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Coaching Tendencies for All 8 XFL Teams (2020)

by February 7, 2020

The XFL has built eight teams with coaches of varying degrees of experience. We have some guys who are first-time head coaches, and some who are two-time Super Bowl Champions. While experience is a key factor to consider, play-calling tendencies are a universal way of analyzing all coaches on an even playing field and seeing where we may be able to identify trends and key player usage information that will build the bones of what their offenses may look like.

For this research, I have pulled historical data from head coaches and offensive coordinators in the league to try and get a feel for how their past teams may reflect their current teams in the XFL. Some key things to remember about this league though are that it is built to be extremely friendly towards passing offenses. We have rules such as one foot in bounds qualifies for a catch (similar to college) and one of the most popular new rules, the double-forward pass. This is where the player under center may make a forward pass to a target who is behind the line of scrimmage, and that player may then make another pass to a player beyond the line of scrimmage. With all of these new rules in place, the general expectancy is that we see an average 65%-35% pass-rush ratio in the league.

So, let’s take a quick look at the strongest coaching trends in the league by team.

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Tampa Bay Vipers

The Vipers are led by head coach Marc Trestman who brings 39 years of coaching experience to the team. For Trestman, the most recent experience I used to analyze his usage was two seasons as the head coach for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL between 2017-2018, one season as the OC for the Ravens in 2015, and two seasons as the head coach of the Bears from 2013-2014.

Trestman is the perfect coach for this league, really, and his experience not just in the NFL but in the CFL as well gives us a broad sample to view. Some have compared the expectations of the passing game in the XFL to that of the CFL, which is very pass-heavy. Trestman averaged a 64.4% pass to 35.6% run ratio which fits perfectly in the expected margin of the XFL.

The strongest trend Trestman brings to this league is his usage of the running back in the passing game. Over this five-year sample, Trestman’s RBs accounted for 27.8% of their team’s receiving market share on average which was the most of any team in the league by about 5%. On the other side of that for the Vipers RBs, Trestman’s teams ran the ball only 21.4 times per game on average and scored .7 rushing TDs per game which were both the lowest marks of any coach in the XFL.

This team is built very much like the Bears teams that Trestman coached in the past with guys like Reece Horn and Seantavius Jones playing the roles that Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery filled as aggressive, big-bodied receivers. Nick Truesdell will play the Martellus Bennett role as an elite pass-catching tight end, and identifying which RB will be used in the passing game to fill the Matt Forte role will be key. De’Veon Smith looks like that man for now and he would stand to benefit the most if Trestman’s strong trend of utilizing his RBs in the passing game heavily continues, but we can’t expect a very potent rushing attack here.

New York Guardians

The Guardians are led by two-time Super Bowl Champ Kevin Gilbride as their head coach. New York sports fans are all too familiar with Gilbride from his days as the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants in their most recent glory days. For Gilbride, we will be using samples from his last three seasons with the team between 2011-2013 to get a feel for how the Guardians may be run.

There really isn’t a trend with Gilbride’s offenses that stands out from the rest except that his teams were really well balanced and average in pretty much every way. They sat right about at a 60%-40% pass-rush ratio and averaged 23.3 points for while allowing 23.5 points against.

This team has dealt with some bad luck early as they lost DeAngelo Yancey and Tanner Gentry, two of their top receivers, to injury early in camp. Yancey was the team’s first-round pick in the XFL Draft while Gentry was selected in the third round. This could skew his team to a more run-heavy approach from the get-go until these guys get back on the field.

Something Gilbride has with this team that was similar to his teams in the past is a couple of running backs who are built to run through brick walls. Both Tim Cook and Darius Victor could fight for early-down work while former AAF standout Mekale McKay will serve as the top wideout. Gilbride’s WRs accounted for 72.4% of their team’s receiving TDs which could put McKay in a really solid role until reinforcements arrive.

Seattle Dragons

The Dragons have been one of the more intriguing, yet, mysterious teams to analyze based on the way that they’re built. They’re led by former Seahawks QB Jim Zorn who was also the head coach of the Redskins between 2008-2009 and OC Mike Riley. For Riley, we are using his time as the head coach for Nebraska between 2015-2017 for the sample, though it is also worth noting that he was also a head coach for the San Antonio Commanders in the AAF last spring.

Zorn’s Redskins were really poor teams who only averaged 16.6 points for during his two-year stint there. One of the stronger trends we see with these coaches combined is that their pass-rush ratio isn’t really too close to what we are anticipating on seeing in this league. Together, their teams averaged a 53.8% pass to 46.2% run ratio. This usage was fairly consistent with Zorn’s two seasons with the ‘Skins while Riley’s usage was a little bit more sporadic. He had one season with more of a 60/40 split then followed that up with a season that saw a 44/56 split. He also had a 53/47 split with the Commanders last season.

These signs all point towards Seattle being one of the more run-heavy units in the league, and they’re built for it with a pair of former AAF Commanders in the backfield with Kenneth Farrow and Trey Williams. They are accompanied by another AAF league mate in Ja’Quan Gardner who is basically a carbon copy of Maurice Jones-Drew. I’m anticipating some lower scores here with this team early making under bets intriguing depending on what kind of totals we see for Week 1. They’re currently +7.5 underdogs heading into Week 1 against DC which makes them an intriguing bet to cover given how little we know about all these teams really.

St. Louis BattleHawks

The Battlehawks are a tough team to analyze heading into the season. They’re led by first-time head coach Jonathan Hayes who hasn’t really held a role where we could identify offensive trends tied to him. He also lost his original offensive coordinator, Doug Meacham, in training camp who was then replaced by the team’s QB coach, Chuck Long. So, for this sample, we are going to pull some of the experience Long brings to the table from two years as the OC at Kansas between 2010-2011 and two years as the head coach of SDSU between 2007-2008.

