XFL Week 6 Review: D.C. Defends its Crown

D.C. Defenders Fans
D.C. Defenders Fans
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

XFL - A special Monday night edition of the XFL stretched the weekend into a three-day affair, but it was worth the wait—the Defenders and Roughnecks battled in one of the better games this season as the top teams in each division went head to head. It was, by far, the highest quality game of the weekend, a championship preview that was worth every second of the wait.

Of course, that meant we had to sit through a couple of non-competitive games and another offensive travesty in order to get there, but that's just par for the course for the XFL at this point. There are four teams which can offer quality play week-in and week-out. When those four teams play each other, in any combination, we get a game worth tuning in for. The other four? Well, it's minor league football for a reason.

Here are your EVOA ratings after Week 6!

2023 XFL Rankings, Week 6
1 D.C. Defenders 6-0 10.7 7.5 1 3.2 3 28.7% 20.1% -8.6%
2 St. Louis Battlehawks 4-2 6.5 4.8 3 1.7 5 17.5% 12.9% -4.6%
3 Houston Roughnecks 4-2 5.2 5.7 2 -0.5 6 13.9% 15.3% 1.4%
4 Seattle Sea Dragons 4-2 3.8 -0.2 4 4.0 2 10.2% -0.5% -10.7%
5 San Antonio Brahmas 2-4 -1.2 -5.4 7 4.2 1 -3.4% -14.5% -11.2%
6 Arlington Renegades 3-3 -5.5 -8.3 8 2.8 4 -14.9% -22.5% -7.6%
7 Vegas Vipers 1-5 -6.4 -1.0 5 -5.4 7 -17.4% -2.8% 14.6%
8 Orlando Guardians 0-6 -12.8 -3.0 6 -9.9 8 -34.6% -8.0% 26.6%

It remains a shame that one of the Roughnecks, Sea Dragons, or Battlehawks will have to stay home while the Brahmas or Renegades can get through.

We did see some movement this week. A big St. Louis win restores the Battlehawks to second place overall, knocking Houston and Seattle down into third and fourth. Honestly, those three teams are closely bunched together, with all three having at least an argument to be the second-best team in the league, though I would side with the numbers and pick St. Louis. We also saw Arlington and Vegas swap places as the 1-5 Vipers looked very, very bad this week; even the no-offense Renegades deserve more praise than that.

Seattle Sea Dragons 26, Orlando Guardians 19

Our national nightmare is over: Paxton Lynch was benched. And Quinten Dormady's redemption arc is … well, I suppose we can't say complete, because the Guardians have yet to win a game, but at the very least, it feels good to have his name cleared.

You may remember Dormady as the quarterback who got cut from the Guardians for leaking a playbook to an opposing team. That story, as it turns out, was entirely fabricated. Instead, Dormady was simply complaining to San Antonio quarterback Reid Sinnett about being inactive, and Sinnett then told his defensive coordinator that Dormady wasn't going to play and thus they didn't have to prepare for him. During the game, San Antonio players were taunting Orlando, with one of them noting that they heard about the quarterback change before Orlando announced it. And then backup quarterback Deondre Francois misinterpreted that as Dormady giving away the playbook, and it became a huge mess. Well, it's over, Dormady's cleared, and he was given the start this week. And what did you think about your triumphant return, Quinten?

Oh, it wasn't that bad—though, amusingly, chief official Dean Blandino was caught on a live mike admitting that they screwed up a call that denied the Guardians a chance at a scoring opportunity as the first half came to a close. It would have been a Hail Mary from 40 yards out, so it's hard to say it was a hugely pivotal missed call, but you'd like to get your shots at the end zone when you have them. After all, the Guardians have needed all the help they can get.

This one, though, came close, with the Guardians holding a lead into the second half. Dormady was far from efficient, but he was prolific, throwing for 243 yards and hooking up repeatedly with Cody Latimer and Charleston Rambo. Dormady made some plays with his legs too, adding 43 yards on the ground, while Devin Darrington scooted for a pair of touchdowns. In the sweltering, 95-degree Orlando weather, the Guardians looked as good as they have all season offensively.

They were far from perfect on the day, but there was a sense of organization and control that we just haven't see from them to this point in the year. Lynch should not get another start for this team.

But though Orlando significantly beat Seattle in total yards and had a 1.3 yards-per-play advantage, they still lost. Penalties played a huge role in that; Orlando had 12 for 105 yards. Special teams, too—Seattle not only blocked a punt which led straight to a touchdown, but also had several long kickoff and punt returns and a 54-yard field goal to boot.

The Sea Dragons also avoided some of the self-inflicted wounds that have hurt them all year long. Ben DiNucci threw only one interception, which counts as real progress for him. He had a pair of scores to Blake Jackson and Juwan Green—not the tightest coverages in the world, but still requiring a bit of finesse, and DiNucci was able to rise to the occasion.

The touchdown after the punt block gave Seattle the 26-19 lead with six minutes remaining, and Orlando couldn't threaten again. They went four-and-out on their ensuing drive. They got the ball back with 1:40 left, but Darrington fumbled on the very first play, killing that chance. They had one last gasp with 33 seconds left on the clock and managed to march down to the Seattle 25, but four straight incomplete passes sealed Orlando's sixth loss. They're not quite mathematically eliminated just yet, but they aren't going anywhere this season.

Seattle climbs to 4-2 and keeps pace with the Battlehawks; important because St. Louis looked really good later on Saturday…

St. Louis Battlehawks 29, Vegas Vipers 6

Well, this one escalated quickly. I mean, it really got out of hand fast.

On its first two drives, St. Louis had just 1 net yard, a pair of three-and-outs leaving them looking listless. Sure, Vegas was also going three-and-out, but maybe, just maybe, the Vipers' sieve-like defense was going to stiffen up and make a ballgame out of this one!

Then St. Louis scored on its next four drives, tacked on another touchdown late in the fourth for good measure, and won this one going away. Better luck next time, Vegas!

It was an easy day for A.J. McCarron—236 yards, three touchdowns, lobbing the ball to wide-open Darrius Shepherd and George Campbell all day long. And when that got tiring, Brian Hill was running for 5.1 yards per carry as Vegas just could not get off the field.

A week after it looked like Luis Perez had finally given Vegas some offensive consistency, he once again finished the game sitting on the pine. A pair of interceptions by Lavert Hill on back-to-back drives did Perez in; Brett Hundley was hauled back off the bench with Vegas down 23-0. Under Hundley , the Vipers did score a touchdown and didn't punt, though that last bit was more about desperation more than anything else—they failed to convert on fourth-and-12 and fourth-and-10 on Hundley's other two drives.

The Battlehawks thus remain level with the Sea Dragons, sitting at 4-2 and tied in second place in the XFL North. There are only two postseason spots available in that division, and with the undefeated Defenders sitting ahead of them, there's likely not going to be room for both St. Louis and Seattle to play extra football this year. It's looking more and more likely that the Week 9 matchup in The Dome in St. Louis will be the deciding factor in this race, though there's plenty of time left. As for the Vipers, while they're not mathematically out of things at 1-5, they're back to square one—no defense, no quarterback, no solid fanbase, and nowhere to go from here.

San Antonio Brahmas 15, Arlington Renegades 9

You know, there was one good offensive play from this game, which is one more than there was in last week's Brahmas-Renegades affair. Let's start there.

That's Lujuan Winningham snagging a pass from Drew Plitt midway through the third quarter, knotting us at 9-9. Full extension, ball just over the arms of the outstretched cornerback—pretty, pretty play. I suppose we were due at least one.

There was also one particularly good defensive play—Delontae Scott reading the fake handoff perfectly, swallowing Plitt up, and forcing a fumble that Jordan Williams was able to scoop and score, giving the Brahmas a 9-0 lead to begin with.

I suppose, if we squint, we can even give a little praise to San Antonio's Jacques Patrick, whose 32-yard run set up a Brahmas field goal with 1:46 left to extend the lead to a full six points. But that's about where the end of offensive praise in this one can end.

Four different quarterbacks threw passes here. The leader was Plitt, 10-for-16 for 163 yards and the score, but also the game-losing interception on the final drive, and the sack-fumble which led to a San Antonio touchdown. He came on in relief of Kyle Sloter, who went 6-for-13 for 22 yards before hitting the pine. Not that San Antonio was much better—Jawon Pass got most of the work, going 8-for-14 for 57 yards. He was briefly spelled by Kurt Benkert, who was just signed this past week and managed to go 1-for-6 for two yards and an interception. Benkert offered nothing, coming in cold from the street. Neither did Arlington receiver Victor Bolden, the USFL star who arrived this past weekend—he had one target and no receptions. Perhaps Benkert and Bolden will matter later on, but for now, neither could do anything to fix the two worst offenses in the league.

I will give the Brahmas slightly more credit, as it felt like their defense was doing more to cause Arlington issues, while San Antonio's offensive struggles seemed more self-inflicted. Scott had two sacks with Drew Beesley picking up one more; Williams had three tackles for losses to go along with his scoop-and-score; Luq Barcoo broke up a few passes. But mostly, these are just painful offenses to watch at this point. Arlington seems beyond repair, with neither quarterback managing to do anything successful—throw accurate passes, make solid reads, even run successful RPOs. At least San Antonio is down to backup quarterbacks and can use that as an excuse; Arlington just seems fundamentally flawed now in a way that can't really be fixed over the last four weeks.

And one of these teams is going to be in the playoffs! This was absolutely must-win for San Antonio, moving them to 2-4 compared to Arlington's 3-3. We can pencil the Roughnecks into the top seed and the Guardians into the last slot, so we have San Antonio back one game with four to play. If the Brahmas had lost this one, not only would they be back three games, but they would also have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Renegades, which would have essentially made a comeback impossible. Now, however, the head-to-head record is tied. The next tiebreaker is divisional record, which is close—both teams have beaten the Guardians once and lost to the Roughnecks already. If that ends up tied, things go to strength of victory (no strength of schedule when everyone plays the same teams!) and then points scored/allowed. Looking at the tiebreakers, I think the advantage goes to San Antonio—if and only if they can make up that one-game deficit on Arlington. So, while this was not the most entertaining game of the season by any definition, it does at least provide us with the most entertaining scenario over the last month of the year. I'll take it.

