The 3-0 D.C. Defenders will close out Week 4 of the XFL 2023 season at Audi Field on Sunday night. The North-leading Defenders will meet the winless 0-3 Vegas Vipers for the second time. It will be D.C.’s fourth straight divisional game. And the heavy odds are that if the Defenders defeat the Vipers again and send them to 0-4, these two teams won’t meet again until the 2024 season.
XFL 2023 Week 4 Preview: Vegas Vipers (0-3) at D.C. Defenders (3-0), 7 pm ET/4 pm PT, ESPN2/ESPN+
Spread: Defenders -6 Over/Under: 40.5
Latest Weather forecast: Periods of rain. Low near 40F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 80%. Rainfall near a quarter of an inch.
Broadcast team: Matt Barrie, Joey Galloway, Tiffany Blackmon, and Eric Mac Lain.
Defenders And Vipers Encounter Changes Heading Into Week 4
The weather conditions (rain) might be the same as their last meeting. But a lot has changed for the D.C. Defenders and Vegas Vipers since they clashed two weeks ago. Especially in the last few days leading into Week 4.
Where does one even begin?
Let’s start with D.C. Five Defender players and one coach were hit with suspensions and fines for their actions in a late-game altercation with the Battlehawks last Sunday. Linebacker Francis Bernard (2 games) and Defensive Tackle Gabe Wright ( 1 game) are suspended.
D.C. parted ways with Week 1 starting left tackle Cody Conway, who was placed on the non-return reserve list. And starting TE Ethan Wolf will be out of action for at least two weeks due to an ankle and knee injury.
Because of the combination of injuries and suspensions. The Defenders have made several player transactions this week.
The team released G Rod Taylor and WR/RB Pooka Williams. Taylor ends up in Vegas. Pooka is now a Battlehawk.
D.C. signed OT Gunnar Vogel. They also added former Washington safety Montae Nicholson, a 2017 fourth-round pick who last played in the NFL in 2019. The Defenders also brought back LB Terrill Hanks and DT Denzel Chukwukelu, who will help fill the voids left by the suspensions of LB Francis Bernard and DT Gabe Wright.
On top of that, the Defenders executed two separate player trades. One of them was a three-player deal with Alrington and Orlando, with D.C. shipping OT T.J. Storment to the Guardians and receiving TE Alex Ellis in return from the Renegades.
Have you got all that? The Defenders then struck a deal with their Week 4 opponent Vegas. D.C. sent the Vipers defensive back Joshua Allen in exchange for offensive tackle Antonio Garcia.
That’s a lot of activity for one team in a single week. However, The big news coming out of Vegas trumps all the Defenders movement. As Vipers head coach Rod Woodson has relieved Duane Taylor of his playcalling duties, and Taylor is no longer with the organization. The early word and expectation is that Longtime NFL assistant and current Vegas WR coach Ray Sherman will take over as Vegas’s offensive coordinator. But that hasn’t been confirmed as of press time. With assistant Charlie Eger assisting him.
Vipers Make Critical Change In Early Part Of XFL Season
Moving away from Duane Taylor by Rod Woodson and Vegas is a shock to some. Especially considering the level of improvement shown by the Vipers’ offense in Week 3.
The successful small-college play caller was in his first gig coordinating an offense on the pro level.
Rod Woodson and the Vipers held a spot open for Taylor while he coached at Alabama A&M in the fall. Giving the young coach the opportunity to double dip working two jobs. As a result, Vegas didn’t officially announce Taylor’s appointment as offensive coordinator until very late in the process.
Woodson had previously worked with Duane Taylor at the NFLPA All-Star collegiate game in 2022.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for Taylor, working with seasoned veteran NFL coaches like Bob Wylie and Ray Sherman. And, more importantly, trying to communicate with a Vipers roster that has several NFL veterans on offense. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for either side.
XFL Week 4: D.C. Defenders vs. Vegas Vipers Depth Charts/Injury Update
On the Defenders’ side of things, they are going to be without three key players on Sunday night. TE Ethan Wolf, DT Gabe Wright, and MLB Francis Bernard. Jamal Brooks will replace the latter, but Antony Hines III could also see some time in the middle. The loss of Bernard is critical because he has been the team’s play-caller on defense.
C Mike Maietti is getting closer to returning to the lineup. But it doesn’t look it will be on Sunday night. Liam Ryan has done a fantastic job sliding into that role, with Ty Clary still on the shelf. WR Lucky Jackson, who is coming off his best game in the XFL, is also healthy and ready to go.
