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St. Louis Battlehawks vs. D.C. Defenders Preview: Dual Between Two of League's Top Quarterbacks

The 3-1 St. Louis Battlehawks are taking flight again this week, taking on the 2-2 D.C. Defenders at Audi Field Sunday at 11 a.m. The Battlehawks are coming off of a controlling win over the Memphis Showboats, their third straight. The Defenders lost in the final seconds to the Birmingham Stallions last week after Ahmid Ramez knocked through a game-winning 46-yard field goal.


The Battlehawks have only improved with each game. They currently lead the league in points scored with 106 and allowed the fourth-lowest points with 83. Quarterback A.J. McCarron leads the league with eight touchdowns and is second in passing yards with 838. Jacob Saylors leads the league with 172 rushing yards. Both Marcell Ateman and Hakeem Butler are in the top 10 for receiving yards.


Last week against Memphis, the Battlehawks’ offense showed that they can be especially dangerous when running with a quicker pace. Although McCarron is 33 and not the fastest, he can create plays out of the pocket. 


The St. Louis defense had its best performance of the season last week, allowing only 127 total yards. The secondary has been the better part of the defense, allowing the lowest number of passing yards in the league. Veteran defensive back Lavert Hill, a returning starter for St. Louis, has been a standout for the Battlehawks again this season after being selected to the All-XFL team in 2023.


The St. Louis defense will face off against one of the top quarterbacks in the UFL this Saturday in Jordan Ta’amu, a familiar face for Battlehawks fans. Ta’amu was a standout for the Battlehawks during the 2020 XFL season and was the 2023 XFL Offensive Player of the Year for the Defenders. Ta’amu currently has the third-most passing yards in the league with 787 and the second-most touchdowns with six.


Ta’amu’s favorite target so far this season has been NFL veteran Kelvin Harmon. The 6-foot-2 receiver played for the Washington Commanders from 2019-’21 and has 200 receiving yards so far this season. Last week, Harmon gained 93 yards on five receptions. The Defenders wide receiving corps also includes former Houston Texan Keke Coutee.


The Defenders backfield is still a work in progress after the XFL’s leading rusher in 2023, Abram Smith, suffered a season-ending injury in training camp. The team signed former South Carolina Gamecock Zaquandre White late into training camp, and White’s first game was active last week. He split carries with starter Cam’Ron Harris. 


While the Defenders’ offense has shown promise, the defense has had its fair share of struggles. D.C. has allowed the most passing yards in the league, 952, and the second-most rushing yards, 380. 


Longtime NFL coordinator Gregg Williams coordinates the Defenders defense — the one relentlessly memed for his all-out blitz call in a hail-mary situation against the Raiders in 2020. 


Ironically for Williams, the key for the Defenders' defense will be to put pressure on A.J. McCaronn to prevent St. Louis from finding the same flow they did last week. Linebacker Derick Robertson, whose three sacks are currently the fourth most in the league, will be a big factor in that pressure.


The Battlehawks are currently listed as three-point favorites on DraftKings. The Defenders have kept it close for most of the season, with their last three games each being decided by five or less points. With only 10 games in a season and only two playoff spots per division, every division game in the UFL is important. Securing another win at the midway point of the season would be significant for St. Louis’ playoff chances. 


Cover Image via: Joe Puetz/XFL

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