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XFL Week 5 Preview: Will Defenders stop skid?

Three weeks ago, any discussion about the XFL hierarchy surrounded whether it was the Houston Roughnecks or D.C. Defenders who reigned supreme.

Oh how the mighty Defenders have fallen, having lost in consecutive weeks to previously winless foes, while the St. Louis BattleHawks have emerged as the new XFL East power. And the Roughnecks have continued rumbling along, improving to a perfect 5-0 and maintaining their grasp on first place in XFL West.

Along with the Defenders' demise, the XFL has taken on an anything-can-happen feel.

As the XFL's second rendition is in full swing, when Week 5's very late night cap concludes in Southern California on Sunday night, the regular season will have reached its halfway point. Currently, there are three one-win squads whose playoff hopes are dwindling. The Roughnecks are looking to continue putting the XFL East out of reach, the .500 New York Guardians and Dallas Renegades are vying to stay alive in the postseason hunt and, in what is likely the game of the weekend, the BattleHawks will have first place on the line against the reeling Defenders.

Here's a game-by-game look at the upcoming Week 5 XFL slate:

St. Louis BattleHawks (3-1) at D.C. Defenders (2-2), 3 p.m. ET, Sunday, FS1

How the mighty Defenders have fallen and the BattleHawks have risen. As the XFL 2.0's season hits its midway point, D.C. hosts St. Louis in a rematch from the teams' season opener with first place in the XFL East at stake. Perhaps more important at this juncture is the Defenders are looking to stop a two-game freefall against a BattleHawks squad they defeated, 28-24, in Week 2.

St. Louis quarterback Jordan Ta'amu continues to impress and is the reigning league star of the week after tallying a passing touchdown and 264 yards on a 20-for-27 day in his team's 23-16 win over the Dragons a week ago. Dual threat that he is, Ta'amu also rushed for 63 yards on 16 carries -- both team highs. On the season, Ta'amu's 876 yards through the air are second in the XFL and his 186 yards rushing are fifth. He's been the catalyst as the BattleHawks have won two straight since their only defeat and moved to the top of the division.

It's been just the opposite for the Defenders, who've gone from 2-0 to losing two straight by a combined 64-9 score and are coming off a shutout loss to the Vipers in which the offense mustered just 107 yards of offense. Quarterback Cardale Jones went from an early MVP candidate to a constant state of struggle. After a turnover-filled day in the first loss to Los Angeles, he was a woeful 9-of-22 for 72 yards, an interception and a 30.9 quarterback rating. He's still QB1 on the team's depth chart, but giving strong-armed youngster Tyree Jackson a shot at quarterback might be in the future as the Defenders look to keep playoff hope alive.

Tampa Bay Vipers (1-3) at L.A. Wildcats (1-3), 9 p.m. ET, Sunday, ESPN

After sputtering through the initial two weeks of the season, the Wildcats turned the XFL on its ear when they earned their first win by way of upsetting the Defenders in dominant fashion. A week later, the Vipers did the same thing to less fanfare while the Wildcats' momentum ended in a flat loss to the previously lifeless Guardians. Now, late on Sunday these two teams will face off with two combined wins and the loser likely to have any fleeting postseason hopes totally expunged.

Talent-wise, the Wildcats are better than their record. However, often times their failure to execute when needed most has been infuriating this season. A prime example was their Week 4 defeat to the Guardians. L.A. outgained New York by 100 yards and lost. The Wildcats were a dismal two for 12 on third down and rushed for nary 40 yards as quarterback Josh Johnson threw for 330 and a pair of touchdowns, but a win wasn't to be had. Also overlooked in the loss was a stellar 14-tackle day by safety Ahmad Dixon. The individual talent is still in L.A., but the wins continue to elude the Wildcats.

Once the last team to score an offensive touchdown in the XFL, a revitalized Tampa Bay offense rattled off three scores in a 25-0 win over the Defenders. New starting QB Taylor Cornelius had a stellar day with 211 yards and a touchdown passing as he completed 77 percent of his passes and added a score on the ground. Just as impressive if not more so was the running attack of De'Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick, who ran for 122 and 108 yards, respectively to become the first duo to eclipse 100 yards rushing in an XFL game. However, not all is well following Tampa's first win, as quarterback/running back Quinton Flowers, who missed Week 4 due to personal reasons, has come back to the team and requested a trade, per XFL.com. So, are the Vipers trending up or still down? Was this another week of the Defenders freefalling or a revamped and suddenly impressive Vipers squad? It's hard not to lean toward the former, but the Vipers have found their starting quarterback in Cornelius and in the suddenly anything-can-happen XFL, perhaps these Vipers have bite left.

Games played Saturday

Seattle Dragons (1-3) at Houston Roughnecks (4-0), 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, ABC

Led by the dynamic duo that is quarterback P.J. Walker and receiver Cam Phillips, the high-flying Houston offense is the class of the league thus far and has scored a league-best 126 points, but the Dragons were sparked a bit by the relief effort of backup quarterback B.J. Daniels and boast perhaps the league's top defensive player in linebacker Steven Johnson. Still, the Roughnecks are rolling and the Dragons are reeling.

Johnson leads the XFL with 40 tackles and Daniels turned in 100 yards and a score through the air and a game-high 84 yards on the ground in his team's 23-16 defeat to the BattleHawks last week. There's hope, but the Dragons' misfortunes have seen them also go 0-2 on the road and obviously the undefeated Roughnecks have yet to lose at home.

As Houston continues to put up victories, the most thrilling competition might well be between Walker and Phillips for an early MVP lead. Phillips' seven receiving touchdowns and 333 yards are XFL bests and so too are Walker's 12 scores through the air and 987 yards. The Roughnecks are also tops in the league with 31.5 points per game, but a closer look reveals Houston's success might well be dictated most by taking care of the ball. Better than any other XFL squad, the Roughnecks have a plus-nine turnover margin as they've had a league-low two turnovers in contrast to a league-high 11 takeaways. And the biggest takeaway has been win after win.

New York Guardians (2-2) at Dallas Renegades (2-2), 5 p.m. ET, Saturday, FOX

With second-place standings in their respective divisions, the equally mercurial Guardians and Renegades face off Saturday. While there's plenty at stake as the teams vie for postseason aspirations going forward, another interesting wrinkle to the game might well be that the best player at the game will be on the sidelines, as New Orleans Saints All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan will be doing some sideline reporting for the FOX broadcast.

Having played horrendously during a streak of two-straight losses, the Guardians bounced back last week with a 17-14 win over the Wildcats in quarterback Luis Perez' first start. Perez produced an 18-for-26 line for 150 yards and a touchdown, which is somewhat pedestrian but outstanding in comparison to previous QB play for the Guardians. His performance was bolstered by running back Darius Victor turning in 82 yards, which was a season-high for an N.Y. runner. However, perhaps most notable was that the Guardians defense had three sacks, with two from defensive end Jarrell Owens. In the team's two wins, it's totaled eight sacks. The Guardians' two losses have produced just two sacks.

Dallas must rebound from a loss last week to the Roughnecks in which they also lost starting quarterback Landry Jones for likely two weeks, per the team website, with a knee injury. Philip Nelson will start as he did the season opener. But bottom line is the Renegades were 2-0 with Jones as a starter before last week's loss in which he was hobbled. Dallas was within striking distance in a 27-20 defeat to the top team in the league in the Roughnecks, but five turnovers told the tale of a losing effort. With a backup quarterback against a formidable pass rush, protecting the ball is key.

Also key in the showdown is that the Renegades are at home, where they've yet to win. However, the Guardians are 0-2 on the road. Something changes on Saturday.

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