QB: C+: Taylor Cornelius looked a bit more comfortable running the offense than the previous week filling in again for Aaron Murray. There were still too many miscommunications with receivers, including his interception late in the fourth, that stalled drives. After starting the game and playing the first two drives, Quinton Flowers came in for the rest of the half, save for the last drive of the first half. Cornelius marched the team down the field for a score at that point, then played the rest of the second half. He showed good rapport with Reece Horn throughout the game. Cornelius found some rhythm in the 2nd half but again the Vipers came up empty on the goal line at the end of the game. The decision to not go with Flowers at that point is questionable at best. It was announced today that Flowers has taken personal leave from the team and Cornelius will get the start again this weekend.
RB: C: De’Veon Smith’s best play may have been a downfield catch in which he held onto the ball despite taking a big hit. He made two catches but had a 3rd down drop as well. In the run game, Smith averaged just 3.3 yards per carry; he has a way of falling forward and twisting for extra yardage after contact. After out-touching Smith last week, Jacques Patrick had just 10 carries for 18 yards and two catches for 11 yards. They are currently the only two backs on the roster with the release of Mack Brown earlier in the week. Colin Thompson only played one snap at fullback this week.
WR/TE: C: The receivers had at least four drops on the afternoon; that has to be remedied if Tampa is going to be able to perform consistently on offense. Jalen Tolliver was targeted 13 times and had eight catches for 104 yards, but dropped two balls as well. He converted a 3rd-and-6 from Flowers and then a 4th-and-4 in the third quarter. Dan Williams used his physicality to break tackles and score the first receiving touchdown in team history. Getting more playing time in place of the injured Nick Truesdell, DeAndre Goolsby had a catch over the middle for 24 yards just before the half. He also had a drop and a holding penalty on a run that gained a first down.
OL: B-: The starting five performed better than the previous week, allowing just two sacks and four tackles for loss. It’s especially impressive when you consider the Roughnecks were sending at least five rushers on nearly every play. The weak link seemed to be right tackle Isaiah Williams. Williams gave up a sack and a pressure that led to a 3rd down incompletion on the first drive. He also committed a holding penalty on the second drive. The run game was not as effective as previous weeks, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. Sixty-two of the 129 yards gained on the ground were via quarterback scrambles.
DL: C+: Despite Houston missing two starting offensive linemen, the Vipers once again struggled to get regular pressure on the quarterback. With P.J. Walker’s ability outside the pocket, it may have been part of the game plan this week, however, to keep him in the pocket, limiting the rush from the line. DT Josh Banks and DT Nikita Whitlock both registered pressures from the interior. DE Deiontrez Mount knocked down a pass intended for the middle of the field. Banks missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage that led to a 30-yard second quarter scamper by James Butler. He later sniffed out a screen for a tackle for loss. DE Jason Neill was injured late; he’ll cede his starting end spot to the returning Obum Gwacham this week. The group missed DT Ricky Walker, who was out with an injury.
LB: B: Terrance Plummer led the group with four tackles; he was tasked with spying Walker at times during the game. It worked, as Walker had just 34 yards rushing with 28 coming on one play. Plummer also had the only sack, two hurries and a tackle for loss. Backup Reggie Northrup played well. Lucas Wacha had three tackles and two hurries; the linebackers applied more pressure than the line. Houston called just 12 run plays, so the linebackers were either in pass coverage or mostly off the field when Tampa went to their dime defense against Houston’s five-wide attack.
DB: C: Playing against perhaps the best QB-WR tandem in the league, it was only natural that this group would struggle at times. The Vipers were attacked all over the field, and when Houston head coach June Jones sensed a player getting tired, he’d go after them even more. There were still more than a handful of quality plays made. Tarvarus McFadden played a screen well for no gain. Cam Phillips toasted Anthoula Kelly on an 84-yard TD; Kelly was then victimized on a long pass interference call on third down. Micah Hannemann led the team with seven tackles, but missed one that led to a third quarter TD. He did have a 3rd down pass break-up and almost picked a ball on the next play. The DBs also had to do a lot of tackling in the run game. DB blitzes were dialed up on Walker before the half.
ST: A-: A much better effort than last week. Rannell Hall had a good opening kickoff return, but only averaged 19.5 yards on four returns. He was hurt and subsequently placed on injured reserve. The Vipers do have others with experience returning kicks and punts who can fill in. Donteea Dye replaced him on kickoff returns after the injury. Dye also returned punts. Andrew Franks kicked two field goals, including one from 48. Jake Schum had a 67-yard punt and landed three of four kicks inside the 20, including one at the four yard-line. If Tampa can get consistency in their kicking game, it will be a huge plus. Kick coverage is still an issue. Lucas Wacha led the team with three special teams stops.
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.