Matt Duda: Outlaws bring top defense, uncertainty on offense to the Xtreme



Outlaws bring top defense, uncertainty on offense to the Xtreme
by Matt Duda

February 16, 2001

As linebacker Kurt Gouveia rumbled into the end zone carrying a fresh-picked Rashaan Salaam fumble in his arms last week, many XFL followers accepted a simple truth.

Las Vegas’ defense is pretty damn good.

But the Vegas D needs to come up with its strongest game yet at 8 p.m. ET Saturday when Los Angeles roars into Sam Boyd Stadium. At stake for the 1-1 Xtreme is a share of the Western Division lead. But if the Outlaws win, they move to 3-0 and strengthen their grip on the top spot with just seven weeks of football remaining.

While so much talk has been made of the Outlaws league-leading defense, not much attention falls on the fact that Vegas’ offense is the XFL’s most ineffective (115 yards/game), ranking them below even the often ridiculed NY/NJ Hitmen (166 ypg).

Things just don’t get any easier for the Outlaws offense this week. When Memphis defensive end Shante Carver wrapped Ryan Clement up in a bear hug and crunched the quarterback’s shoulder into the Southern soil last Sunday, the unit lost its most integral piece.

Clement fueled the offense’s intermittent sparks this season. He’s completed 45 percent of his passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s disciplined ball control the Outlaws will probably miss this week when either Mike Cawley (3-13, 45 yards vs. Memphis) or Jim Ballard steps into the huddle.

None of the Outlaws, in fact, have turned the ball over yet. The team leads the XFL in turnover ratio at +6, but expect those numbers to change this week. LA, which failed to intercept a single pass in its first two games, is due for a pick-off. With a fairly untested QB at the helm, Vegas’ streak appears in jeopardy.

Obviously, the Outlaws need to mount a successful ground war to take the pressure off Cawley and/or Ballard. Opponents may dislake running back Rod "He Hate Me" Smart, but defenses hardly fear Vegas’ leading rusher and his 2.6 yards per carry. Running backs Ben “Thoro” Snell and Chrys “Chukwagon” Chukwuma need to step forward and feed the offense with yardage and points.

Contrarily, LA’s offense began to click during the fourth quarter against Chicago. Receivers Jermaine Copeland and Darnell McDonald showed their proficiency at producing big plays when most needed while QB Tommy Maddox proved he can deliver the ball to the slick receivers.

The Xtreme bring a forceful aerial attack unseen by the Outlaws D against NY/NJ and Memphis. In Week 1, the Outlaws abused Hitmen quarterback Charles Puleri, who likely will find a warm spot on the bench this week after a second weak showing against Birmingham. Memphis quarterback Marcus Crandell didn’t even play a complete game against the Outlaws, yielding the spot to backup Craig Whelihan. Did Crandell and Puleri simply suffer from bad days or have the Outlaws mastered the art of decimating the offense's nerve center?

Maddox may provide the answer, but he’ll need help some help to avoid Crandell and Puleri’s fate. If Rashaan “The Truth” Sheehee busts out a few solid runs to open the field up for LA receivers, Maddox should be able to take advantage.

With the Xtreme getting a 1-point advantage at the betting tables, Las Vegas gambling gurus think this one is almost too close to call. I don’t: LA by 10.

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