations against an aggressive BattleHawks defense. The offensive line is expected to have Isaiah Battle back this week at tackle, which should only enhance the running game.
Establishing the run and sticking with it would allow Seattle to not have to deal with eight or nine guys in the box. The play-action pass will also become more effective as well. The Dragons will also get Reuben Mwehla back at wide receiver, and he had opened some eyes during minicamp.
2. St. Louis' defensive mindset
Stopping the Dragons' running game is going to be very important on Saturday since the BattleHawks will need to force Brandon Silvers to beat them with his arm. St. Louis did allow New York to rush for 112 yards on 21 carries (5.3 ypc), but Will Clarke, Andrew Ankrah, and Casey Sayles all registered a sack against the Guardians. Sayles also went viral when he traded an XFL football to a young female fan in the stands who offered up a box of Girl Scout cookies as trade bait.
The ability to generate a consistent pass rush against Silvers will allow the secondary to go to work with press coverage. Austin Proehl and Keenan Reynolds are two quality pass-catching weapons for Seattle and have combined for 21 receptions for 291 yards and four touchdowns. Keep an eye on the battle of Proehl, and Reynolds against safety Will Hill (6 tackles) and cornerback Darius Hillary (2 pass breakups), who had big performances last week.
3. Special teams
One aspect of the XFL that has caught the attention of football fans around the world has been their approach to kickoffs. There have been plenty of long kickoff returns, and last week, the BattleHawks broke through with a kickoff return for a touchdown. Joe Powell took a lateral from Keith Mumphery all the way for a 90-yard touchdown that really electrified the crowd.
This type of success in the kicking game for St. Louis is only going to make them even more dangerous for opposing teams to deal with. Taylor Russolino took advantage of playing indoors by drilling a 58-yard field goal that extended the BattleHawks lead to 26-3. Russolino’s leg strength should take some pressure off of the offense when they are at home since they can aggressively attempt long field goals. Seattle will need to play with an extra level of discipline in the kicking game this week, as St. Louis is a definite threat to break a game open on special teams.
Both defenses will play well early, keeping the overall point total down and the under (39 point) in play betting-wise. Home-field advantage has been an important factor after three weeks, as home teams are 8-4. St. Louis should have another strong crowd that will be ready to continue to make a statement that they are all in on supporting their team. The BattleHawks' offensive line is going to win enough battles at the line of scrimmage against the Seattle defense to allow the offense to pull away late. St. Louis will pick up its third win of the season since the BattleHawks have a few more playmakers on offense to get the job done in front of their rabid fans.
Prediction: BattleHawks 24, Dragons 15
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.