At the risk of sounding like a broken record, says XFL Memphis Maniax coach Kippy Brown at the start of his weekly press conference, we did some really good things in the ball game. It seems like we cant make the plays we need to finish the thing out. We had some outstanding efforts from individuals, but in pro football its usually the team that makes the fewest errors who wins.
Brown cites four plays in particular that cost the Maniax (2-3, 1-3) against the still-undefeated Orlando Rage (5-0, 3-0). The first was a late hit on an Orlando 3rd-and-10 which gave the Rage a renewed drive and ultimately a touchdown. The second was blown pass coverage that resulted in an 81-yard Orlando touchdown. The third was a second-half Maniax touchdown called back because of a holding penalty. The fourth was a Rashaan Salaam fumble, his fourth in five games, which stopped a Maniax drive for another potential score.
We made some critical errors, Brown says. Its been a common problem for this talented but mistake-prone Maniax team, often displaying moments of gridiron brilliance coupled with lapses in concentration and costly mistakes.
The loss to Orlando was Memphis third straight at home and could have been a tremendous morale boost to the program, being the first team to knock off the Rage. As it stands, Memphis must face a pumped Chicago Enforcers squad fresh off its first win of the season against a good Las Vegas team.
Offensively, John Avery is their guy. As Avery goes, they go. Having drafted John in Miami, if you get the guy out in open spaces, hes dangerous," Brown says. "Hes an extremely fast and talented guy. Hes not a particularly big guy so there are opportunities to strip the ball and knock it loose from him. Thatll be a big challenge for our defense.
Avery, an Ole Miss star, is the leagues second-leading rusher with 366 yards over 5 games. The Memphis defense was ranked number one in the league against the rush until it gave up 112 yards rushing to Orlando. Compare that to the Maniax season average of 59.8 yards a game (now 70.2 yards a game) and one sees Browns interest in Avery.
On the other side of the ball, Brown says Defensively, Raymond Austin is their number 1 tackler and team captain. Raymond is having a terrific year, making a lot of tackles. They dont make many mistakes back there and make you execute. They dont give up a lot of big plays. Where a team like Las Vegas will play a lot of man coverage, a lot of one on one, these guys will play back and make you execute.
Brown understands the challenge his team faces.
Hopefully, one of these days before its too late, our guys will wise up, he says. Some way, Ive got to get these guys to stop making critical errors. If we do, well run the table. We can do that. You talk to our players, and they know it. Now, whether we can do it, I dont know.
This whole thing comes down to how we play. Ive said it for the last 5 weeks that if I was sitting here and saying, I wish we had guys who could block those guys, or I wish we had guys who could run past those guys, but thats not happening when you grade the film. Our guys are making blocks and doing things. Were not getting pushed around, but at critical times we give up big plays.
But Brown remains confident. I asked our team this morning, Is there anybody in this room who has been on a team that has won five games in a row?' Every one of those players raised their hands.
Were a talented team. Were not a good team because we make too many mistakes, but were a talented team.
There are two big personnel stories this week. The first is that the Maniax top receiver and number-two receiver in the league, Kevin Prentiss, sustained a season-ending injury during the Orlando game. The Maniax will look to re-activated receivers Keith Crawford and Damien Dodson to step up.
The second story is that Craig Whelian, Memphis third-string QB, is the first ever Maniax traded in the XFL. Memphis traded Whelian for Chicago offensive guard Isaac Davis. According to Maniax VP of football operations, Steve Ortmayer, the acquisition was something the Maniax had wanted to make for a while. We have been pursuing an eighth lineman since training camp at Las Vegas, says Ortmayer.
In addition to giving the Maniax a boost on offense line, Ortmayer says that the move was good for Whelian as well. Whelian has been very good for us, he says. As it has evolved, Druckenmiller and Crandell turned out to be our 2 guys [at quarterback]. Ortmayer says that he expects Whelian to potentially be a starter for Chicago in a couple weeks. Maniax head coach Kippy Brown says that he expects Davis to start this Saturday, against his former team. While Ortmayer wouldnt comment on the rest of the season, he said that all-purpose Maniax Beau Morgan would stand in as the third string QB this week.