The Post Corner: XFL Film Room

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times??? I think it’s time to admit I have a problem.

I can’t quit spring football, even if it’s failed more times then I can count to this point. I told myself I would just watch a couple of games here and there, but before I knew it I was mentally invested in yet another iteration of spring football.

Football is football and I’ve seen worse (I coach JV football, not always the prettiest), but when compared to other pro sports, the newest version of the XFL is off to a slow start. Big plays are seriously lacking, Vegas barely has a field, and some of the uniforms are just plain bad. But the one thing keeping me around is that this type of league reminds me so much of high school football. Only five weeks to prepare your team for the first game, you never know who you have till you get in the building, and offensive lines tend to be mediocre at best. Seeing how professional football coaches and players respond to these adversities is really interesting to the high school coach in me.

These similarities keep me invested in the league, and the scheme has me officially bought in. This article won’t be diving too much into player performance; instead, we are going to be looking at three teams who, in my opinion, are doing unique and fun things on either side of the ball. This time we are focusing on the San Antonio Brahmas defense, DC Defenders offense, and the St. Louis Battlehawks offense.

Herrmann is crazy, and it might make the Brahmas Defense great

Jim Herrmann’s defense has quickly become my favorite due to the creative and fun ways they have gotten pressure on the quarterback. And with the group still gelling together, the possibilities for it to grow are truly endless. Let’s dive into some of my favorite things they did this week.

To start, a lot of what San Antonio bases out of is even front, spot-drop Cover 3, which might be my least favorite thing if you try to just line up in it and play. And that’s what Herrmann did a lot in their first game against the Battlehawks. Part of it might be a lack of knowledge of the opponent and even their own personnel, but Herrmann kept it very simple in week one.

That same San Antonio defense evolved a bit in week two, especially in the second half. Without much opponent tape, you can tell there was some time used to figure out what Orlando’s approach would be in this game. This means that San Antonio would hang out in base with a lot of Cover 3, rotating safeties down to different zones on the field. My favorite call was a third down blitz late early in the first quarter. After subbing to dime, San Antonio looked to be rotating some kind of MOFC coverage (think Cover 1 or Cover 3) with two DB’s stacked over the TE in a nasty split. Both the Nickel and rotating Safety blitzed, while the lone ILB went and walled the TE up the field. Even though it didn’t land due to a draw and some missed tackles, this signified a bit of a shift in mindset from the Brahmas.

In the second half, Herrmann opened up his bag of tricks and pulled out some real heaters. In a goal-to-go situation he decided to call the same 7-man pressure two plays in a row, nearly landing both times and affecting both throws. The front is what really allows the pressure to work. By mugging up the ILB over the center and having both DTs in 2i or 3 techs (I can’t tell in this angle), along with both DE’s in wide 9s, it opens up the B-gap for two fast playmakers to sprint through open lanes and get to the QB. Add in the fact that Jack Koerner (#28) times these safety pressures up so well, and it creates a whole new problem for OCs. 

With the Brahmas up 30-12 late in the 4th quarter, Herrmann probably made my favorite call of the night. On 2nd and 10, the Brahmas lined up in their base defense, a two-high structure with an over front against Orlando’s Trey Gun Weak set. What looks like a safety rolling down into his C/F zone turns into a screamin’ Jack Koerner as he flies into the B-gap and forces the QB off his spot. Getting into a fairly traditional NCAA blitz path with a safety is fun, but that’s not even the cool part.

If you look at the strong side of this play, you’ll notice the nickel CB (#22 Ranthony Texada, a great guy) sprinting towards the deep middle as the guy you thought would be rolling deep (#5, Tenny Adewusi) rolls up and plays man on #2. The Edge player rolls back to wall off #3 as well. What looked to be Weak Rotation Cover 3 as the snap count turned out to be a 5-man pressure with Man-Free behind it, but the Free MOFC player was the Nickel CB…That’s crazy cool.

The thing that really excited me about this defense is that I don’t think it’s even close to being fully installed. As Herrmann and the players get more acquainted with each other and the scheme, I believe that those pressure paths will get even more unique and the Brahmas DC will find more and more unique ways to use his versatile and athletic DBs to not only pressure opposing QBs, but confuse them as well.

