It seemed as if everything came together for the Tampa Bay Vipers in week four. The newly named #FangGang suffered long enough through the first three weeks of the XFL, and deserved to see the team win a game at home after last weeks shootout with Houston.
The offense looked stellar against an abysmal Defenders defense. For the second straight week it looked like the team that couldn’t manage to score an offensive touchdown was gone, and it was replaced by a team that regularly finished drives.
The defense played their most complete 60-minutes of the season, and they were rewarded with just the second shutout in XFL history. Tarvarus McFadden had an interception, and Obum Gwacham recorded a sack and blocked a field goal in his return from the injured reserve.
4 Ups, 4 Downs is 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: Power Run Game
In my opinion, the run game really popped today because of the addition of Andrew Tiller, the offensive guard who was injured early in the season and landed on the injured reserve list. He was activated early this week and made a huge impact on the run game. Tiller was a lock for starter at guard on the line in the preseason, the injury really set the entire offense back.
Of course all the credit doesn’t belong to Tiller. The running backs were killer on Sunday. Jacques Patrick and De’Veon Smith became the first duo in XFL history to rush for 100+ yards in the same game. Smith (122) and Patrick (108) ran for a combined 230 yards on the day. The Vipers rushed for 266 (Cornelius, 36 YDs and 1 TD) in total.
2: Jacques Patrick’s Day
What Patrick did Sunday was bigger than football. Last week, the 23-year old running back buried his late father. When he took a carry from the eight yard line into the end zone, the youngster was overcome with emotion. Emotion he talked about in an interview on the sidelines minutes later. Take a minute to listen, absolute chills.
The touchdown also marked Patrick’s first professional touchdown. A massive achievement for the Florida State product. Patrick is now ranked third in the XFL in rushing yards with 231. His partner in crime in the backfield Smith is first in the league with 296 yards.
3: Taylor Cornelius, QB1
The Vipers QB situation has been the talk of the town all season long. Aaron Murray began the season as QB1, but had an awful first game and hurt his foot in the process. Then, once Murray was out of the way many Vipers fans felt it was Quinton Flowers time to shine. When Cornelius was named the starting QB for week two, a civil war within Tampa’s fanbase saw some calling for Flowers to get full-time duties while others liked the split-share of drives during Murray’s absence. Now this week, Murray returned to duty and was named backup and Flowers took a leave of absence from the team for “personal reasons” but it truly seems like Cornelius has won himself the full time starter.
4: Getting The Lucky Breaks
For the first few weeks it seemed like every lucky bounce and break went against Tampa Bay. Bad timing stumbles by cornerbacks that left receivers wide open, and tough tip-drill style interceptions that killed drives. In week four, these luck plays all went the Vipers way. First, the play where Patrick picked up a fumbled handoff and took it straight ahead for a first down giving Tampa a goal to go situation. In weeks past, that play would’ve been a fumble recovered by the other team, a play that fully swung momentum.
In addition, the Vipers were on the receiving end of one of the most incredible catches of the young XFL season. It came on a Colin Thompson bailout special. The backup tight end caught a ball off the hands of another receiver. The play was a certain drop until Thompson somehow found a way to catch the ball before it hit the turf. Take a look at how insane the grab was:
When a team wins a game in shutout fashion, sometimes you have to reach for some negative takeaways.
1: SJ Green’s Debut
When the former Canadian Football League All-Star signed with the XFL there was tons of buzz around the impact he could have with any team as an elite pass catcher. Green was inactive last week when the team took on the Houston Roughnecks, but made his debut Sunday for the Vipers. If you’re looking in the box score however, it may still seem like Green has yet to make a debut as the receiver dropped his only target and didn’t factor into the stat sheet.
I’m not suggesting that the addition of Green was a failure, it could take a few more weeks for Green and Cornelius to get up to speed and on the same page. In reality, given the fact that the Vipers gave up a non-rostered player for the rights to Green, if he makes one memorable play the trade would pay off. Realistically, if Green can finish the year as the number three receiver and have a stat line that looks something like 20 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown, I’m sure the Vipers organization would be thrilled with that.
2: Aaron Murray’s Chance at Seeing the Field
After yesterday’s performance by Cornelius it seems as if the chances of Murray retaking QB1 duties are slim. In the off chance of an injury to Cornelius, I doubt Murray starts another game for Tampa Bay this season. The former CBS College Football analyst looked very comfortable on the sidelines with the ESPN 2 cameras in his face being interviewed. In reality, the QB could be one-and-done in the XFL and turn into an analyst on one of the networks specializing in XFL Football. Actually on second thought, Aaron if you’re looking for a new TV agent, call me.
3: Quinton Flowers Situation
We don’t know what Flowers is going through. He left the team earlier this week for what coach Trestman called “personal reasons” and it wasn’t the first time the former USF star has stepped away from the team. These players have lives, families and stuff going on outside of football, sometimes fans don’t understand that. Immediately after the situation came to light, many assumed the quarterback stepped away from the Vipers because of his lack of play time in the offense. Well I’m here to tell you that’s a garbage take.
I refuse to speculate on why Flowers left the Vipers. If you want poorly informed, grasping at straws type of analysis, check Twitter, it’s chock-full of those types of takes. If Flowers believes he’s a starting a QB and should be the guy for Tampa Bay, stepping away from the team is the worst way to prove that. Not being on the field every single day practicing hard to prove he’s the best QB the team has, is an awful way to win over a locker room and starting job. Claiming that is silly.
4: How Much Equity Behind This Win?
Tampa Bay outplayed DC in every facet of the game. There’s no hiding that the Defenders looked horrible on Sunday, either. It was the team’s second straight week where they looked disheveled and embarrassing on offense. Over DC’s last eight quarters they’ve been outscored 64-9. It doesn’t take a twenty-year industry career to recognize that’s not good.
So how much should equity should Vipers fans put behind the team’s convincing 25-0 win? I’d say some. The offense was working best with one QB for 60 minutes. With two different style QBs the offense suffers and has to get on track in two completely different offenses. The receivers looked comfortable with Cornelius, and the run game was dominant.
Most of the equity from this win comes from two things, the offensive line play with the addition of Tiller, a guard from the injured reserve and what it did for the team’s power run scheme. And the defensive line play now that it has Obum Gwacham back from the injured reserve. He had a sack and blocked a field goal last night in his return to the gridiron and made a huge impact. If the Vipers stay healthy in the trenches, the season could very well turn itself around.
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