The New York Guardians return to MetLife Stadium this weekend, eager to rediscover an offensive spark that failed to follow them on the road.
HILLBURN, NY—The New York Guardians had metropolitan football fans singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” after a victorious debut at MetLife Stadium. Two weeks later, their tune has become a forlorn rendition of “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.”
A two-week road trip saw the XFL’s Guardians (1-2) fall into the cesspool that seems to have swallowed all of the metropolitan area’s professional gridiron competitors. Back-to-back losses in Washington, DC and St. Louis saw them endure a streak of 26 consecutive drives without a touchdown.
Ending up on the wrong side a 56-9 scoring margin was thus no surprise and made the opening win over Tampa Bay seem like a more distant memory than the New York/New Jersey Hitmen.
Redemption or further damnation awaits in East Rutherford on Saturday. The Guardians welcome in another team seeking to even their early ledger, as the equally 1-2 Los Angeles Wildcats pay a visit (2 p.m. ET, ABC).
Professional football at Yankee Stadium is an extinct New York past time, but a third straight loss would ensure it’d be getting, as Yogi Berra would put it, “late early” for the Guardians. Their listless losses came against divisional competition, putting them in an early deficit for the XFL playoff chase. The St. Louis BattleHawks and DC Defenders lead the division early on, with all of them topping winless Tampa Bay.
Wins may be in short New York supply early on, but a surplus of confidence was on display during practices held at Torne Valley Athletic Complex in Hillburn, NY.
“I think we’re looking great. I think we’ve corrected a lot of mistakes,” receiver Mekale McKay told ESNY. “I think (our problems) were addressed by the team instead of the coaches. So that’s going to put us on the right note.”
McKay, currently the Guardians’ top receiver (seven receptions, 105 yards), promised excitement and thrills to fans who venture to MetLife Stadium on Saturday. Temperatures are supposed to hover in the mid-30s. The Guardians drew over 17,000 in their opening week win, second-best in the XFL’s debut weekend.
“Saturday’s going to be a great day,” he said to the fans. “Bring all the intensity, all the roar you can bring and just expect us to play some great football.”
The Guardians will go up a team in similar straight from the other side of the country. Los Angeles (1-2) dropped their first two contests but got into the left side of the standings in tremendous fashion last weekend. The Wildcats pummeled the previously undefeated Defenders at Dignity Health Sports Park, creating a 39-9 final through four interceptions of Cardale Jones.
On paper, though, the Wildcats arrive reeling. Nelson Spruce, the XFL’s second-leading receiver, has already been ruled out. Martez Carter, he of two rushing scores last week, is labeled doubtful. Los Angeles’ top two quarterbacks, Josh Johnson and Chad Kanoff, are each marked questionable on the injury report.
But the Guardians know that means nothing unless they can handle their own issues.
The New York offense is a current mainstay at the bottom of the XFL’s offensive rankings, currently dead last in points (10.7 per game) and yardage (223.3 per game). Self-inflicted wounds only drag the Guardians further into the pigskin abyss. New York had 12 penalties in St. Louis last week, erasing 86 yards with them.
“I think it’s all about us not beating ourselves,” McKay said. “I think we were in a lot of situations where it was third and ten-plus, and those are difficult situations to overcome. I think if we stay ahead of the chains, do well on first and second downs, delete some of the penalties, I think we’ll be in great shape.”
“We’ve got to quit beating ourselves,” Mangus added. “We get in so many long-yardage situations with penalties. We had way too many penalties [in St. Louis]. When it’s first and 25, you just put yourself behind the eight ball.”
“When we’re in good position, do well on first and second down, don’t beat ourselves, we’ve been much more efficient and where we need to be, a la the first game. We were really efficient, really good against Tampa. It’s all about us, it’s not about what anyone else is doing.”
Adding to the Guardians’ plight will be the confirmed absence of Matt McGloin. The starting quarterback is still feeling the effects of a thorax injury suffered in a sack against the BattleHawks. In his place awaits a duology of Marquise Williams and Luis Perez, each of whom took practice snaps in Hillburn this week.
Perez, a record-setter at Division II Texas A&M-Commerce, perhaps has the most going for him. It was he who ended the Guardians’ streak of 26 straight possessions without a touchdown, finding Austin Duke when the outcome was long decided in the Gateway City.
Mangus, however, was pleased about the diversity in his quarterback room, in the sense that Perez can benefit in the pocket while Williams can provide mobility. That latter trait was on display when Williams ran for a first on a fake punt during the Guardians’ first loss in DC.
“It’s a good room. They’re great guys, football heads, they want to learn,” Magnus said. “We’ve got to have more production, play better when we have chances. We’re missing on too many chances. Our decision making hasn’t been what I’ve liked. But they know it, everybody watches film. We’ve got to get it corrected and make decisions.”
The Guardians (+8 on DraftKings Sportsbook) are coming into the game as huge underdogs. An injured quarterback, a two-game losing streak, and an opponent fresh off of monster win puts New York in a tough spot.
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Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags