XFL Week 4 Power Rankings

We are now 3 weeks in, and man oh man, is football crazy. One week you think you know exactly how the season is going to turn out, and the very next week, something happens that throws everything out of whack. That is what Week 3 in the XFL was, and let’s not waste any time. Let’s get to it.

8. New York Guardians (1-2) Last Week (7)
The New York Guardians are an absolute dumpster fire. Matt McGloin is becoming more and more Jay Cutler-esque as the weeks go by. Marquise Williams certainly hasn’t been any better. Luis Perez might be the answer, but even then, not great. G.A. Magnus has been atrocious. Kevin Gilbride can’t seem to control his team. It’s an absolute mess. The only bright spot has still been their defense, which by the numbers, has been pretty good. But it won’t matter if their offense can’t stay on the field and score points. This season is quickly spiraling out of control, and I don’t see it turning around. The Guardians will probably guard the no. 8 spot til season’s end.

7. Tampa Bay Vipers (0-3) Last Week (8)
BREAKING NEWS! The Vipers can actually play competitive football! Man, they gave the Roughnecks all they could handle, and had a legitimate shot at winning that game in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter. Now, this week, Marc Trestman addressed the media and noted that quarterback Quinton Flowers, who was starting to excel a little bit in this offense, would be taking an extended leave of absence. That definitely hurts some of the momentum that they built this weekend. But, I think this team still has a slight chance to make a Playoff run. They definitely have the talent, and the fight is still there. It’s just going to come down to quarterback play and coaching. I’m not sure how much I trust Marc Trestman, but if this weekend is any indication, he might be able to rally the troops and make a push. They play DC at home this weekend, and we will get to them later, but that is a winnable game. So we shall see if they can continue to keep that momentum they had. For now though, they sit at no. 7.

6. Seattle Dragons (1-2) Last Week (6)
The Dragons are who we thought they were. Solid defense. Offense has its moments. Good coaching. But they just aren’t quite good enough to compete in the loaded West. Keenan Reynolds and Austin Proehl are very productive. Kenneth Farrow is dynamic. Their defense makes stops, and causes turnovers. The problem is, they can’t always capitalize on those turnovers, because Brandon Silvers just isn’t that dude. He’s a good quarterback. He makes some good throws. He makes some timely throws. But when the moment is calling him, he just can’t seem to deliver. They had a shot, late in the game against Dallas, to get back in it, and Silvers just could not come through. I don’t know if BJ Daniels is the answer, but I don’t think it would hurt to try. For now, Seattle sits at no. 6.

5. Los Angeles Wildcats (1-2) Last Week (5)
Wow! The Wildcats showed up Sunday night. They were unstoppable! They looked like the best team in the league. I want everybody to take caution a little bit. First, I called this. I said, once Josh Johnson gets acclimated to this offense, they will be right there in the hunt for the top of the West. Well, I told you so. Josh Johnson was incredible. Martez Carter was sensational. But it was the coming out party of Tre McBride that really put this team in the hunt. We already knew about Nelson Spruce, who is reportedly injured, but hopefully not anything too serious. But it was the emergence of a second deep threat that now makes this team scary. And let’s not forget about the most impressive part of LA that night, their defense. Which caused the Defenders to turn the ball over 4 times in the game. They really dominated in all phases. BUT, the reason I said be cautious, is because this game was somewhat, I think, of an anomaly. They had a lot of short fields, and the DC Defenders just looked completely out of sorts. I want to see a more consistent performance from these guys before I totally buy in. So until then, I will still sit them at no. 5. But I do think this team has the capability to potentially win the West this season, because they can be that good.

4. DC Defenders (2-1) Last Week (2)
Sunday night is one to forget about if you’re the DC Defenders. They looked AWFUL against the Wildcats this weekend. Cardale Jones was just bad, no other way to slice it. Pep Hamilton didn’t have any answers for Winston Moss’ defense. The running game continues to struggle. And their defense was exposed. Now, I do think this game was somewhat of an anomaly. I don’t believe Cardale Jones is going to be this bad every single week. I think Pep Hamilton is a great coach who will make adjustments. But, I do have to say, I think the Defenders clear weaknesses were really masked the first two weeks getting to play Seattle and New York at home. Look, the Defenders are still a Top 4 team I believe. But, they are not as elite as we thought they were. And I think there is a strong possibility, that if they make it to the Playoffs, which I still believe they will, it will be on the road against a St. Louis team that might be better than them. DC sits at no. 4 for now.

3. Dallas Renegades (2-1) Last Week (4)
Man does this team take a while to get going. But once they do, they dominate and demoralize you. And they use their running game to do it. Cameron Artis-Payne might be…..scratch that, IS the best running back in the XFL. Matt Jones is a close second, but what Artis-Payne is doing is phenomenal. He is wearing down defenses, and they just haven’t been able to slow him down. Landry Jones is getting more and more comfortable each week, and this offense has a nice balance to it. But we have to talk about the star that is emerging in Dallas in tight end, Donald Parham. This dude is massive, but he can run downfield with the best of them. This tight end was burning defensive backs down the field Saturday night, and he is a locomotive that is getting better each week. He is quickly becoming Landry Jones’ favorite target and for good reason. This team is just hitting its stride, and they will have a big test this week with Houston coming to their house. Landry Jones has got to cut down on the turnovers, but the Dallas Renegades are for real. They sit at no. 3.

2. St. Louis BattleHawks (2-1) Last Week (3)
I absolutely love this team. Their energy. Their heart. Their passion. It’s infectious! Jonathan Hayes has this team playing great football, and it all starts with breakout star Jordan Ta’amu. Nobody expected Ta’amu to be this good, but this dude is straight up ballin’. He’s doing it with his arm. He’s doing it with his legs. His football IQ has been excellent. He really is doing it all. Pair that with a very strong running game, in fact the best overall rushing team in the XFL, and you have a recipe for success. Matt Jones and Christine Michael are dominating on the ground, and Ta’amu forces defenses to stay on their toes. But it’s this defense that takes this team to the next level. They are, without a doubt, the BEST defense in the XFL. They make stops and force turnovers, which leads to their running game keeping the opposing defense on the field for longer than they would like to be. Could you imagine, a East Conference Championship game in the Dome…. I’m starting to think that is becoming more and more of a reality as the weeks go by. The BattleHawks are the second best team in the XFL.

1. Houston Roughnecks (3-0) Last Week (1)
But they still aren’t no. 1, because that still belongs to the only undefeated team left in the XFL, the Houston Roughnecks. PJ Walker. Cam Phillips. Those names should strike fear in every team they play this season. I’m to the point, that I feel the only chance you have at beating the Roughnecks, is you are going to have to outscore them. Because you are NOT stopping the Walker and Phillips connection, the most lethal duo in the XFL. James Butler, Nick Holley, Sam Mobley, Khalil Lewis, and Sammie Coates hasn’t even got going yet. This team is LOADED! They are without a doubt, the BEST OFFENSE IN THE LEAGUE. Hands down! And it all starts with June Jones. His play calling has been nothing short of extraordinary. This Roughnecks team makes it look so easy to get into the end zone. PJ Walker is the MVP three weeks in, and Cam Phillips should be second on that list. Now, their defense is a little concerning. But as long as they can do just enough, and be opportunistic in the turnover battle, this team has got to be the favorite for the XFL Championship. The Houston Roughnecks are the best team in the XFL.

Tampa Bay Vipers positional grades vs. Houston Roughnecks (week three)

Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius

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.

Pre-Game: The Vipers matchup against the Defenders

As the Vipers welcome in the DC Defenders in week four at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium; the Defenders look to pick up win number three after they lost in the previous week against the now 1-2 LA Wildcats. 

The Defenders look for quarterback Cardale Jones to have a better game this week as he suffered his first loss of the season against LA  where he threw four interceptions and had a completion rate of fifty percent. Jones, a former Ohio State Buckeyes and 4th round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is not shy to success and looks to brush off last week’s 9-39 loss. 

The Defenders have used rushing the ball to their advantage, giving 10 different players the opportunity to execute the run play for a total of 91 rushing attempts and 376 total rushing yards this season. The Vipers will need to have a strong defense of line this week if they want to stop the run.