The Two Headed Monster in DC, and why it might work

This section isn’t so much a schematic breakdown because I cannot find a full D.C.-Vegas game anywhere. It’s more of an observation about why a two QB system that can lead to a split locker room might just work for Reggie Barlow’s team.

To start with schematics, the two offenses that are paired with each QB have the same roots, but look pretty different. Both tend to be heavy RPO and Option based, leading to a heavy dosage of QB runs from both Jordan Ta’amu and D’Eriq King. From what I can see, each one is uniquely catered to each QB’s strengths as an athlete. Ta’amu, the game-to-game starter for now, lives in a bit more varied offense, mixing under center and shotgun snaps that has a heavy dosage of RPO elements, similar to what he did in college at Ole Miss. Ta’amu has more build up speed and arm talent, so you will see more drop back passing and runs that allow him to get into open space with his speed.

The offense King tends to operate in looks very different, even though it has the same RPO and option bones. King is almost never under center, opting for shotgun snaps and a limited passing attack. He only threw one pass this past weekend, but that could be due to the weather conditions. His runs are a variety of gap-scheme read options, built to take advantage of Kings’ shiftiness and agility. One of Fred Kaiss’s favorite calls with King in looked to be QB Power Read, which they scored on and had quite a bit of success with. They ran it out of one or two back, with the two back split gun version being favored by Kaiss this week.

I know this isn’t as in depth as the two other breakdowns in this piece, but I thought it was interesting and quite unique how Kaiss created two different offenses while keeping his core principles of putting defenders in conflict and keeping his QB’s job easy in mind. Both offenses worked for the most part this past weekend, but I’m curious if we start to see one QB start to get a majority of the snaps as the season goes along. Or will they continue to keep this QB rotation going throughout the season?

The Battlehawks like to MOVE and Motion

First things first, A.J. McCarron balled out in Seattle. Played well under pressure, had a couple deep balls (and two touchdowns) dropped, and stayed composed the whole time. Whatever, let’s look at the offense his OC, and former career backup, Bruce Gradkowski is calling. (P.S. Bruce: I still remember your shiny bald head throwing passes for the Oakland Raiders back in the day. We love you.)

The thing I first noticed in St. Louis’ game was the uptick in motions and shifts from the Battlehawks offense. It started with their “MOVE” call, which you could hear tagged onto some calls in the second quarter and early in the third. The tag went by the wayside as they began to spread it out more and more as the game went on, but I found the concept interesting. When a play was tagged at the beginning of the call with “MOVE”, the Battlehawks would always start out in a TE-Wing formation and then when A.J. McCarron shouted “Move” they would shift into the called formation. Almost exclusively out of 12 personnel, they’d shift to a variety of formations, but I noticed a favorite of Gradkowski’s was going to a more traditional Pro Offset-I look where they could run out of.

One of the reasons I found this interesting is because I’m really curious why Gradkowski did this so often. Was he looking for a specific check from the Seattle defense that they had shown the week before that Gradkowski hoped to take advantage of? Or was the first year OC just trying to make the defense think on its feet? I’d have to watch the Seattle defense in their week one game to really find out, and sadly I just don’t have the time. But my guess is that Gradkowski wanted to mess with Seattle’s strength rules and how they set their front so St. Louis could get an advantage up front.

The other reason I found it intriguing was because I want to see how this idea or package expands, if it does. Will the tag (MOVE) stay the same but the formation change, or will Gradkowski just add tags such as SHIFT or TRANSFER to signify different starting formations before the move? I think this could be a really interesting tool for Gradkowski as the season progresses.

One last note on this Battlehawks offense. I really enjoyed their use of Trey Wing Bunch and Trey Wing Bunch Nub, paired with the jet motion from #1. Gradkowski had some fun ideas while using those formations that maybe didn’t work very well this week, but could and should be expanded on in my opinion. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t scrap the formation and package after struggling with it a little bit this week. I mean, at least GH Counter was working well out of it! (The jet motion is a great touch to hold the playside CB and keep him from crashing down on the play.)

I’ll probably do another one of these posts in about two weeks if time permits, and I hope the quality will get better if I ever get better access to actual film from these games. I find the way these teams and brand new coaching staffs have built successful schemes in such a short time really interesting and I’m curious to see how they continue to grow and expand throughout this young season.


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