The Vipers have several concerns going into Sunday night’s game. The biggest of which is that the team could be missing two starters on their offensive line. In C Kahlil McKenzie, and G Isaiah Williams. McKenize has been placed on the team’s reserve list with a broken toe. It’s a significant loss.
Based on PFF’s grading system, McKenzie is the highest-graded Center in XFL 2023. Tony Adams has been activated off the injured list. So that should help, but against an aggressive defense that looks to confuse opposing offensive lines. Any limitations upfront could be detrimental.
Keys To The Defenders-Vipers Game
Thus far, the Vegas Vipers have been very one-dimensional on offense. They boast an experienced group of pass catchers led by one of the fastest players in the league, Jeff Badet (4.2/40). However, a lack of balance will play right into Gregg Williams and his defense’s hands.
After three weeks, the Vipers’ lead ball carrier is quarterback Brett Hundley, who has 12 rushes for 90 yards. Veteran tailback Rod Smith has rushed for 81 yards on 23 carries. John Lovett, who flashed last week in the passing game, has only 23 yards on 13 rushes. DeAndre Torrey has 16 yards on 11 touches. Vegas has to show some semblance of a ground game to keep D.C.’s defense honest.
The Defenders are second in the league with ten sacks. That’s impressive, considering that D.C. hasn’t padded their sack total by playing Orlando yet.
Edge rusher Davin Bellamy has been on a tear. He’s been putting on a pass-rushing clinic the last few weeks, and the stat sheet finally reflected that against St. Louis. Bellamy was Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded D.C. defensive player last week. He recorded two sacks and a forced fumble.
Bellamy is not the only Defender bringing the heat in the passing game. Jarrell Owens, who was a standout in XFL 2020, is second in the league with three sacks. Owens, who has made his way onto NFL teams the last three years, is probably headed back there later this Spring.
Another standout on D.C.’s defense, who is likely headed back to the NFL, is former Cliff Harris Award winner Michael Joseph. He has three interceptions, two of them returned for scores in the early XFL season. The Vipers need to tread carefully in his direction when attempting to strike in their passing game.
The Defenders’ bread and butter offensively is their ground attack. D.C. boasts the most productive and diversified run game in the XFL. The Defenders have rushed for 449 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in three games. Baylor standout rookie Abram Smith is second in the league with 156 yards rushing, and NFL veteran Ryquell Armstead is fifth with 138. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who is eight overall in rushing, and electrifying rookie D’Eriq King have combined for 154 yards and four touchdowns.
It goes without saying that based on those numbers, Vegas defensive coordinator Cris Dishman and his unit will be keying in on D.C.’s strength. St. Louis took the same approach a week ago, daring D.C. to throw. And the Defenders made them pay throwing for over 200 yards and three scores through the air. Jordan Ta’amu finally unlocked the deep game finding Chris Blair for 58 yards and Lucky Jackson for a 36-yard strike.
The Vipers have two of the league’s best pass rushers in Vic Beasley and Maximilian Roberts, who is second in the XFL with three sacks and two forced fumbles. They will need to stay disciplined against the Defenders RPO styled offense. And a secondary led by the highest-graded DB in the league, Adam Sparks, needs to remain on alert for shots down the field off of play action.
A rainy forecast spells trouble for Vegas and saps away at their strength. Furthermore, any wet weather would play right to the Defenders’ advantage. They are built to play small ball and grind out yards, and the Vipers are not.
XFL Week 4 Prediction: Vegas Vipers (0-3) at D.C. Defenders (3-0)
On the surface, this looks like an easy play. 0-3 team on the road against a surging 3-0 team in a challenging venue. On top of that, these teams met two weeks ago, and D.C. outslugged Vegas by two scores.
You throw in the fact that the Vipers are coming into this game with a change at offensive coordinator and might be facing weather conditions that could limit their ability to pass. And on paper, you can fully understand why oddsmakers have the Defenders as near-touchdown favorites.
The Defenders have never lost at Audi Field. They are 5-0 in that setting, and 6-0 in Beer Snake land seems likely. However, sometimes desperation prevails over common sense and logic.
D.C. is coming off an emotional high, and they are comfortable with their status right now. In contrast, Vegas is as desperate as it gets to notch its first victory. The Vipers are playing for their lives on Sunday night. For that reason alone, I think they keep this game close and have a shot to pull off what seems like an unlikely upset.
Prediction: D.C. Defenders 19 Vegas Vipers 18
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