D.C. Defenders 37, Houston Roughnecks 26

Your winner, and undisputed team to beat in the XFL: the D.C. Defenders, sitting tall at 6-0. After knocking off the Battlehawks both home and away, they took the best shot the XFL South could take at them and came out triumphant, blasting the Roughnecks early and holding on to claim the win despite Houston's furious attempt at a comeback. The Roughnecks threw all they had at D.C., but it just wasn't enough to knock the king off the top of the hill.

For a half, it looked like this was going to be a close, cagey, dare I say defensive affair. The Defenders managed just one field goal on their first three drives as Wade Phillips' pressures did enough to slow down the D.C. line. While Jordan Ta'amu did find some isolated corners to work on, Houston was doing a solid job keeping the threat of Abram Smith in check. D.C. isn't supposed to win with its passing game, so as long as Houston could jump out to a lead, the theory went, D.C. would be playing off their back foot. Play Houston's game, and D.C. would win.

And through nearly the entire first half, that was sort of working. D.C.'s league-leading defense made things tough sledding, but Brandon Silvers and Max Borghi did just enough to get on the board, with Borghi punching in the touchdown to take an early lead. And 8-3 is where the game would stand until after the two-minute warning.

Let me introduce you to Lucky Jackson, a name we have only mentioned in passing to this point this season. Jackson has been seeing his workload increase as the year has gone on and has been good for 50 or 60 yards per game over the past month—D.C.'s a run-first team, so those are fairly solid numbers in the overall context of their offense. But with Houston doing a good job against the run, that left Jackson to go one-on-one with Houston's corners, and he exploded—five catches for 136 yards, with every single catch going for a first down or a touchdown. Two of those receptions came on D.C.'s final drive of the first half, which ended in Smith finally getting enough running room to punch in a score of his own to give D.C. a 9-8 lead. And then, on the very next play from scrimmage, Silvers threw a tip-drill right into the hands of Santos Ramirez…

And for a while, that seemed to be the straw that broke Houston's back. D.C. scored on its first four drives of the second half—two long field goals, a long pass to Jackson, and a short dump-off to Alex Ellis. Houston's defense, beginning to wear down, also started giving up gashes to Smith on the ground; he finished the night with 19 carries for 95 yards. For a while there, it looked like that was the story of this game—D.C., romping through the third quarter, showing off behind their stars and running away with things.

But if there's one thing we have learned about the Roughnecks this season, it's that they do not go down without a fight. Despite trailing 26-8 in the third quarter, and 32-14 in the fourth, they did not stop firing back. Silvers eventually started swapping in and out with Cole McDonald at quarterback, with McDonald's legs helping blunt the impact of D.C.'s pass rush. It was with McDonald throwing the ball that Deontay Burnett began to get free—he ended the day with four catches for 122 yards and a score, most of it on this 85-yard bomb to make things very, very interesting.

That was far from McDonald's only big play of the night as he's the one who led Houston's comeback. Silvers is more of a pocket passer; McDonald's mobility gave the Roughnecks a dimension they weren't getting out of Silvers this game. Houston generally has Silvers run the show and McDonald come in for certain packages, which works, but on Monday, they just needed to roll the dice, and McDonald rewarded them, going 8-for-11 for 194 yards and a touchdown, plus 37 yards and a score on the ground.

In the end, though, it just wasn't enough—the first-half hole too deep, the D.C. offense too efficient in the second half. Houston scored with 1:50 left to cut the lead to 37-27, but they failed their conversion and left it a two-score game, and their onside-replacement play failed anyway. The Defenders win and remain undefeated.

This felt like a good team going on the road and falling to a great team—a well-played game where the better team eventually just showed its superior quality. Do not be at all surprised if we see a rematch of this one in the Alamodome with the XFL Championship on the line.


4 comments, Last at 31 Mar 2023, 12:56pm

#1 by Sixknots // Mar 28, 2023 - 10:22pm

OK.  Nobody's commenting on the XFL games but Byron is doing a great job of writing them up and I'm enjoying the writing and the games.  DON'T STOP!

Points: 0

#2 by Mike B. In Va // Mar 29, 2023 - 3:37pm

Yeah, I enjoy these writeups and the Discord discussions.

Points: 0

#3 by Danny366 // Mar 30, 2023 - 8:22pm

I enjoy them as well. And is there a Football Outsiders discord channel?

Points: 0

#4 by RickD // Mar 31, 2023 - 12:56pm

If the Defenders win the XFL title, can we elevate them to the NFL and relegate the Commanders?

I ask on the behalf of a metro region.

Points: 0

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