In a week 3 that was full of surprises in the XFL, maybe none was more unexpected than the Tampa Bay Vipers pacing the Houston Roughnecks in their home opener. Here are a few observations I made during the game!
Tampa Bay’s offense improved by miles
The Vipers offense that took the field on Saturday vs. the Houston Roughnecks did not look plagued by the same issues that have affected them all season long. Backup Quarterback Taylor Cornelius was finding open receivers, the running game was working, and Quentin Flowers was a spark plug in the limited amount of time he had on the field, scoring the first offensive touchdown in Vipers history.
— Tampa Bay Vipers (@XFLVipers) February 22, 2020
Jalen Tolliver had 100 yards receiving and looked good doing so. De’Veon Smith had a chance to show off his receiving skills as well. With this performance one to ask, what was the difference? Well, A couple of things came into play here. Houston’s defense, while good at pressuring the quarterback, has given up a ton of points this season. Every game Houston has played in. They have given up an average of 23 points a game. P.J. Walker needs to keep scoring to keep winning. This was also the first-week Vipers Offensive Coordinator Jaime Elizondo the play-calling from head coach Mark Trestman, and it showed.
The Vipers offense seemed in sync for the first time this season and excluding a questionable sequence in the red zone, the game was called very well. The Vipers had the ball 2nd and goal from the Houston 2 with a chance to tie the game late, and with two of the best running backs in the XFL, the Vipers made some play-calling decisions that left us all scratching our heads.
The QB situation is turning into a distraction
From the very beginning of the season, I have been pushing for an expanded role for Quentin Flowers, but at this point, the QB battle has seemed to turn into a circus. Taylor Cornelius took the start at QB, much to the disdain of the 18,117 in attendance. Taylor started off slow, and after every incomplete pass, you could hear the entire crowd booing him. A chant of “We want Flowers” could be heard all through the stadium.
Early in the 2nd, he took the field, and what happened next was incredible. After two deep passes and a 7-yard run, the Vipers were on the board. After a 3 and out on the next drive, Taylor Cornelius took the field again for the rest of the game. Despite the final play, Cornelius played very well, scoring two touchdowns, and leading a field goal drive to take an early 4th quarter lead. Despite this, the vast majority of questions asked post-game were asking how it felt to play in front of a crowd that did not seem to want him.
While I understand the love for Flowers in Tampa Bay from his USF days, Taylor Cornelius deserved better. During the game, Cornelius was hitting his receivers out of their breaks and seemed more comfortable in the timing-based passing game. Flowers, while explosive, these plays were the result of broken plays. On the long pass to Tolliver, he had Tolliver open for a huge gain but had he thrown it to him out of his break this could have been a 6-point play. Same on the play to De’Veon Smith. Even though these were big plays, the decision making should have happened much faster, suggesting a reason for the Coaching staff preference for Taylor Cornelius. I know what the fans want (and hey, I want it too) we all want to see Q take the reigns for a full game. Aaron Murray’s return this week may put some of these issues to bed; however, if not contained and soon, this could turn into a debacle.
P.J. Walker did P.J. Walker things
The Matchup of the week this week was Houston’s number one offense against Tampa Bay’s defense that, despite two losses, has been the number one Defense in the XFL. Some will look at the result of this game where P.J. Walker and Cam Phillips were phenomenal, and say the defense was bad. I cannot completely disagree. Pass Interference calls helped out the Roughnecks, and two touchdowns were the result of broken plays.
— Houston Roughnecks (@XFLRoughnecks) February 22, 2020
Cam Phillips 84 yard touchdown was the result of P.J extending the play and the coverage breaking down on a play that should have resulted in a sack. Later, in the 2nd Quarter, P.J. scores a rushing touchdown where the snap was fumbled, and bad pursuit angles allowed him to get outside the defense. Despite the errors on defense, this feels more like a case of P.J. Walker playing like an MVP than a defensive let down.
Through three weeks, P.J. Walker has looked unstoppable. He’s already had multiple three-touchdown games already and has become a star in this league for a good reason. Combine that with a receiver in Cam Phillips, who seems uncoverable at this point, and you have a recipe for an offense that I am not sure anyone in this league can slow down.