Going into week four of the XFL, the DC Defenders defense has been strong for the first two games as CB Elijah Campbell blocked a punt and was then recovered by LB Jonathan Celestin for DC’s first-ever touchdown. The Defenders defense also intercepted two of QB Brandon Silvers passes, giving DC the win over the Seattle Dragons 31-19 in week one. In the following week against the New York Guardians, the defense had two interceptions, one touchdown and had a forced recovered fumble in week two while not allowing New York to score. Things fell apart as the undefeated DC defense traveled to the 0-2 LA Wildcat’s Dignity Health Sports Park. The Defenders couldn’t figure things out defensively as they couldn’t stop the Wildcats QB, Josh Johnson. DC allowed 39 points in week three, coming up short in their first loss. The Defenders look to bounce back on top as they look to give the Vipers their fourth straight loss.

The Tampa Bay Vipers will need to figure out there QB situation going into week four as Aaron Murray looks to possibly play this week after being sidelined with a foot injury. The past three weeks the Vipers have failed to get there first win this season and a lot has to do with a quarterback controversy that head coach Marc Trestman seems to struggle with.

The Vipers have a strong running game with fan-favorite backup QB Quinton Flowers who is quick on his feet when he gets the opportunity to play and with running back duo Deveon Smith and Jaques Patrick, who are both top 5 in the league in total yards rushing. 

Tampa Bay is going to need to look towards their defense in order to come up on top in this week four matchup against DC. The Vipers as a team have allowed a total of 74 points against them this season. The Vipers man to man coverage has looked weak, especially after last week’s loss against the Houston Roughnecks. The Vipers failed to stop QB PJ Walker and his sidekick two time XFL Star of the Week WR Cam Phillips. The Vipers defense allowed Phillips to catch three-TD passes and have a total of 194 yards receiving.

Both teams look to bounce back after a disappointing week three loss. 

Tampa Bay gets a taste of fan favorite Quinton Flowers

XFL Tampa Bay QB Quinton Flowers #9 (Credit: XFL.com)

As #9 jogs onto the field with 3:30 left in the 1st quarter of week three’s XFL match-up of the Houston Roughnecks vs Tampa Bay Vipers, the Raymond James Stadium crowd erupted into applause. There’s no question that the Vipers fans want the ex-Miami Jackson Senior High graduate and ex-USF graduate to be taking the snaps as starting quarterback. Quinton Flowers, a 5th round pick by the Tampa Bay Vipers in the XFL Draft, has no doubt become a fan favorite. 

Quinton Flowers, a dynamic running quarterback went 4 for 6 with 51 yards passing and 29 yards rushing with 1 TD. Flowers left nothing behind as he ran a QB keeper into the Vipers endzone and slams his helmet on the ground in celebration for the first-ever rushing and offensive touchdown for the Vipers organization.

It’s hard to say if Flowers has earned the starting spot over Taylor Cornelius while Aaron Murray is sidelined with a foot injury. But has Flowers had enough snaps to prove himself yet? Tampa Bay’s fan base has let head coach Marc Trestman know how they feel, as the Florida native is sidelined for most of the second half of the game. Its no question that Tampa wants Flowers in at QB and Trestman out as a head coach.

The Vipers managed to consistently score more with the quarterback rotation but Trestman stuck with Cornelius and the Vipers managed to come up short 34-27 in the home opener in front of 18,117 fans against the Houston Roughnecks.

We look to see what the Vipers head coach Marc Trestman does next week as they invite the DC Defenders to Raymond James Stadium next week on March 1.

Houston Roughnecks Survive in Tampa Bay

Houston QB PJ Walker led the Roughnecks to a win over the Vipers. (Credit XFL.com)

In a close game, the Houston Roughnecks escaped Tampa Bay with a 34-27 win over the Vipers in what was not only a competitive game, but an exciting one that came down to the wire. The Roughnecks came in with a perfect record of 2-0, and they left with a perfect record of 3-0, but it was not easy. They played a desperate Tampa Bay team that was looking for its first win of the season, and the Vipers showed a fight and heart that their hometown fans desperately wanted from them all season.

Once again this week, it was the PJ Walker/Cam Phillips show. The duo connected on three touchdowns for the second week in a row, and they further cemented the fact that they are without a doubt, the most unstoppable force in the XFL. PJ Walker was outstanding with 306 yards through the air, 34 yards on the ground, 3 touchdowns through the air, and one crazy touchdown run that came on a fumbled snap. His pocket presence remains excellent and he still does an excellent job of keeping his eyes down field. That was displayed beautifully on Walker and Phillips’ 84-yard touchdown connection, in which Walker escaped the pocket, got crushed by two defenders, and threw a perfect pass to Phillips, who then turned on the gas and did the rest. Their chemistry is what has separated the Roughnecks offense from the rest of the league, and I don’t see any defense in the XFL that can slow them down.

