Week 3 ELF action offers both fireworks and duds on July 4th weekend

Three weeks in and the European League of Football is beginning to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

On what was a holiday weekend across the Atlantic, there were some fireworks in the ELF as well, but also a few duds. From a Saturday blowout to a water-soaked defensive upset, a star-making outing in Berlin to a down-to-the wire shootout in Leipzig, there was a little of everything on offer.

Here are my takeaways from every Week 3 game.

Game 1 – Hamburg Sea Devils 32 – Barcelona Dragons 14

Photo: Michael Freitag

One of the highlights of the ELF’s opening weekend was that each team looked competitive, but now the cracks have begun to show.

Watching the Barcelona Dragons play feels like watching a Group of Five program play non-conference games against an SEC team in college football. They are a victim of their natural lack of depth, something quality coaching and a handful of top-end talents can’t quite compensate for consistently.

On Saturday, they looked tired and beat down. The defense is struggling to match up physically and their tackling form has trended downward at the same trajectory as their morale. Offensively, they succumbed to Hamburg’s overwhelming pressure, producing some massive plays with Jean Constant but unable to move consistently. The special teams effort on Justin Rogers punt return touchdown was among the worst I’ve seen. At no point did Barcelona look competitive in this contest and their Week 4 bye week couldn’t come at a better moment.

Hamburg may have emerged from the weekend as the ELF’s only unbeaten team, but I have some serious concerns before they plan the tickertape parade. While the offense looked better than they did in their uninspired debut, something still isn’t clicking for Jadrian Clark’s unit. The passing game is hit-or-miss and the fact they had to settle for four Phillip Friis Andersen field goals in a game they dominated should raise alarm bells. The ability of running back Xavier Johnson to pick up big yards has hidden some issues, but a second half concussion means his availability is not guaranteed and more physical defences won’t be so easy to exploit.

What is apparent is that head coach Ted Daisher has a truly stellar defense on his hands, one that will ensure the Sea Devils will be in every game regardless of how the offense performs. How any team will be able to slow down a crew of quarterback hunters like Kasim Edebali, Jan-Phillip Bombek, Miguel Boock, Berend Grube, Nelson Imasuen and Evans Yeboah is a mystery, particularly when Justin Rogers and Marloshawn Franklin are there to punish you on the backend.

Game 2 – Frankfurt Galaxy 22 – Wroclaw Panthers 13

Photo: Lukasz Skwiot

The Wroclaw Panthers played like Superman the last two weeks and we now know their kryptonite: rain.

The downpour that caused this game to be delayed Sunday wreaked havoc on both teams, but it proved fatal for the Panthers high-efficiency passing offense. Players were slowed, timing was off, and the ball slipped around like it had been greased. The result was four interceptions thrown by a previously perfect Lukas O’Connor, handing Frankfurt a victory despite the fact the Polish squad produced 336 yards of offense to the Galaxy’s 183.

While O’Connor was uncharacteristically off with his delivery, the Frankfurt secondary deserves full credit for capitalizing. Neither of Omari Williams two interceptions were handed to him, Benjamin Barnes showed dynamic speed on his return and Sebastien Gauthier’s pick six proved pivotal. All contributed to giving Jakeb Sullivan solid enough field position that he could overcome the elements.

While this game was the least exciting of the week, it also showcased an emerging problem in the ELF that the league will need to consider addressing this offseason. The selling point of the league is the professional nature of its broadcasts, something the league has delivered on in full. Crisp video quality and multiple camera angles make for a tremendous product, but they also expose every flaw in the game.

Unlike most European livestreams, where forming an opinion on a tough call usually involves squinting and shrugging, missed calls in the ELF are placed center stage because the viewer can actually see the play better than the referees. That’s been on display countless times over the last three weeks, with players running for scores after clearly stepping out of bounds and fumbles popping loose when knees are clearly down, but two plays Sunday stood out.

On one, Joshua Poznanski deftly avoided touching a Wroclaw punt only to have it ruled a fumble. On the other, Daniel Josiah recovered a muffed punt from William Lloyd for a touchdown, only to be ruled down. The missed calls were understandable from the officials, but extremely frustrating for viewers who could clearly see the errors on potentially game-changing plays.

If the ELF is going to continue with professional caliber broadcasts, the implementation of some form of review system needs to be considered for their second season, lest some fans go bald from pulling out their hair.

Game 3 – Berlin Thunder 40 – Stuttgart Surge 19

If we have learned anything about the ELF over the last few weeks, its that success in this league will be driven by the game-breaking, home-run hitters on your team. If you were to boil this matchup down to one deciding factor, it would be that the Thunder had two such players and the Surge possess none.

Berlin is still developing offensive consistency, but you can make a few mistakes with weapons like these. Seantarrius Jones was the MVP of the Week, hauling in nine passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns, while adding three two-point conversions, and I’d argue he wasn’t even his team’s most dynamic offensive performer. That was running back Jocques Crawford, who rumbled for 227 yards and a pair of scores on 17 carries. They were star-making performances and impossible for Stuttgart to overcome.

By contrast, the Surge have no X-factor weapon they can turn to when the going gets tough, something every other team in the league, including the winless Dragons, has. David Meza is a talented import tight end, but not a game-breaker, and their national talent is all solid, rather than spectacular.

You could argue that through the first two weeks, quarterback Jacob Wright’s ability to take off and run could have been that element, but with him now banned from the league, that is gone. New pivot Aaron Ellis stepped in admirably on just a few days practice and threw a touchdown on his very first pass, keeping his team in it until the final quarter, but it wasn’t enough.

Stuttgart appears to be the second ELF team in serious trouble of staying a basement dweller. If they have any hope of vying for a playoff spot, it will require heroics from Ellis and some defensive magic.

Game 4 – Cologne Centurions 48 – Leipzig Kings 47

Photo: Frederik Löwer


The Leipzig Kings finally delivered on all their offensive promise Sunday and still couldn’t do enough to get past Madre London.

Statistically, it was probably the Cologne running back’s worst game of the season so far, a truly ridiculous statement given how he put up three touchdowns and basically moved the chains at will. The offensive line continued to be excellent and the most pressing question of the remaining seven games is whether or not any team has a formula for stopping the Centurions‘ rushing attack.

More so than Cologne won this game however, Leipzig lost it. Playing without starting quarterback Michael Birdsong, they hit their offensive stride with dual-threat Jaleel Awini under center, adding a rushing presence that had been missing. Anthony Dable-Wolf looked like an NFL player again, Raymond Sobowale was had two scores, Timothy Knuettel continued to be a big play threat and Alpha Jalloh appear to be good for a touchdown on every touch. Yet all that wasn’t enough to cover for the persistent defensive lapses.

Sure, the offense made mistakes too. A pair of Awini turnovers in the redzone early in the game were costly, but we’ll allow the backup some grace. He made up for it with points while the defense struggled to make stops. Even if we excuse London’s yardage and grant that no one in the league has slowed him, Quinten Pounds still got in behind busted coverage for a score and tight end Florian Eichorn’s long game-deciding touchdown shouldn’t have occurred. Leipzig, which possesses the talent of a playoff team, is now in a hole that may prove insurmountable if the defense can’t right itself.

In the end, they still could have won, but a struggling Marcel Ulbrich shanked the potential winning field goal. The kicking game is vitally important to the ELF and the Kings are among the teams without an effective one. I doubt it will be the last time it determines an outcome this season.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.