The biggest game of the early XFL 2023 season occurs this Sunday afternoon at Audi Field as the D.C. Defenders (2-0) host the equally 2-0 St. Louis Battlehawks in a week three clash for sole possession of first place in the North Division.
XFL 2023: Week 3 St. Louis Battlehawks @ D.C. Defenders Preview
|Line:||Defenders -2, O/U 35.5|
|Date/Location:||Sunday, March 5th, Audi Field, Washington D.C.|
|1 pm ET/noon CT|
Sunny. High 59F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.
TV Broadcast Team:
|FX/ESPN+ – ESPN Xtra-Sirius/XM|
John Schriffen, Tom Luginbill, Stormy Buonantony, Harry Douglas (Field Analyst)
Nearly three years ago, on March 8th, 2020, the D.C. Defenders and St. Louis Battlehawks squared off for the first time ever at Audi Field. The Defenders came out on top in that contest 15-6 at Audi Field. The two newborn rivals were set to meet again in the final week of the regular season in St. Louis, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, both teams were frozen forever in a tie for first place.
Fast forward to today, and the Defenders and Battlehawks are back battling for division supremacy. They will be squaring off twice in their next three games, and these two meetings could determine who becomes the favorite to represent the North in the XFL Championship game on May 13th.
There are entirely different faces on both teams since 2020. However, one of them used to be St. Louis’s lead quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. He is now leading the charge for D.C. instead.
The 2023 Battlehawks, led by head coach Anthony Becht are doing just fine without Ta’amu. That’s because early XFL MVP front-runner A.J. McCarron leads them.
St. Louis has been the league’s most exciting team in 2023. They are coming off two dramatic come-from-behind last-second road victories.
The Battlehawks are a week away from finally coming home, and another victory by St. Louis could blow the roof off the Battledome in their opener.
The D.C. Defenders are playing what Reggie Barlow has called “We-fense.” It hasn’t been pretty, but the Defenders have found a way to grind and close out games with their multi-faceted rushing attack and fantastic defense led by their orchestrator Gregg Williams. They have outscored their opponents 32-9 in the second half.
For what it’s worth, the Defenders have never lost in The District. They are 4-0 in the nation’s capital. Audi Field may not be as large of a venue as the Dome in St. Louis. But Defender fans can challenge any XFL fan base in the energy department. The college-like atmosphere was on full display in D.C.’s week one victory over Seattle. The crowd, lemons, and all helped turn that game around for their hometown team.
XFL Week 3: St. Louis Battlehawks-D.C. Defenders Injury Report
D.C. Defenders: The Defenders are down three starters on their offensive line in Week 3. LT Cody Conway (knee), C Michael Maietti (lower leg), and C/G Ty Clary (knee).
Last week, D.C. shifted left guard Liam Ryan over to Center as option C in the middle of their line.
The Defenders have brought in former Battlehawk Bruno Reagan, and he could be inserted into the lineup immediately. D.C.’s quality offensive line depth will be tested moving forward. The team does have NFL veterans Kyle Murphy and Rod Taylor, but they can’t afford any more injuries.
TE Briley Moore (Ankle) and DT Caraun Reid (Hamstring) will miss Sunday’s game against STL.
St. Louis Battlehawks: The added time between Weeks 2 and 3 should be beneficial to STL. The team could only conduct walkthroughs before their quick turnaround in Seattle. St. Louis has had extra prep time and rest to get ready for D.C.
The Battlehawks’ injury report is fairly light. However, they do have three key injuries on offense worth monitoring leading into Sunday’s kickoff. WR Marcell Ateman, WR Hakeem Butler, and RB Brian Hill have all been limited this week in practice with hamstring injuries. Hill missed week two’s game against Seattle.
The Battlehawks Offense Vs. The Defenders Defense
St. Louis can’t afford to fall behind two scores on the road for a third consecutive week, and doing so would play right into the hands of Gregg Williams’s aggressive defense.
After two games, the Battlehawks are tied for the second-most sacks allowed in the XFL. Eight, and that’s only because they haven’t played Houston yet, who has victimized both Arlington (8) and Orlando (9). St. Louis has had trouble, particularly at their right tackle spot with Juwan Bushell-Beatty. Defenders edge rushers Davin Bellamy and Jarrell Owens will look to exploit that matchup.
The Defenders will come after A.J. McCarron by disguising fronts and sending blitzes from multiple angles. St. Louis must establish an early lead to remove the crowd from the game. Because if they fall behind. D.C. will be able to bring STL down to their level of play.
St. Louis’s strength on offense is their passing attack. But it’s going to be tested on Sunday. Battlehawks offensive coordinator Bruce Gradkowski will be leaning on A.J. McCarron to play the role of calm and steady. Something McCarron has mastered in clutch situations the first two weeks.
The Defenders’ Offense Vs. The Battlehawks Defense
Sooner or later, D.C. has to find some semblance of a passing attack. You can’t continue to win, throwing for under a hundred yards every game.
On paper, D.C. can’t afford to get into a shootout with St. Louis. The Battlehawks are simply more equipped to win that style of game.
The Defenders would love to take an early lead and play small ball with their evolving rushing attack. Jordan Ta’amu, and more specifically, emerging star D’Eriq King has been excellent running the football, and in turn, it’s kept defenses guessing when defending the RPO game. Abram Smith and Ryquell Armstead are benefitting from the diversity of D.C.’s mobile QB duo.
However, if D.C. falls behind against St.Louis, they must prove they can get it done through the air. And right now, there’s little evidence that suggests that they can. The Defenders’ receivers have struggled to get open and create separation. As a result, Jordan Ta’amu has either forced throws into tight coverage or has taken off and scrambled for yards because his receivers have been blanketed.
The Battlehawks’ defense has been solid to start the season. But they have a league-low two sacks.
Because of that, In theory, Jordan Ta’amu and D’Eriq King should have time to make some throws. However, the Defenders will be tested upfront because they are coming into this game short-handed.
Special Teams Matchup
The Battlehawks’ victory in week two was aided by a critical fumble recovery on a botched punt return and Donny Hageman’s clutch game-winning 44-yard field goal to beat Seattle.
St. Louis hasn’t made any impactful plays yet in their return game. But under special teams coordinator Tory Woodbury, they have played fundamentally sound. That’s not a given because, typically, new teams struggle mightily in this area.
Sometimes winning on this side means not doing anything that will cause you to lose games. Bad snaps, missed blocks in field goal/punt protection, etc
Outside of Defenders, kicker Matthew McCrane making an impressive 47-yard field goal in the Vegas rain last week. D.C.’s special teams have made minimal impact. Surprisingly, rookie Jequez Ezzard, one of the most dangerous returners in college, has been virtually invisible in the XFL.
Defenders special teams coordinator Jamie Sharper needs to figure out how to scheme up the XFL kickoff and spring some long returns. Many of the coaches in the XFL are very new to the league’s unique special teams rules and haven’t figured out yet how to crack the code.
XFL 2023: Week 3 Battlehawks @ Defenders Prediction
St. Louis is the sexier team on paper. They have the flashier passing attack and are the darling team of the XFL.
Most league supporters would love to see the Battlehawks head home for their long-awaited opener undefeated.
On the flip side, The Defenders have a completely different look and feel than St. Louis. Nothing about their team so far has been sexy.
This will be quite the contrast of styles on Sunday afternoon at Audi Field.
Despite the oddsmakers having D.C. as a slight home favorite. There are several signs pointing to another STL triumph. The Defenders’ injuries on their offensive line, coupled with their struggles to pass the ball, seem like deterrents to victory this Sunday.
However, even though my brain is telling me to pick St. Louis. I am going with D.C. I figure that if the Defenders are going to beat the Battlehawks at all this season. They will do it at Audi Field.
The Battlehawks’ early season magic gets paused until they return home in Week 4.
D.C. Defenders 19 St. Louis Battlehawks 16
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