But it wasn’t just the passing game this week. Oh no. The Roughnecks ran the ball very effectively. James Butler was excellent, with 72 yards on just 7 attempts, and he pulled off some big time runs, especially late in the game. PJ Walker also added to the running game with some timely runs, for a very balanced offense this week. Look, we all know, the Roughnecks bread and butter is the “Run and Shoot” high flying passing game. But, if June Jones can find success with the running game as well, this offense will be impossible to stop.

But, we have to talk about the most worrying part of the team. The defense. As I have said every week, this defense is good enough to win a Championship, because the offense is going to score a lot of points. However, good enough does not mean great. Because a great defense, they are not. They are opportunistic, which once again helped with Gates sealing the win with a interception in the closing minute. But just like the Wildcats and Battlehawks before them, the Vipers were able to move the ball regularly against this defense, and it might become a problem as the season progresses. Again, because this offense is so great, it’s not that big of a problem, but once you get into the playoffs, and play the elite of the elite, it might be the thing that breaks this Roughnecks team. They can get to the quarterback, that’s for sure, but if they don’t, they can be exposed. Hopefully, they can clean that up as they continue the season, because it’s the only thing that is potentially holding them back.

All in all, the Roughnecks are likely the best team in the XFL, and until somebody shows that they can slow down PJ Walker and Cam Phillips, fans should take the Roughnecks against anybody. Houston, you are still undefeated.

Offense finds endzone but defense falters in Vipers loss to Roughnecks

Quinton Flowers was one of two quarterbacks the Vipers used in their bid to beat the Roughnecks. (Credit: XFL.com)

It took the Tampa Bay Vipers 140 minutes and 49 seconds of the new XFL season to finally score their first offensive touchdown. It took just nine minutes and 11 seconds for them to score their second. Yet, it wasn’t enough to stave off the red-hot Houston Roughnecks in Tampa’s home opener.

The Vipers were downed 34-27 in front of 18,117 at Raymond James Stadium, a number that bested many analysts’ expectations. It was Quinton Flowers who scored that first offensive TD, on a seven-yard keeper. Combined with Jalen Tolliver’s one-point conversion, it put the Vipers on top 10-9 in the second quarter.

Just prior to halftime, the home offense found the end zone a second time, this time on another QB run, this time with Taylor Cornelius at the helm. Cornelius started again over the injured Aaron Murray, who is expected to return next week. Cornelius was 16-31 passing for 193 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. “I felt really good today,” said Cornelius, when asked about the added reps he took at practice this week. “Moving forward, we’re in a better spot offensively and we feel good about the game plan.”

In preparation for this game, head coach Marc Trestman ceded play calling duties to offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. “I thought if I could get out of the weeds a little bit and step back with the team, I thought that could help the team in a number of different ways,” said Trestman about the change. Through the first two games, the Vipers had largely been able to move the ball down the field, but had struggled in the red zone. The offense was more successful there on Saturday (2 for 3), but stalled on the one yard-line in the fourth quarter with a chance to come within a one-point conversion of tying the game.

A major storyline, for the second week in a row, was the QB rotation. Cornelius started and played on the first two drives. Flowers took over for drives three, four, and five. It was Cornelius who took the final drive before half, as Trestman noted on the broadcast that he liked the way Cornelius performed during the 2:00 drill before the end of the game last week.

In the second half, it was all Cornelius, despite the protestations of the home crowd. They wanted the hometown hero, Flowers, who played his college home games at Raymond James Stadium. Trestman’s decision to go with Cornelius the entirety of the final half will be debated, notably when the Vipers had it 1st-and-goal inside the five and were unable to cash in late in the game. Flowers’ versatility could’ve put the Roughnecks on their heels. “I think it’s a valid question,” said Trestman when asked about not going to Flowers in that situation. “We decided to stick with the plan and keep Taylor in there.”

Houston put the game away for good with 10:24 left in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay had two drives after that in the fourth, the one that stalled at the one yard-line, and another, their last, resulting in a Cornelius interception in Houston territory.

The game was a seesaw affair and was one of the best games in the XFL this season. The lead changed hands or the score was tied six times. Houston’s P.J. Walker, an early MVP candidate, appeared as advertised. He was 24-36 passing for 306 yards and three touchdowns. Last week’s XFL Star of the Week, WR Cam Phillips, torched Tampa’s secondary to the tune of eight receptions for 194 yards and three touchdowns.

“…(W)e’ve got a sick locker room in there, a lot of guys worked their tails off today,” said Trestman. “I know we got better this week, but it wasn’t good enough.”

The Vipers host the 2-0 (pending Sunday’s result) D.C. Defenders next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff will be at 7pm EST and will air on ESPN2.

Game Notes: Tampa’s inactive list this week was filled with injured players. QB Aaron Murray, CB Jalen Collins, DT Ricky Walker, and TE Nick Truesdell all appeared on the injury report leading up to Saturday’s game. The only two healthy inactives were LB Anthony Stubbs and WR S.J. Green, a recent acquisition from the Seattle Dragons…Tampa Bay has exceeded the 100-yard rushing mark as a team in all three games this season…A couple more firsts in team history were achieved, including first rushing touchdown (Flowers) and first passing/receiving touchdown (Cornelius to WR Dan Williams).

Tampa Bay Vipers go 0-3 as they lose to Houston Roughnecks at Home

No win bonus money for Viper players as of yet, and the Vipers may have cause for concern. Today, they lost at home 34-27 in front of 18,117 at Ray Jay.

The Vipers finally got the offense on the board as they scored the first offensive touchdown in team history as QB Quinton Flowers scored a 7-yard keeper with 9:17 left in the second quarter. QB Taylor Cornelius recorded the first Vipers passing TD in team history when he threw a 20-yard pass to WR Dan Williams with 2:13 left in the third.

Vipers Head Coach Marc Trestman continued with his 2 QB rotation, and this week he stepped back from play calling duties allowing offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo to call the plays. No one has really spoken of why Coach Trestman gave up the play calling to Jaime except to say they both worked on the call sheet and they both put the plan together.

You would think the team has been in Tampa for years. Fans do not seem to like the two QB system and they made it known during the game. The Tampa crowd chanted for their hometown QB Quinton Flowers anytime he was not in the game. It seemed like he would be in and get some momentum going but was then swapped out for Taylor Cornelius who started the game. It would seem like the two QBs dislike the rotation as well. In the post-game presser both said the rotation is not ideal, but they will be ready when their number is called. It seems to slow any momentum the team starts to gain.

Penalties again cost the Vipers as they had 6 for 99 yards. Penalties seem to be a problem as the team is averaging 79 penalty yards a game.

The Vipers again led in total offense with 365 total yards but they were 50% on 3rd down going just 9 of 18. Starting QB Taylor Cornelius went 16 of 31 for 193 total yards with one interception and one touchdown. Jalen Tolliver was the leading receiver with 8 receptions for 104 yards and De’Veon Smith was the leading rusher going for 49 yards on 15 attempts.

Vipers fans were out in force,. There were tons of stuffed snakes and team gear throughout the crowd with many fans saying they loved the experience of coming to the game.

Next week the Vipers look to get in the win column when the DC Defenders come to town. The Defenders currently sit atop the Eastern Division at 2-0.

Vipers versus Roughnecks Photo Gallery

Photos by Mark Zelakowski

COLUMN: Vipers in a Must Win…er…M*st W*n situation on Saturday against the Roughnecks

Vipers look to get their first XFL win at their home opener at Raymond James Stadium this weekend.
Vipers look to get their first XFL win at their home opener at Raymond James Stadium this weekend. (Credit: XFL.com)

Week three of the ten-game XFL season seems awfully early to deem a game “must win.” So I’m not going to call this weekend’s Tampa Bay Vipers game against the Houston Roughnecks that.
I’ll call it a M*st W*n.

Because really, that’s where we are. A win to keep themselves in the playoff hunt in the Eastern Division and, perhaps, a win to keep the team from mutiny.

Tampa will have home-field advantage for the first time this season, joining the St. Louis BattleHawks as the two teams that have had to wait the longest for the first game on their own turf. We’ll see how many turn out to help motivate the Vipers.

Despite being 0-2, Tampa’s peripheral numbers look good. Their defense has had its moments, and the offense has moved the ball well despite the low scoring output. Cleaning up the red zone woes would cure a lot of their ills.

Other than that, just two weeks into the season, the team doesn’t have much going for it. Starting quarterback Aaron Murray will miss his second straight game due to injury. But he’s not the only walking wounded as six other starters have either sat out practice or been limited participants due to injury this week.

