QB: D: Starter Aaron Murray was out with a foot injury, though it was at times hard to tell. Backup Taylor Cornelius shared many of the same struggles Murray experienced the previous week. The rainy conditions in Seattle didn’t help. Cornelius floated a few passes, and his first interception came when he was hit on the throw. Quinton Flowers played for the first time on the third drive, taking the entire series. The Dragons appeared more prepared for Flowers and his runs than the Guardians last week. Flowers and Cornelius both took 4th down sacks during the game. A Flowers screen pass attempt was gifted right into the arms of Marcell Frazier, who gained one yard for a touchdown. Overall, Cornelius had the look of a player who hadn’t played a meaningful snap in 1 ½ years, which is exactly who he is. Flowers also didn’t look like a legitimate option to start and play the entirety of the game.
RB: A-: While the passing game struggles to get untracked, the Vipers running game has shown to be in midseason form based on the first two games. Jacques Patrick out-touched starter De’Veon Smith 15-12, and bested Smith’s per-carry average by a full yard. Smith ran well on their scoring drive just before the end of the first half. They continued to run hard, with Patrick giving out a highlight reel steamroll over DB Jordan Martin on the first play of the fourth quarter. Patrick was open for a 3rd down TD but the quarterback misfired; it may behoove the Vipers to get the backs more involved in the pass game going forward. The one mistake was a crackback block called on Smith, costing Tampa 15 yards as they were driving for a potential tie with less than a minute to go. TE Colin Thompson played three snaps at fullback.
WR/TE: B-: Opportunities down the field were missed because of quarterback play. Cornelius averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt; at times it felt the Vipers were throwing short either because they didn’t trust their QB or they didn’t trust their offensive line to pass protect. TE Nick Truesdell showed impressive physicality and balance on a short catch-and-run to get inside the red zone late in the first half. The Vipers moved him all around the formation in an effort to scheme him open and allow their first round skill phase pick to make plays. All four tight ends were active and played. Reece Horn led the team in targets and receptions. Dan Williams caught a TD pass with :04 left but was called for offensive pass interference.
OL: C-: Dragons defenders accumulated five sacks and 11 tackles for loss, showing how successful they were in penetrating the Tampa offensive line. Run blocking was again the strength, though Smith and Patrick are numbers one and three respectively in the league in yards gained after contact, showing they’re doing a lot of the work themselves. Seattle blitzed effectively, a smart play as offensive lines have had little time to gel during the truncated preseason. Goal-line blocking was an issue in the fourth quarter. Tampa’s philosophy to build the line from the inside-out during the draft hasn’t quite paid off yet.
DL: B-: Ricky Walker and Nikita Whitlock were both banged up at various times during the game as Seattle largely relied on the run. Dragons QB Brandon Silvers dropped back 20 times compared to 31 runs. Walker and Whitlock both made splash plays: Walker blew up a run early and Whitlock showed good speed to cover a running back in the flat and drop him for a loss. Given the number of runs and the ineffectiveness of the Tampa offense at times, it’s worth wondering how much getting worn down played a part in the line’s play. The ends did a lot of standing up on the edge of the line. DEs Jason Neill and Deiontrez Mount each had a QB hurry. Bobby Richardson missed a tackle in the backfield resulting in a 19-yard gain in the third quarter.
LB: C+: Terrance Plummer had four tackles and a roughing the passer penalty. Seattle didn’t target the backs out of the backfield or challenge the linebackers in coverage much at all. The Dragons were able to find more running room as the game progressed, wearing down the Vipers defense with 31 runs. In particular, there were too many cutback opportunities for the backs. Lucas Wacha had three tackles and a QB hurry. Reggie Northrup, cut during training camp but re-signed before the season began, had a tackle on defense and special teams.
DB: A: Seattle threw for just 91 yards and Brandon Silvers completed less than 50% of his passes, but it was just as much Silvers’ inaccuracy as it was Tampa’s sticky coverage. There were numerous receivers open that Silvers simply missed. That’s not to say the Vipers played poorly in the defensive backfield. Marcelis Branch was active early in both the run and pass game. His big error was a crown of the helmet penalty with under 2:00 left in the fourth that allowed Seattle to further bleed the clock. Defensive backs were credited with six passes defensed, including one at the goal line by Micah Hannemann in the third. Tarvarus McFadden scored Tampa’s first touchdown of the year, bringing an interception back 78 yards while in zone coverage (as noted by McFadden himself on the broadcast). Silvers’ TD pass was when a safety jumped a short route, leaving Jalen Collins to get beaten one-on-one on a throw to deep centerfield.
ST: F: This was not one for the highlight reel. Donteea Dye slipped and fell on his first punt return attempt, then had another for no gain. Andrew Franks hit a 36-yard field goal, but had a kickoff go too short, penalizing the Vipers and allowing the Dragons to start their drive at the Tampa 45 yard-line. Kickoff coverage gave up a long return for the second week in a row. Mack Brown fumbled a kickoff into the end zone and brought it out to the 10 yard-line; he was replaced by Rannell Hall on the next return and was then released a few days ago. A high snap by Nick Moore resulted in a bobble by Jake Schum, scrapping a short field goal try.
Greg Parks is a columnist for Pro Wrestling Torch (pwtorch.com). He covers the XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers for XFLBoard.com. He has written extensively about the XFL. He resides in Naples, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks.