XFL 2020 Week 3 takeaways: Los Angeles stuns D.C., Houston’s defense is a liability, New York is in trouble

Los Angeles 39, D.C. 9. Okay, show of hands: who saw that one coming?

Put your hand down because you’re lying. 

The winless Wildcats (who were +8.5, by the way) pulled off the first true shocking upset of the XFL on Sunday with what was also the best overall performance by any team through three weeks. While the blowout didn’t necessarily lend itself to must-see television for the common fan, it highlighted a few positives about the XFL. First, it proved that any team can get better. As such, it showed that anything can happen on any given weekend. And if anything can happen, that must mean the football is generally good. 

Those are all wins for the league. 

So was the thrilling game between Houston and Tampa Bay on Saturday — a game that went down to the last possession. So was St. Louis’ fanatical home crowd against New York. All in all, Week 3 was filled with a lot of good for the start-up league. Here’s what learned: 

Cardale Jones came back down to earth

And hard, too. The XFL’s passing leader coming into the weekend had a day to forget against the Wildcats, going 13 of 26 for 103 yards and … wait for it … four interceptions. Ouch. The Defenders had an overall bad day — it happens and it’s not entirely Jones’ fault — but it’s hard not to grimace at Jones’ first loss as a starting quarterback. The Wildcats did a great job of mixing up their downfield coverages (more on that below). Hardly anything was open and Jones ended up forcing a few footballs he shouldn’t have thrown. Frankly, and this is not meant to pile on, Jones low-key had not been as prolific as his stats indicated coming into Week 3. He had been good, certainly, but not great. Still, it’s too early to call for a quarterback change. Jones has a great arm, which benefits the Defenders’ speedy wide receiver group, and is mobile enough to keep plays alive. Perhaps this was a one-off bad performance. But, goodness, was it bad. 

Los Angeles has been the XFL’s most-improved team

Look, it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, and it wasn’t over when the Wildcats fired defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after Week 1. Since that 37-17 loss to Houston, Los Angeles has improved more than any team in the league. Truth be told, L.A.’s defense took a quiet step forward a week ago against Dallas, playing well for three quarters until it folded against the Renegades’ ground game. Still, that improvement was as clear as day in Sunday’s 39-3 rout over a favored D.C. team on Sunday evening. Credit coach Winston Moss, whose defense forced five turnovers, including the four aforementioned picks. Keep in mind, too, that L.A. came into Sunday without both of its starting corners. To play as well as it did against one of the XFL’s best teams (with arguably the league’s best wide receiver corps) was as unexpected as it was impressive. 

And hats off to Wildcats quarterback Josh Johnson, who was far more polished in his second start. Johnson, who threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns cut back on his overthrows down the field, showed nice adjustment and touch on his shorter to intermediate passes and overall had a much better command of the offense. This was the Josh Johnson many expected to see when he was drafted. And with Nelson Spruce and Tre McBride, the Wildcats’ passing attack is hitting its stride. Watch out: Los Angeles suddenly looks fun. 

Tampa Bay took a massive step forward, too 

The Vipers are 0-3, but coach Marc Trestman was right when he said his team was significantly better on Saturday than in the first two weeks. That showed in a 34-27 loss to the Roughnecks. Disappointing for the Vipers? Of course, but it’s impossible not to see the strides they made with an opportunity to win in the final two minutes. It starts at quarterback — which, again, life is a lot easier if you have one — or, in this case, two. Trestman found what appears to be a nice one-two punch with Taylor Cornelius and Quinton Flowers. Cornelius had a bit more rhythm in the passing game with 193 yards and a touchdown. You could criticize Trestman for not going with the more mobile Flowers during a key goal-line situation in the fourth quarter, but Cornelius had the hot hand. On defense, the Vipers hurried P.J. Walker seven times and, candidly, almost had about four interceptions. They didn’t get the win, but the Vipers had a nice game. 

Houston’s defense might be a liability

Let’s stay in Tampa for a minute. It’s a good thing the Roughnecks have Walker and stud wide receiver Cam Phillips. It looks like they’re going to need them. While Houston has the XFL’s best offense with 33 points through the first three games, it’s also allowing 22.7 points per game. Only Tampa Bay and Los Angeles are worse. To put Houston’s defensive performance into perspective, a Vipers offense that failed to score a single offensive touchdown in the first two weeks scored three on Saturday — and were on their way to possibly scoring a fourth. As mentioned above, teams get better. Houston probably faced a much better Tampa offense than New York did in Week 1. Also, coach June Jones has zero regard for down and distance, which, in some way, is admirable for the XFL, but it does affect the situations he puts his defense into. In any case, this is something to monitor as the season progresses. On one hand, Roughnecks football is a fun watch because of the Walker-Phillips duo and their games have generally been close. On the other, what happens when Walker inevitably has an off game? And what if that’s in the playoffs?

The Landry Jones Show arrives

Okay, so the Renegades weren’t about to start running the ball more after a breakout fourth quarter against L.A. in Week 2. Instead, quarterback Landry Jones threw 41 times in Saturday’s 24-12 win at Seattle. Once again, his stat line was good — 73% completion, 274 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks — and you can really see a rapport forming with tight end Donald Parham. The expectation for Dallas before the season was that Jones and offensive coordinator Hal Mumme would concoct an offense that would throw it all over the yard for tons of points. That hasn’t quite been the case … yet. Jones was coming off an injury, and it can take time for these offenses to come together. If nothing else, though, Jones should be one of the most prolific passers in the league by season’s end. 

The Guardians are in a bad place

Here’s the problem with New York: every XFL team is either already pretty good, or getting better … except them. The Week 1 win vs. Tampa Bay seems like ages ago, especially with the progress the Vipers made on Saturday.  Now, the Guardians are in a tough spot after their 29-9 blowout loss at St. Louis. For the second straight week, New York was completely outclassed while a starting member of its offense — last week it was quarterback Matt McGloin, this week it was center Ian Silberman — notably lost his cool. And that emotion is understandable. In all, New York has been outscored by 44 points in the past two games. The defense can only do so much if the offense can’t get more than one touchdown on the board in garbage time. The Guardians are the worst team in the XFL today, but the only way out is through and that’s an arduous process. 

St. Louis seems like a fun place to watch a game

Look, the XFL is not going to make bank on attendance numbers, but numbers from Sunday’s New York-St. Louis game indicate that around 28,000 fans turned out to watch the BattleHawks. In The Dome, those numbers can lead to a true home-field advantage. It’s really cool to see a fan base get behind a new team — especially when the city was gutted by the loss of the Rams to L.A. 

Week 3 MVP: Wildcats running back Martez Carter 

He only had 34 yards rushing, but he had another 41 yards receiving and totaled three touchdowns, two of which included some kind of flip in the end zone. Carter is not only a fun player but a fun interview that makes the XFL more interesting. Honestly, the league can always use more players with his personality. 

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