The Vipers win over the DC Defenders this Sunday was one that shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. One thing that has been so overlooked this XFL season has been just how good the Vipers team has been. Before the, “But Josh, they were 0-3 coming in” statements flow, let’s look at some of the overwhelming stats and variables.
The Defense is Dynamite
It is hard to believe that the Tampa Bay Vipers started the season 0-3 when you consider the defensive squad is far and away one of the best. Through four full games (including one against the #1 team in the league), the Vipers’ defense had allowed LESS than 1,000 yards (949 to be exact)! They are incredibly physical upfront and are known to pressure as often as possible. As the season progresses this team continues to get stronger and more in tune with one another. That really showed Sunday night when the Vipers held the Defenders to just 107 yards of total offense! Add in the two sacks, constant pressure, and sprinkle in another Tarvarus McFadden interception, and you watched one of the most dominant defensive performances all season.
— Tampa Bay Vipers (@XFLVipers) March 2, 2020
Big Offense Without a General
More surprises are sure to be in store when I tell you that the Vipers defense isn’t the only statistical league leader they hold. The Tampa Bay Vipers also lead the league in offensive yardage with 1,525, almost 100 yards more than the second-place STL Battlehawks. But that brings me to my next point, why so many yards and no points? It took Tampa until week three to finally punch in an offensive touchdown at the helm of hometown hero Quinton Flowers. Tarvarus McFadden did secure the first touchdown in Vipers history, but that was on the back of a pick-6 that momentarily gave the Vipers a lead against the Seattle Dragons. If you ask me, the answer to that question is simple but lengthy.
Let’s start with the fact that there was no preseason and minimal training camp to prepare offenses and, in particular, quarterbacks for the upcoming season. There is a learning curve for that position that is quite steep, and the lack of time to prepare seemed to affect every quarterback, NOT named P.J. Walker. So when Aaron Murray got the starting nod in week one, there was a slight disadvantage already. He was able to move the ball effectively between the twenties, with the help of Quinton Flowers as a change of pace QB. Unfortunately, the red zone constricts the field of play and forces quicker decisions, some of which made were…not good ones. Add in the bonehead holding penalty on a Flowers touchdown, negating the play, and you saw an offense amass 400 yards but nothing to show for it.
Moving on to week two, and we see a hurt Aaron Murray, forcing the coaches to make a QB change, just one week into the season. While many, including myself, thought the obvious nod would go to Flowers, who is known as Q in these parts, the Tampa coaching staff saw something they really liked in Taylor Cornelius. This resulted in what is my LEAST favorite thing in football, a quarterback committee. As you can imagine, neither quarterback was able to get into a rhythm, and it resulted in a terrible showing by both players. Cornelius and Flowers combined for three interceptions, one a pick-6 on the goal line with Tampa backed up that cost them the game, and 172 passing yards.
Week three saw Cornelius get the start, but the Tampa Bay crowd was having none of it, as chants of “We want Flowers” started almost immediately. The “Fang Gang” got their wish, and Q was able to lead a drive that secured the first offensive touchdown in Vipers’ history! But we were soon faced with another committee situation, that quickly turned to a Taylor Cornelius complete second half. While the Vipers did lose, they stood toe-to-toe with the #1 team in the league, the Houston Roughnecks, and vastly improved their stock. If I may be so bold, I blame the fans for that loss. I am a Tampa Bay fan myself, my family has gone to USF, and I love Quinton Flowers as much as the next fan, but not getting behind the quarterback in his home stadium as he is pitching a very good game is no easy feat. Cornelius was playing FOR his home crowd AGAINST their will, and that is not easy, nor is it a good look.
But week 4 (the reason we are here, right?) saw Q leave the team for personal reasons and was not able to attend the game. Therefore, Cornelius gets the start with an injured Aaron Murray playing backup. No committee, no distractions, just an opportunity to beat a top-ranked team in the East that was looking for blood after suffering its first loss the week before. And did he take advantage of that opportunity! Cornelius led the Vipers to not only their first win, but the Vipers put up the most yards in a game and are securely in the playoff hunt. Cornelius was able to deliver strikes to the outside and middle of the field due to the fact that the Vipers’ two-headed serpent at running back, De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick, combined for 230 yards and a touchdown. The Oklahoma State product also rushed for a touchdown, making up for his one interception in the endzone. Showing true toughness, Cornelius was heard saying his shoulder popped out on the touchdown run, but that he was ok and has “had worse.” The Vipers taking down the Defenders is a huge boost to the team mentally and for seeding purposes heading into the halfway point of the season.
22-0 Vipers | 4:02 Q3 pic.twitter.com/1dM1bbu9xh
— Tampa Bay Vipers (@XFLVipers) March 2, 2020
It will be interesting to see how things play out in the coming weeks. One would have to assume that Murray will be healthy soon, and Tampa is fully expecting Flowers to return to the team and could be thrown back into the mix. Week five could be a wild ride for a Vipers team looking to win back-to-back games, but if the Viper vs Defenders game is any indication, I know I’m strapped in and ready!