The findings were not good. Long’s teams averaged a point differential of -16.6 over that span, meaning they lost by an average of 16.6 points per game. Other trends that stand out were that his teams didn’t average above 3.5 yards per carry on the ground in any of the four seasons in this sample. His teams wound up averaging almost exactly a 50/50 pass-run ratio but the passing game saw its usage slip all the way down to 35.7% in his last season at Kansas with the team running the ball 64.3% of the time.

St. Louis is now home to former NFL running back Christine Michael and if he has any juice left in his legs, this could be an offense that also resorts to being a more run-heavy unit.

Los Angeles Wildcats

Next up we will look at the Wildcats and longtime offensive coordinator and head coach, Norm Chow. We have the ability to diversify our sample a little here given Chow’s experiences, so we are going to look at two years between 2013-2014 where he was the head coach at Hawaii, two years between 2009-2010 where he was the OC for UCLA, and two years between 2006-2007 where he was the OC for the Tennessee Titans.

I know we talk about this being such a pass-heavy league in theory, but there sure are a lot of coaches with more run-oriented offenses in the past. Chow’s teams averaged a 47.9% pass to 52.1% run ratio over this period with no team passing more than 54% of the time. A strong trend though with the passing usage in Chow’s past is that his WR1 and WR2 frequently saw almost identical market shares of their team’s receptions. Here is a breakdown of how that looked by team:

  • Hawaii 2014: WR1 – 25.5%, WR2 – 24.2%
  • Hawaii 2013: WR1 – 19.9%, WR2 – 18.9%
  • UCLA 2010: WR1 – 19.8%, WR2 – 17.9%
  • UCLA 2009: WR1 – 18.4%, WR2 – 17.2%
  • Titans 2007: WR1 – 20.2%, WR2 – 18.5%
  • Titans 2006: WR1 – 22.4%, WR2 – 13.3%

The 2006 Titans team was the only season that didn’t fit this trend but it was otherwise strong across different teams in different leagues at different periods of his career. Look for this team to spread it out a bit with their top receivers operating as more of a 1A and 1B as opposed to more defined roles as WR1 and WR2.

Houston Roughnecks

For Houston, the trends here are easy to know without having to even do very much digging as they’re run by longtime head coach, June Jones. He utilizes the run and shoot offense which consists of no tight end and features the WRs excessively. For this sample, we will use his 2018 season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL and three seasons at SMU between 2011-2013.

During this span, Jones’s wideouts caught an incredible 84-of-85 receiving TDs. So we’re not talking above average WR usage, we are talking essentially exclusive usage of WRs. His WR1 averaged 26.6% of his team’s receiving market share while his WR2 saw 24.2%. To put that into perspective, his WR2 saw a higher receiving market share than any other team’s WR1 with the exception of Dallas whose WR1 came in at 26%. So you basically get the production of two WR1s in Houston on an offense that will easily hit or exceed the projected 65/35 pass-rush split.

Dallas Renegades

We’ll keep it in Texas with this next one where we are going to see some common trends from their new interstate rivals. Dallas is led by the most prolific coaching duo in the league with former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and Air Raid Offense Godfather and OC Hal Mumme. For Stoops, we will be using his 2014-2016 seasons at Oklahoma for a sample and for Mumme we are looking at his 2013 season as the OC at SMU and his 2007-2008 seasons as the head coach of New Mexico State University.

The strongest trend that these two bring to the league is that they just ran the most potent offenses in general. They combined to average 2.3 passing TDs per game and 1.7 rushing TDs per game which are both the highest marks in the league. The 2015-2016 teams Stoops had both averaged 43 points per game which inflates their average slightly as the teams Mumme ran in all three of the seasons in this sample had negative point differentials. Even still, the team’s Mumme ran still managed to average two passing TDs per game.

If Dallas can get Landry Jones back healthy as soon as Week 1, which is their hope at the moment, they could easily boast the strongest all-around offense in the league.

DC Defenders

Lastly, we will head to our nation’s capital and take a look at the offense that head coach Pep Hamilton is bringing to the XFL. With Pep Hamilton, we will be focusing on the two seasons that he spent as the assistant head coach for Michigan between 2017-2018 and the two seasons that he spent as the OC for the Colts between 2013-2014.

Hamilton has been a part of some successful teams as evidenced by his positive 7.8 point differential, which is the highest in the league amongst coaches during this research. One of the strongest trends in looking at Hamilton’s player usage was his tight ends averaged 33.2% of their team’s receiving TDs which is the highest mark in the league. His tight ends also saw a 15.1% market share of their team’s receptions which is the most in the league as well. Some may think this is just because of his time with the Colts, but even at Michigan, his TEs saw 55.6% of the team’s receiving TDs in 2017 alone.

The top pass-catching option at tight end right now for DC is likely Khari Lee who hails from small-school, Bowie State where he managed 95 catches,1,095 yards, and four TDs in 30 games. While his TD numbers aren’t prolific, something else that stands out with the way this offense is built. None of the WRs on this roster had very high TD numbers in college either. Of the seven WRs rostered, four of them had less than 10 receiving TDs in college and none of them had more than 18. They do have Eli Rogers and Rashad Ross who bring a decent amount of NFL experience and the ability to create yards after the catch, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a tight end emerge as a top option here as well.

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John Ferguson is a featured writer at BettingPros and covers XFL DFS at Establish the Run. For more from John, follow him on Twitter @FantasyFerguson.