Parks’s Pulse: On conversions, reviews, and weather

St. Louis Battlehawks quarterbacks #10 A.J. McCarron and #14 Nick Tiano. (XFL Twitter)

Each week during the season, Parks’s Pulse will present a smattering of thoughts on the previous weekend’s games.

Ranking the games

  1. Sea Dragons 30, Vipers 26: A close, high-scoring affair that went down to the wire. It also provided a viral moment for the league in the form of Josh Gordon’s game-winning touchdown catch and run.
  2. Defenders 34, Battlehawks 28: The battle of undefeated teams lived up to the hype. DC’s home atmosphere has been unmatched so far. The melee at the end marred an otherwise entertaining game.
  3. Renegades 10, Guardians 9: Two good defenses or two struggling offenses? I suppose it depends on your point of view. The quarterback controversy surrounding Orlando during the previous week, and what effect if any that would have on the team, added to the drama.
  4. Roughnecks 22, Brahmas 13: A game that never felt as close as the score would indicate. Several key penalties against San Antonio prevented them from overcoming Houston’s strengths.

Everyone knows it’s Windy

In their first home game, Vegas faced severe winds and torrential rains. A week later, the weather was a little better – but not by much. Game time brought 18 mph sustained winds, though at least it was dry. The conditions caused passes to float (like a Brett Hundley throw to Geronimo Allison that sailed through the back of the end zone in the second quarter) and two punts by Vegas to end up out of bounds inside the 35 yard-line, resulting in possession for Seattle at the 35. Then just before half, Dominik Eberle’s kickoff failed to reach 20 yard-line, a penalty that allowed Vegas to take over possession at Seattle’s 45. Vegas next has a home game in week five; fans would be wise to prepare for locusts and thunderstorms of hail and fire.

All-Access Moment of the Week, Part One

From the Seattle vs. Vegas Saturday night game, Sea Dragons LB Tuzar Skipper was feeling himself…and feeling a top NFL defender: “I ain’t gonna lie…I thought I was Micah Parsons real quick,” Skipper told a teammate after making a play behind the line of scrimmage. Then there was QB Ben DiNucci, whose interception looked like it was thrown right to the defender, S Adam Sparks. The open mic picked up DiNucci groaning “Oh my god!” with the ball still in mid-air.

Best 0-3 team in the league

It’s difficult to imagine a more frustrating start to Rod Woodson’s head coaching career. His Vegas Vipers are 0-3, yet have led or been tied at halftime in all three games. They’ve been outscored 58-23 in the second half. Halftime adjustments are often an overrated conversation point in football; however, Woodson must figure out a way to get his team to play a full 60 minutes. The task doesn’t get any easier in week four: Vegas has the unbeaten DC Defenders in a week two rematch at Audi Field.

Coach’s Challenge Challenges

The addition of a universal coach’s challenge – that a coach could challenge any play once per game – was one of the main rule changes from XFL 2020, and one that has been suggested before at the NFL level. The XFL considers itself somewhat of a petri dish for potential NFL rule changes, which is a big reason this was adopted for 2023.

Of late, though, there’s been some confusion about what plays VP of Officiating Dean Blandino looks at in his control center, especially as it relates to when coaches want to challenge. St. Louis Head Coach Anthony Becht wondered aloud on the sidelines to the refs if Blandino was going to be looking at a play. The coaches should be kept in the loop on that should they want to challenge.

Otherwise, you’ll get what happened on Sunday in the Arlington vs. Orlando game. Arlington’s Bob Stoops challenged an incomplete pass that he felt was an interception by Renegades CB De’Vante Bausby. The viewers at home knew that Blandino had already looked at it and ruled it a good call by the refs, but there was no stoppage of play to indicate to the coaches that he had done so. Stoops then challenged the play; instead of the referee telling him that Blandino already looked at it, they accepted the challenge and naturally did not overturn the call, causing Stoops to waste not only his sole challenge of the game, but also a time out.

The game announcers mentioned that Blandino apparently told coaches plays like turnovers and touchdowns will be reviewed automatically by the booth. Either Stoops didn’t understand or he forgot in the heat of the moment. From the outset, the intent of coach’s challenges seemed to be for more subjective calls like pass interference (which we’ve seen challenged often), the kinds of calls that Blandino and his crew wouldn’t overturn. It’s clear, however, there needs to be a better understanding – or better communication – about what the control center looks at versus what the coaches want to challenge.

All-Access Moment of the Week, Part Two

With the St. Louis Battlehawks in a time out deep in DC territory, the Defenders faithful took to taunting QB AJ McCarron with chants of “AJ sucks.” McCarron jokingly asked aloud, “hey, do they get an unsportsmanlike for saying that?” The Battlehawks could’ve used the extra penalty yardage as they dropped their first game of the season to the still-undefeated Defenders, 34-28.

Conversion philosophies

Three weeks in, and with data starting to build about what point-after conversion makes the most sense, we’re seeing different philosophies develop for each team. The Seattle Sea Dragons go for three every time. Head Coach Jim Haslett is no doubt influenced by prolific offensive mind and his offensive coordinator, June Jones, on that decision. Yet Jones himself, as Head Coach of the Houston Roughnecks in 2020, did not adhere to this philosophy, at least not at first.

The announcers during the Battlehawks vs. Defenders game on FX mentioned that St. Louis Head Coach Anthony Becht told them he will go for two after each TD unless circumstances dictate he go for three. Each team is likely to make these decisions based on what fits their personnel best, with momentum of the game playing a part. The more games that are played, and the larger the sample size for the data collected, the more analytical coaches can be about their conversion decisions.