Neither Taylor Cornelius nor Quinton Flowers engendered much confidence at the QB position in Murray’s stead last Saturday. Can they find some consistency this week against the Roughnecks, who, oh by the way, are 2-0 and have shown to be one of the XFL’s most explosive offenses? Not exactly a cakewalk for the Vipers.

Speaking of offenses, Head Coach/General Manager Marc Trestman went into his archives to shore up that side of the ball, bringing in Tampa native and CFL legend S.J. Green to provide depth at wide receiver. At 34, Green’s best days are behind him, but he knows Trestman’s offense (he was coached by Trestman in the CFL) and how he operates.

Trestman himself could be on the hot seat, as rumors of locker room unrest have come out this week. If Green doesn’t provide a spark, how will the players feel about Trestman bringing in one of his cronies to take another player’s spot? Will the whispers of discontent grow louder if 0-2 turns into 0-3?

There are teams that are worse off than the Vipers in the chemistry department: Both the LA Wildcats, with the firing of defensive coordinator Pepper Johnson after one game and the trade of defensive captain Anthony Johnson soon after, as well as the New York Guardians, whose offensive staff was called out by QB Matt McGloin on national television last weekend, have had much more public issues. Some of the frustration could arise because Tampa was picked by many to finish near the top of the standings; results have not met expectation thus far.

Expect a raucous crowd for the home opener, but if the Vipers don’t win, future home games could feel empty in cavernous Raymond James Stadium, one of the larger parks in the league. Tampa was not one of the best-selling tickets in the league to begin with.

It’s true that just two games into the season, the Vipers are feeling some pressure from within and from the outside to win and win now. Just don’t call Saturday a Must Win. Instead, let’s call it a M*st W*n, and see what happens.

Tampa Bay Vipers positional grades vs. Seattle Dragons (week two)

Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius

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.

XFL Week 3 Power Rankings

Well, that’s 2 weeks now officially in the history books. We saw all different kinds of games this weekend. We saw defensive battles, slow building dramas, back and forth thrillers, and total domination, in what was another exciting week of XFL Football. This week’s Power Rankings are the most confident I have felt thus far, but of course, with the nature of football, that can all change week to week. So let’s see where we stand heading into week 3.

8. Tampa Bay Vipers (0-2) Last Week (8)

XFL fans, allow me to introduce to you your “Homecoming” team of the XFL 2020, the Tampa Bay Vipers. They are such a mess. Marc Trestman can’t decide on a quarterback. Whoever he decides will be playing quarterback that day, absolutely stinks. The defense gives up too many big plays. I have lost all confidence in this team, and it’s a shame, because they are talented in their skill positions. But in the sport of football, the quarterback position is the most important. And when you don’t have good quarterback play, you will struggle mightily. The Vipers will be playing their first home game this Saturday, but unfortunately for them, it will be against the Houston Roughnecks, and it will probably be a long day in Tampa for the Vipers. They are still at no. 8, and I expect them to remain there. Houston, congratulations, it’s “Homecoming Week”.

7. New York Guardians (1-1) Last Week (4)

Matt McGloin is leading this team. And after Saturday afternoon, that’s all you need to know to know why they are ranked no. 7. If Tampa had a decent quarterback, they would be ranked 8th. Once again, it’s a real shame. Because just like with Tampa Bay, they are talented. They got some good receivers. They got some decent running backs. They have an elite defense. They have a great Head Coach. But their “leader” is Matt McGloin. And if Saturday is any indication, he is not the right guy to be leading a locker room. If you can’t take ownership for your own mistakes, and you just throw your teammates and coaches under the bus, you don’t DESERVE to lead a team. Yes, he has some talent, but working together, as a team, goes far more than talent ever will. Until McGloin can buy into the concept of “TEAM”, they will sit at no. 7, and possibly fall to no. 8.

6. Seattle Dragons (1-1) Last Week (7)

Seattle, you have impressed me. By no means am I picking you to win the Championship, but you guys will be competitive in every game, and that is “For the Love of Football”. Brandon Silvers is not an elite XFL quarterback, but he has had his moments, and his play makers have made plays when they needed to. But the strength of this team is the defense, which is no unfamiliar territory for Seattle. Their defense has impressed me the past few weeks against DC and Tampa Bay, and if they can keep that up, I think they have the potential to pull off some real upsets. Especially when they play at home, with that raucous crowd. The key for their offense is to get the running game going, and take that pressure off of Brandon Silvers. If he can just limit the turnovers and make the key throws, this team should be fine, and at least be in most of their games til the end. They are my no. 6 team.

