The Tampa Bay Vipers were far from sharp Sunday to open their 2020 XFL campaign, losing 23-3 on the road in East Rutherford, New Jersey against the New York Guardians. Marc Trestman’s Vipers were vehemently outplayed for 60-minutes against a Guardians team they were favored to beat by 3.5 points.
4 Ups, 4 Downs will be a weekly nonpartisan column that highlights positive and negative takeaways no matter the final score. In losing efforts, it’ll point out players who weren’t on their game, or areas of the game where the team wasn’t up to snuff. During wins, it’ll prop up individual performances that played a factor in the final score, and highlight focal points of the team’s success.
1: The Run Game
It took a while for the Vipers run game to get going, but handing the ball to De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick was a positive gain nearly every time. Smith received the start for the Vipers, and a healthy share of the total carries. Smith had 16 carries for 79 yards (4.9 AVG), with a long of 12-yards. Patrick received eight carries for 32 yards. One major factor on why the run game opened up is our second ‘Up’ from Sunday.
2: Quinton Flowers’ Impact
If you followed the Vipers throughout training camp, there’s a good chance you found yourself asking why Flowers wasn’t more involved in the game plan early on? In the second half it seemed like Flowers played more snaps than Murray, but neither made much of their time as the team only managed three-points all game. Flowers helped to open up the run game, and rarely dropped back to pass. He finished the game 1 of 2 for 37 yards through the air and added five carries for 34 yards on the ground. The former University of South Florida standout finished the game with a quarterback rating of 95.8, more than double that of Murray who finished with a rating of 45.1. Many, including myself expect Flowers to be a bigger part of next week’s offensive game plan whether or not Murray remains the starter.
3: Anthoula Kelly’s Play
Kelly was the Vipers best cornerback on a day where the secondary’s play was less than memorable. He lead the Vipers defense with three passes defended and added three tackles. Before depth charts were released, Kelly was expected to be slated anywhere from nickel corner to CB3, but showed enough that he deserved the start over Jalen Collins. His play is definitely a bright spot from today’s mostly-negative game.
4: XFL Rules and Replay
For the fans who stayed behind in Tampa and watched the game on television were treated to a brand-new compelling experience watching the sport of football. The broadcasters won’t be explaining rules and changes all season long, but I would expect that things are discussed for the first month-or-so. The pace-of-play and time between series is fantastic, and the best new addition from the XFL broadcasts is the complete transparency on reviews. It’s so refreshing to be inside the conversation between the replay room and head official, instead of being thrown into a two-minute commercial break.
The kickoff rule seems to have been well-received through the first weekend as well. I appreciate the honest concern for the health of players and the removal of a 45-yard wind sprint leading to a smashing of the head into another human at speeds up to 20-mph will certainly be a change I hope all leagues and levels make.
1: Aaron Murray’s Expectations
The league was high on Murray all throughout training camp, go no further than Caesar’s initial over/under for win total being set at 8.5, that number has since been lowered. Murray was expected to be an able pocket passer, but today he seemed so quick to get out of the pocket and improvise, whether his offensive line gave him time or not. His final stat line: 16 of 34 for 231 yards and 2 interceptions.
The bottom line is at 29-years-old you’re no longer a prospect, and there isn’t a lot to be discovered, no matter how good the coaching staff. Murray should have been better and wasn’t. His poor decision making is the only reason why the Tampa Bay Vipers are 0-1 and not 1-0, the game was not out of hand until the fourth quarter. A good drive that ended in six was all the Vipers needed to completely change to perception of their first game.
2: Nick Truesdell’s Ball Protection
In the first half, Truesdell was playing his way into a spot on the list above. His ridiculous one-handed catch late in the first half was one of the few offensive highlights from Sunday’s loss. But he had a drop in the first quarter that was a half-step from being a fumble, and an actual fumble early in the fourth quarter that resulted in a Guardians touchdown, and giving New York a 20-point lead. Call it nerves, but expectations were high for Truesdell in this offense, and his 3 catches for 49 yards left a lot to want.
3: The Offensive Line
It doesn’t take a paragraph to say that 8 QB hits and 5 sacks is an overall poor performance by the offensive line. Starting center Jordan McCray was a late addition to the Vipers injury report, but did end up starting and playing three quarters before John Yarbrough took over. Whether that was a flare-up of McCray’s injury or a semi-waiving of the white flag by Trestman, we don’t yet know. A late shake-up before the season with the injury and placement of would-be starting guard Andrew Tiller on the injured reserve did present a question mark on the line’s ability to keep Murray and company off the ground.
4: Wrapping Up and Finishing Tackles
There was a painful amount of missed tackles for the Vipers defense Sunday. The secondary wasn’t finishing and help wasn’t coming fast enough which lead to several Guardians receivers getting loose for a bigger gain. The missed tackles on Guardians running back Darius Victor is justified, he runs angry.
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