As Week Three comes to the forefront of the 2023 XFL season, the battle for the North Division lead takes place at Audi Field, this Sunday March 5th. The 2-0 Battlehawks fresh off two dynamic victories in San Antonio and Seattle, look to continue their march to the dome, but first must face the dynamic rushing attack of the DC Defenders.
Sunny. High 59F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.
Betting Odds Per DraftKings:
Spread: BattleHawks +3
Moneyline: BattleHawks +130, Defenders -150
Where To Watch?:
1PM Eastern, FX/ESPN+ – ESPN Xtra-Sirius/XM
Commentators: John Schriffen, Tom Luginbill, Stormy Buonantony, Harry Douglas (Field Analyst)
After losing to the Defenders in 2020, 15-6, St. Louis returns to DC with a new attitude and new team identity as the “Kardiac Kaws”. Led in 2023, by AJ McCarron, whose been the leagues feel good story of 2023, the Battlehawks have been catapulted to their 2-0 record by McCarron’s clutch play and great team efforts by the Battlehawks Defense. The Defenders have rushed their way to their 2-0 record taking advantage of costly turnovers by the Sea Dragons in Week One, and a dynamic rushing performance by their Quarterbacks in Week Two.
Battlehawks Keys to Victory:
The Battlehawks will need to score early and clean up their drops in Week Three. While the Offense did appear to be to move the ball more effectively in Week Two, Battlehawks receivers dropped six passes, against the Sea Dragons often times on third down. Additionally, offensive line play needs to improve in Week Three, specifically at the tackles. Both Juwann Bushell-Beatty, and Jaryd Jones-Smith (both Alt-Football Veterans), have been allowing too much pressure from opposing EDGE rushers. Last week, AJ McCarron totaled 41 Rushing Yards, with all but one, coming on broken down pass-protection. With Receivers Marcell Ateman, and Hakeem Butler both limited in practice this week, look for former New Jersey Generals WR Darrius Shepherd and fan favorite Austin Proehl to receiver plenty of targets in Week Three.
The Battlehawks rushing attack may be without Brian Hill for an additional week. Hill whose been on the team’s injury report and has been limited in practice for two weeks, after making his XFL debut in Week One. While Kareem Walker, and Mateo Durant have provided serviceable outputs, going against a Gregg Williams Defense will require an experienced running back, who isn’t trying to score a touchdown on every play, but rather understands chipping away at the Defenders aggressive defense, to open up the passing attack late in the game.
Coach Becht’s biggest takeaway from Week Two was tackling. According to the team, the Battlehawks missed around 12 tackles last week and against the dynamic rushing attack featuring former Battlehawks Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. The Battlehawks seemed extremely well-conditioned and have done a great job of rotating players at all three levels of the Defense, which should keep the team “fresh” against the Defenders who could run the ball over 40 times a game. For the Battlehawks, the ability to stop the rushing attack and force DC to beat you through the air, is the biggest what if in this game. Alt-Football darling Jordan Ta’amu, hasn’t completed over 50% of his passes in his first two matchups this season, and has seen his completion % drop from 72.4 in 2020, to 57% in 2022, to 45.2 with the Defenders in 2023.
Battlehawks Players To Watch in Week Three:
AJ McCarron Quarterback
The de facto XFL 2023 MVP, continues to lead his team on game winning drives, and not turn the ball over. The Battlehawks Offense no matter how dynamic or anemic, seems to be even keeled, with McCarron at the helm and given his career revival can continue their success as long as AJ is QB1.
Eric Magwood Offensive Lineman
Last week we saw Dallas Warmack come in at Guard to gain some reps, and experience. This week per Coach Becht it’ll be Eric Magwood’s turn. With the Offensive Tackles of the Battlehawks Specifically struggling look for Magwood to utilize his opportunity and provide much needed support for McCarron who often times has been dealing with constant pressure in his face.
Carson Wells Linebacker
Wells has been all over the field for the Battlehawks lining up at the MIKE, EDGE and occasionally putting his hand in the dirt at the Five Technique. Wells despite, not being a starter continues to provide value for the Battlehawks much like the way Kevin Atkins does on the Defensive Line.
Defenders Keys to Victory:
While everyone can fall in love with the Defenders ability to rush the football, eventually the Ta’amu or King will have to throw the football. Coupled between an anemic passing attack and turnovers, the Defenders Offense may be relaying on D’Eriq King to lead the charge going further into the season. Ta’amu has been a shell of himself in 2023, and despite struggles in the USFL in 2022, hasn’t been able to manage an effective passing attack. If the Defenders fall behind, the Battlehawks early it might be a long day for the Defenders that may see a change at QB sooner rather than later.
Gregg Williams has once again put an absolute unit on the field. One of the most experienced coaches in the league has continued to position his players for success and maximized the team’s talent. Totaling four turnovers, six sacks, and eleven TFLs, the Defenders defense is battling the Roughnecks for supremacy as the league’s premier unit in 2023. As XFL News Hub Insider Mike Mitchell has discussed in great length, the Defenders will take advantage of the Battlehawks weak offensive tackles by disguising their blitzes, and attacking from multiple angles.
Defenders Players to Watch:
Jordan Ta’amu Quarterback
As stated Ta’amu may be the on the hotseat. Despite injuries on the Offensive Line, the Defenders have only given up two sacks this year. Even with his passing abilities in question, Ta’amu has still managed to move the chains with his legs and currently sits in the XFL’s Top-10 in rushing going into Week Three. Originally my Preseason #1 Quarterback, Ta’amu has dropped down to the back half of signal callers in the XFL so far this season.
Liam Ryan or Bruno Reagan Center
The Defenders are down to their 3rd and 4th options at Center. We could possibly see Liam Ryan the team’s LG start with newly signed center Bruno Reagan also in the fold. Reagan, who was recently released by the Showboats of the USFL, reunites with Ta’amu who he played with in 2020, with the Battlehawks and 2022 with the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits.
Jacub Panasiuk Defensive Lineman
While not the most dynamic player on the Defenders defense, Panasiuk will face his brother Mike (the Battlehawks Center), for the first time in his career. Jacub who is a couple years younger than Mike, will be lining up all over the defensive line this week, and will most likely, share a couple snaps against his brother. Mike, was originally a Defensive Lineman at Michigan State, and from his stints in the NFL, has stated him a Jacub haven’t had the opportunity to play against each other growing up.
With a more dynamic passing attack, if St. Louis can come out to early lead (which Coach Becht would love), it’s extremely possible the game could fall into the hands of Ta’amu or King to keep pace. With the team scheduled to return to the Dome in Week Four, it is completely possible that the Battlehawks overlook the Defenders and get caught flat footed.
With some in the Media, dubbing the Battlehawks the “Team of Destiny” how can you count this team out. I believe this game comes down to Gregg Williams and his defense. If the Defenders are able to put enough pressure on McCarron the Defenders should be able to walk away with a victory.
With injuries at the Wide Receiver, position I look for a big game from Austin Proehl and Darrius Shepherd to carry the Battlehawks to victory, while despite a gutsy performance from Gregg Williams’ Defense, the unit is not able to overcome sub-par Quarterback play from Jordan Ta’amu.
Final Score: Battlehawks 25 DC Defenders 18
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