Missed Opportunities Doom Wildcats

CARSON, Calif.– On Sunday afternoon, two winless teams met in Dignity Health Sports Park, hoping to turn things around after disappointing Week 1 performances. The Dallas Renegades (0-1) traveled the volatile Los Angeles Wildcats (0-1) who fired their defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson and traded veteran linebacker and disgruntled defensive captain Anthony Johnson to the DC Defenders the week prior. These drastic personnel movements came after giving up 37 points to the Houston Roughnecks in a 37-17 Week 1 loss.

Dallas, meanwhile, failed to find the endzone in a 15-9 home loss to the St. Louis BattleHawks with backup quarterback Philip Nelson at the helm. In their home opener, the Renegades looked nothing like the early odds-favorite to win the XFL Championship. In Week 2, both teams came to play with a renewed focus and new quarterbacks under center.

Josh Johnson took over as the starting quarterback for the Wildcats. Making his first career start since December 30th, 2018 when he suited up against the Philadelphia Eagles as a member of the Washington Redskins.

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Landry Jones (#12) and Josh Johnson (#8)

Landry Jones took the reigns of the Renegades after missing the last 5 weeks with a knee injury. It was his first start in 777 days, dating back to the 2017 season when he started the Pittsburgh Steelers season-finale vs the Cleveland Browns.

The start of the game looked promising for Jones and the Renegades as the former Oklahoma Sooner signal-caller completed his first pass attempt to another former Sooner, Jeff Badet. Badet caught the pass for a first down but failed to get up after taking a knee to the hip/lower back area. The second pass would be a foreshadowing of how the rest of the first half would go, as it was nearly picked off in coverage. The drive would end in 5 plays with a punt after an exciting start.

Johnson and the Wildcats took over and would find success moving the football and using up the clock with the energy of the hometown crowd on their side. The Wildcats would fail to advance into Renegade territory and were forced to punt.

On the Renegades second possession, Hal Mumme opened up the offense, throwing the ball deep down the sidelines and attacking the Wildcats defense. The Dallas offensive line, however,  could not sustain their blocks long enough for receivers to get open, as Jones looked flustered in the backfield. Landry began to look like his old college self, a talented quarterback who can pick up yards and complete throws but not so calm under pressure, as he forced the ball into triple coverage where it was picked off by Harlan Miller.

The Wildcats would take full advantage of the turnover, which invigorated the crowd, and they drove deep into Renegade territory. The LA offense showed good blocking schemes and utilized skill players in space to move the ball on Dallas. The drive would come to a disappointing end with the fumble inside the Dallas 10, for the Wildcats first turnover of the day.

Dallas would continue the turnover struggle, as a Sean Price fumble after the catch gave the Wildcats new life at midfield. Of course, the Wildcats would fail to capitalize on the golden opportunity, going 3-&-out and punting the ball. Jeff Badet would return from injury on Renegades 4th drive, but Jones would struggle with accuracy and Dallas would have to punt it away.

Los Angeles finally put an end to the scoring drought, getting a 47-yard Nick Novak field goal to take a valuable 3-0 lead with 2:54 to go in the half. Landry Jones would put the Renegades on his back with under three minutes left in the half, driving his team deep into Wildcat territory. Jones used these few high-pressure snaps to showcase his little-known ability to step up in the pocket and scramble.

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Landry Jones steps up and scrambles for a first down

Landry has always been a somewhat skilled runner dating back to his high school days however, in college, he was known for often retreating backward instead of stepping up into the collapsing pocket to throw or scramble. This often resulted in costly sacks or interceptions. On Sunday, Jones stepped up, took off and scampered painfully slowly out of bounds for a first down. He later said he felt good about his scrambling decisions in a post-game interview, to which he was informed he might not like what he sees when he watches the game film. Jones replied, “yeah, it took me forever to get out of bounds”, drawing laughter from reporters. The Renegades drive inside the LA 20 would stall out due to penalties & confusion and they would have to settle for a 41-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis, to tie the game at the half.

The Wildcats started the second half with a bang, as kick-returner, Martez Carter, had a big return to the LA 35. Johnson would convert a deep pass to midfield and convert a botched snap for positive yards to drive the Wildcats into Renegades territory. After missing on two deep touchdown passes, the Wildcats settled for a 50-yard field goal try. Novak would curve it just barely wide left as LA left yet another opportunity on the field.