5. Los Angeles Wildcats (0-2) Last Week (6)

Some people are probably going to be surprised that I have LA ranked 5, especially since they haven’t gotten a win yet. But honestly, in their 25-18 loss to Dallas, they looked pretty good. Especially in the 4th quarter once Josh Johnson started getting that chemistry with Nelson Spruce. You have to remember, Johnson hasn’t even been able to really practice with his team much, due to him signing late, then getting injured. I believe that this team has enough talent to start racking up some wins. And don’t be surprised if that starts this Sunday against DC at home. I believe people are looking at that 0-2 record and really underestimating what this Wildcats team is capable of. If Johnson and Spruce can build that connection, this can become a scary team in the West. I have not counted the Wildcats out yet, and I think they might surprise the league here the next few weeks. For now, they sit at no. 5.

4. Dallas Renegades (1-1) Last Week (5)

This team is good. Yes, it took them a while to get going, but once they did, I don’t think they’re looking back. This might be the most well balanced offense in the league. They can run it with Artis-Payne and Dunbar. They can sure throw it with Landry Jones. And I believe they have play makers at the wide receiver position that can make plays in the open field. All of this was on display Sunday afternoon, once Landry Jones settled in the offense. Much like Johnson, he has not had a lot of reps with his team, so that chemistry will only build and get better. Their defense is good, not great, but if they can keep their running game strong, long drives will keep their defense on the sideline. The Renegades are threat in the West, and Houston better be looking over its shoulder. Dallas sits at no. 4.

3. St. Louis Battlehawks (1-1) Last Week (3)

St. Louis showed Sunday night, they are for real. They can compete with the big dogs, and they have a legitimate shot at winning the East and taking home the XFL Championship. Jordan Ta’amu is the real deal, and man is he fun to watch. He can do it with his arm, he can do it with his legs, and he has a strong running game backing him up. Matt Jones is a beast, and Christine Michael finally came alive in this game. Keith Ford will be back, and their receivers are really underrated. Pierson-El is a stud, and Washington can ball as well. But man, the defense is LEGIT. I’m confident in saying, this is the best defense in the XFL. All around, they can stop the run, protect against the pass, and they can cause turnovers. I think this team has a fight that can carry them a long way, and their Head Coach brings an energy that can motivate this team to a title. It’s why they are my 3rd ranked team.

2. DC Defenders (2-0) Last Week (2)

Total domination is what this team did to the New York Guardians Saturday afternoon. Cardale Jones is just that good. Rashad Ross is just that good. Eli Rogers is just that good. And oh yeah, DeAndre Thompkins made his return, and yep, he is just that good. Add that with a running game that seemed to be finding life in the 4th quarter, and a defense that has a pick six in each game so far, and you have the best team in the East. The DC Defenders are great, and Pep Hamilton is the main reason why. His play calling has been outstanding, and his willingness to take risk has paid off tremendously. This team has an identity, and it sticks to that. Have Cardale Jones make plays on the move, give the ball to their play makers, and let their defense have its opportunities. Drop in their some trick plays, and you have a recipe for success. But, they are still no. 2.

1. Houston Roughnecks (2-0) Last Week (1)

Because the Houston Roughnecks are still the best team in the XFL. PJ Walker is hands down, right now, at this moment, not just the best quarterback in the league, he is the best player in the league. He has looked unstoppable through the first 2 weeks, and I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon. But he ain’t by himself. Cam Phillips, who was named the Star of the Week this week, is an absolute beast. He can route run, he can turn on the gas, and he can catch with the best of them. Khalil Lewis, Nick Holley, Sammie Coates, James Butler, who do you try and stop? Good luck to any defense that has to play this Houston offense this season. But what’s scary for the league, is this defense is coming alive week by week. They get to the quarterback, and I mean they GET TO THE QUARTERBACK. Not to mention, they capitalize on every opportunity they get with takeaways, and they do not break easily. This is the clear favorite right now to win the West, and my current favorite to win it all. The Houston Roughnecks are the XFL’s best team until somebody proves otherwise.