Three up, three down from the XFL’s opening weekend

Alamodome, San Antonio Brahmas opening game, Sun February 19, 2023
Fans in the Alamodome were a force at the San Antonio Brahmas opening XFL game, Sun February 19, 2023 – (Twitter)

UP: Pace of game play: In 2020, the league enacted certain rules to ensure games were completed in a reasonable amount of time. While this ownership group has not emphasized that as much, at least publicly, the rules to increase the pace of play remain. It had to be satisfying, then, to see all four games on opening weekend end in under three hours. It also had to make the league’s television partner, ABC/ESPN, happy as well to be able to fit every game within the broadcast window. Some games finished early enough to give sideline reporters a chance to interview players and coaches after the game.

DOWN: Offensive line play: Offensive lines were surprisingly effective in 2020, but now the league is splitting those players with the USFL. Predictably, there was a struggle to keep quarterbacks upright in the first week. The announcers even mentioned how difficult it is to find quality offensive linemen in the NFL let alone in secondary leagues like the XFL. It also hurts that the offensive line is the one position group, more than any other, that needs all five members on the field to work together and be on the same page every snap. The abbreviated offseason and lack of preseason games no doubt hurt that synergy. With time, look for offensive lines to improve as the season progresses.

UP: San Antonio attendance: Brahma fans brought it, 24,000 strong for the team’s home opener against the St. Louis Battlehawks. While not quite up to the 27,000 the city averaged over four games in 2019 for its Alliance of American Football franchise, San Antonio still showed they’re likely to be in the upper echelon of attendance for the XFL this season.

DOWN: Attendance everywhere else: The other three home teams averaged a little over 12,000 in attendance, off of their 2020 debuts by about 5,000 each. There are myriad reasons why that may be the case (some self-inflicted by the league itself); we’ll see if there is enough buzz within these cities to bring those numbers up in the ensuing weeks.

UP: Turnovers: As in, literally, the number of turnovers were up all weekend. Defenses are usually ahead of the offenses early in the season, so a low-scoring, low-yardage affair shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. The number of turnovers and careless disregard for the football (TM Tom Coughlin) was a bit of a surprise. There were 14 total turnovers this weekend, an average of about three-and-a-half per game. Uneven quarterback play was a big part of that number being so inflated. On the flip side, the turnovers can make the game more exciting for viewers and add more twists, turns, and drama to the proceedings.

DOWN: The Beer Snake: If there was one thing the DC Defenders were known for in 2020, it was The Beer Snake: Fans attaching empty beer cups end-to-end to create a giant snake-like entity. Even Oliver Luck got into the act by adding a cup to the Snake three years ago. It appeared as if XFL 2023 would embrace the lineage, with DC Head Coach Reggie Barlow mentioning in an interview that he wanted to add the last cup to the beer snake after a win. Audi Field security apparently had other plans, not allowing the fans to participate in The Beer Snake ritual. Those in attendance in that section protested by booing and throwing lemons onto the field, causing a brief delay in the action. The XFL is lucky it wasn’t much worse. The league, in conjunction with stadium officials, is going to have to reckon with how to address this situation before DC’s next home game on March 5.