Hal Mumme and the Renegades offense made lots of good adjustments at halftime. In the first half, it was pass after pass but the second half showed the Renegades’ ability to execute a dynamic offensive scheme; mixing it up with both quick passes and hard-hitting runs. It looked as if Dallas would finally find the end zone but Landry instead found Wildcats’ linebacker Will Smith in triple coverage for another interception on a throw across the middle.

The Wildcats would be given a gift as they came out firing immediately following the interception to try and take advantage of the crowd noise level. The pass would fall incomplete but a defensive pass interference call would give the Wildcats a fresh set of downs at the Dallas 22. Johnson drove his offense deep down to the 2-yard line but a fumble on a handoff exchange gave Dallas the ball and was yet another missed opportunity for the Wildcats.

While standing in his own endzone, which spelled nothing but trouble with an offensive line that has let Wildcat defenders get in Landry Jones’ face all afternoon. Jones would drop back and fire a beautiful pass to Josh Crockett down the right sideline for a 39-yard completion. The Renegades drove into LA territory but would fail to find the endzone. A big sack and missed throws by Landry resulted in a 45-yard field goal attempt. MacGinnis would push it threw and give the Renegades their first lead of the game, 6-3.

Dallas would once again pick up a defensive pass interference call to start a drive for LA. This time though, Josh Johnson was not going to be denied. Johnson pushed the offense down the field. This time finding Nelson Spruce for the first touchdown of the game. a failed extra point left the game at 9-6 Los Angeles at the beginning of the 4th.

Dallas would find the endzone on two consecutive drives in to start the 4th quarter to take a 19-9 lead. Martez Carter had a 48-yard kick return that would set up a 44-yard strike by Josh Johnson to Nelson Spruce. LA would convert the first-ever 3-point Extra Point Attempt to make it 19-18. With 1:14 left to play, Cameron Artis-Payne would find paydirt for the 2nd time from 17 yards out. A failed extra-point try left the Dallas lead at 25-18. Frank Alexander would nearly pick off a game-winning interception but the Wildcats turned it over on downs on the dropped interception and Dallas was able to kneel down and run out the clock for the 25-18 victory.

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Cameron Artis-Payne (#34) runs the ball

Hal Mumme’s willingness to break from the “throw the ball around the field” gameplan and start attacking the Wildcats with a mix of the run and pass proved to be the difference-maker in this game. The Air Raid, a staple across the XFL, is all about passing the ball 50-60 times a game but let’s be honest. That strategy simply does not work well longterm in professional football. Moving forward, Dallas will need to do a better job of balancing the offense and attacking their opponent’s defensive weaknesses if they expect to win this league. Landry Jones should get better as the season progresses and he gets more reps in at practice and in games but he still looks too much like the guy I watched play in college at The University of Oklahoma. As the program’s all-time leader in passing yards, completions, and touchdowns, he’s celebrated as one of the best quarterbacks to play in Norman but he also holds the record for career interceptions thrown. He’s really good at moving the ball and completing passes, but he’s also really good at committing costly turnovers, something that nearly cost Dallas a second game to start their season.

Looking Ahead

Yes, a win is a win Renegades fans, but don’t forget something here. If we are being truly honest, Dallas was only in a position to win the game in the 4th quarter because the LA Wildcats squandered so many early opportunities. While the Wildcats were driving deep into Dallas territory over and over, while also turning it over time and time again, their defense was stifling the Dallas offense with relative ease. Dallas didn’t convert a 3rd down until their 7th possession late in the 3rd quarter. They failed to score a touchdown until the 4th quarter on their 8th possession with 9:00 minutes left in the game. They went 0-3 on 3rd down on their first 6 possessions, with 3 turnovers, 2 punts, and 1 field goal. This struggle comes against a defense that had just fired its defensive coordinator after one game! Penalties stalled numerous offensive drives for Dallas while extending many of the Wildcats offensive drives. Dallas simply must do better next week if they want to win two in a row.

Next week the Dallas Renegades (1-1) head to Puget Sound to take on the Seattle Dragons (1-1). Seattle has struggled a bit on offense this season but still put up 19 points and 310 yards on what I believe is the best defense in the league in the DC Defenders in a Week 1 loss. The Dragons defense, however, excels at forcing turnovers, 5 forced turnovers in 2 games, while Dallas turned it over 3 times vs the Wildcats.

The Los Angeles Wildcats (0-2) play host to the DC Defenders (2-0) in week 3. The Defenders are coming off a 27-0 shutout of the New York Guardians at home last Saturday. Getting that elusive first win won’t be easy for the Wildcats struggling offense. The LA defense shouldn’t have too much trouble with Cardale Jones & Co but the Defenders Defensive Backs will pose a challenge to Josh Johnson.

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