Despite dropping their third game in a row to begin the XFL season, the Tampa Bay Vipers showed signs of life throughout Saturday’s 34-27 loss to the Houston Roughnecks.
For the first time all season, the overall takeaway from the Vipers was not a desperate need for adjustment. In fact, this was by far the best 60-minutes of football Tampa Bay has played to date. Perhaps if the team hadn’t run into the buzz saw that is PJ Walker and the Houston Roughnecks, they probably would’ve gotten in the win column.
4 Ups, 4 Downs is a weekly nonpartisan column that highlights positive and negative takeaways no matter the final score. In losing efforts, it’ll point out players who weren’t on their game, or areas of the game where the team wasn’t up to snuff. During wins, it’ll prop up individual performances that played a factor in the final score, and highlight focal points of the team’s success.
The Vipers scored an offensive touchdown, and then they did it twice more. Quinton Flowers scored the first offensive touchdown in Tampa Bay Vipers history with a 7-yard rush, which at the time tied the game at nine. Then Taylor Cornelius, who isn’t regarded as a “fleet of foot” quarterback, punched one up the gut with just seconds on the clock before halftime for a 1-yard QB sneak style touchdown, topped off with a 2-point PAT reception by Dan Williams. That knotted the game at 18 at the half.
The offense looked its best in the first half against Houston. They were running faster than normal, running 40 offensive plays, and it clicked and looked like the best version of the Vipers offense. Almost as if they had the momentum and mojo to knock off the early favorite for XFL Champion. I’m curious to see how the carry that offensive momentum through a week of practice before hosting the DC Defenders this week.
2: Red Zone Offense
After starting the year 0-7 in the red zone, the Vipers were officially 2 for 3 on Saturday. And to get technical, the team scored from exactly the 20-yard line which did not count towards the statistic. “In” the red zone they do say.
This can be attributed to the past two weeks, where the Vipers haven’t struggled to move the ball down the field, just struggled to finish drives and get into the end zone. Saturday put an end to those struggles with Cornelius and Flowers at quarterback, but there’s no guarantee things stay this fluid if Aaron Murray gets back under center.
3: Play Calling Duties
Head Coach Marc Trestman gave up play calling duties to Offensive Coordinator Jaime Elizondo, and the results were positive. It’s no dark-mark on Trestman, he was still heavily involved in game planning and creating the call sheet. During his post game press conference, when asked, Trestman doubled down on how the offensive planning is a team effort with himself and Elizondo.
Trestman’s idea worked out. He stepped aside in the play calling duties and it seemed to clear up some of the confusion and sloppiness the team had been experiencing in weeks one and two. The Vipers were 50% on third down and 2 for 3 on forth down. And cut down on bad interceptions, with the team’s only interception coming in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
4: The Home Crowd
Tampa showed up, even if it was a couple of minutes after kickoff. Raymond James Stadium looked very empty when the TV broadcast began and cameras were rolling, it caught the attention of football “pundits” online. And I’ll be honest, it didn’t look good for the overall numbers until the start of the second quarter.
Then during the fourth quarter when the Vipers twitter account announced the official attendance of 18,117 it was the second-highest attendance at a home opener XFL game (at the time) this season. After the weekend, it finished as the third-highest for a home opener (STL- 29,554, SEA- 29,172) and the fourth highest attendance at a game this season, (SEA in Week 3, 22,060).
1: Another Blown Coverage
There isn’t a specific person to blame for the 84-yard bomb from PJ Walker to Cam Phillips for the Roughnecks first TD of the game. There wasn’t a Viper within 15-yards of Phillips. It was a double move route, and I think the defense just took their eyes off him. At least have that be the excuse in the film room this week.
— Houston Roughnecks (@XFLRoughnecks) February 22, 2020
2: Defense, Defense, Defense
Most of the time when you score 27 points, you should be in a good position to win. The defense allowed 34 points to the league’s best offense, it happens I guess. I didn’t see as many blatant blown coverages as past weeks. The play that is the first down is the most notable.
But the main idea is that for the last two weeks, our downs have been revolving around the offensive and now seemingly they’ve transitioned to defense. The coverage downfield will have to be better if this team is going to get into the win column.
— Houston Roughnecks (@XFLRoughnecks) February 22, 2020
3: The Inevitable Backbreaker
The game had some upset vibes for quite a bit. As the Vipers were trying to contain Phillips who was on his way to a second consecutive three-touchdown game, the offense was keeping up with Houston’s high powered attack.
Until late in the fourth, the team had played turnover free football, but it almost felt like one was coming late in the game. Cornelius had to drop back and throw the ball in attempt to score on the Vipers final drive, but he threw an interception. Similar to last week against the Dragons, the Vipers lost on an interception in the fourth while driving with the chance to tie the game.
4: Big Name Inactive
On Saturday, the Vipers were without a lot of recognizable names:
- WR S.J. Green
- QB Aaron Murray
- TE Nick Truesdell
- CB Jalen Collins
- DT Ricky Walker
- LB Anthony Stubbs
The team looked the best they have all season, so you wonder how these big names will factor back in and add (or subtract) to the momentum. In my eyes, if you add more talented pass catchers you can’t lose anything. Truesdell and Green together should have an incredible impact on the Vipers passing game.
The team seemed to miss Walker as they sometimes struggled to get pressure on Houston’s QB. And while Collins hasn’t been sharp all season, if he can iron some things out he can contribute to the coverage issue.