Just when we thought everything was figured out after Week 3, Week 4 of the 2020 XFL season came about and made some changes. We saw some surprises this past weekend, and the balance of power in the league has shifted to a degree. With a potentially unpredictable Week 5 on the horizon, here are five observations from Week 4.
1. The Roughnecks are still on top for now
Houston is still the XFL's only unbeaten (4-0) team, but their last two opponents have brought the fight against them. The Roughnecks defeated both the Tampa Bay Vipers and the Dallas Renegades by a slim seven points each, their defense has only recorded two sacks in those two games combined, and both teams were able to run the ball against them (217 yards, 3 TDs). The connection of P.J. Walker to Cam Philips (responsible for 7 TDs) continues to keep this team moving, but are opposing teams starting to figure the Roughnecks out?
2. The BattleHawks are on a roll
St. Louis owns the league's second-best record (3-1, its only loss was at Houston in Week 2) and has cemented its status as the XFL's most popular team (more than 97,200 Twitter followers, most in the league). And after holding off the Seattle Dragons at home last Saturday the Battlehawks now rank second in both points (22.8) and yards (357.2) per game. They also lead the league in scoring defense (15.5 ppg) and rank second in total defense (266.2 ypg). The only way they can play the Roughnecks again is in April's championship game. The BattleHawks are doing very well as a draw as well. They the only team to sell more than 25,000 tickets in consecutive home games.
3. What has happened to the Defenders?
That's the big question entering Week 5 as this team has played very poorly over the previous two weeks. After a 2-0 start in which they outscored their opponents 58-19, they've since lost two in a row (giving both Los Angeles and Tampa Bay their first wins of the season), they've been outscored 64-9, and Cardale Jones has struggled so much during this stretch (22-of-48, 175 yards, 5 INTs, 0 TDs) that backup Tyree Jackson has seen some snaps. The DC defense hasn't recorded a sack, posted more than two quarterback hits, or forced a turnover since Week 2. And with St. Louis paying a visit to Audi Field this week, head coach Pep Hamilton needs to fix what ails this team that was once a favorite to reach the championship game.
4. The Vipers may have finally found their offensive identity
Tampa Bay finally picked up its first win after adding to the Defenders' woes on Sunday night. But perhaps we should have seen this coming during the previous week. After losing at Seattle in Week 2, head coach Marc Trestman handed the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. And since then the Vipers have gone from a pass-heavy team with some occasional gadget plays, to a more balanced team. Before defeating DC, Tampa Bay came within a touchdown of forcing Houston into overtime.
After struggling to score early, the Vipers have put up 52 points in their last two games alone thanks to a punishing running game (395 yards, 4 TDs, 4.9 ypc) and a hard-hitting (13 QB hits, 8 TFLs, 10 pass deflections) defense. Running backs De'Veon Smith (296 rushing yards) and Jacques Patrick (231) now rank first and third, respectively in rushing yards. Perhaps the Vipers have finally turned the corner.
5. Quarterback changes abound
Another reason for the Vipers' success has been the stability that Taylor Cornelius (627 total yards, 4 combined TDs this season) has brought to the quarterback position. Cornelius' opportunity came when Aaron Murray (231 passing yards, 2 INT's) injured his foot in the season opener at New York. Not to mention the fact that Quinton Flowers (106 passing yards, 78 rushing yards) took a brief leave of absence from the team. But it seems that Cornelius may have won the starting job in Florida.
New York also is going through a change under center. Guardians quarterback Matt McGloin (310 passing yards, TD, 3 INTs) sustained a chest injury at St. Louis in Week 3, he struggled with consistency before the injury, and Marquise Williams (11-of-23, 145 yards, 28 rushing yards) has been somewhat ineffective in relief. So when New York returned to MetLife Stadium to host the Los Angeles Wildcats last Saturday, head coach Kevin Gilbride gave the ball to former Wildcat Luis Perez, who was traded to the Guardians during the preseason. Perez would go on to complete 80 percent of his passes (18-of-26) for 150 yards and a touchdown. His performance helped break a two-game losing streak, and I'd imagine that Gilbride may stick with Perez when the Guardians travel to Dallas to face the Renegades this Saturday.
Elsewhere in the league, Cardale Jones' recent struggles are becoming more and more of a thing for DC and Dallas will turn to Philip Nelson at quarterback after Landry Jones was injured in Sunday's loss to Houston. Jones has been dealing with a nagging MCL injury since training camp, which was what prevented from playing in Week 1. He started the next two games, leading the Renegades to a 2-0 record, but re-aggravated the injury on Sunday. The good news is he should be able to return at some point.
So Week 5 is certainly looking to be a turning point for many teams. The action starts with the Roughnecks looking to stay undefeated when they host the Seattle Dragons (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET), followed by the Renegades hosting the Guardians in a matchup of .500 teams who are essentially using backup quarterbacks (5 p.m. ET). On Sunday, the Defenders are welcoming the BattleHawks to Audi Field at arguably the worst possible time (3 p.m. ET), with the Vipers in Los Angeles to take on the Wildcats in prime time (9 p.m. ET).
(Top photo by Scott Audette, courtesy of XFL.com)