Defenders’ struggles continue as Vipers earn their first win

Tampa Bay Vipers Week 4

TAMPA – In a non-contest, the Tampa Bay Vipers (1-3) earned their first win, shutting out the DC Defenders (2-2) 25-0. After outscoring opponents 58-19 in their first two games, the Defenders lost consecutive games, outscored 64-9.

Courtesy of ESPN

The Vipers received competent quarterback play from quarterback Taylor Cornelius who completed 24 of 31 attempts for 211 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Additionally, Cornelius added 36 yards rushing, including a 17-yard touchdown run with 4:36 left in the third quarter.

The exact opposite happened for the Defenders as quarterback Cardale Jones followed up a disastrous performance against the LA Wildcats with another putrid showing, going 9-of-22 for only 72 years and another interception, his sixth in four games played.

Courtesy of the XFL

What went wrong for the Defenders?

The Defenders could not defend the run as the Vipers averaged 5.4 yards-per-carry, totaling 266 yards. De’Veon Smith had 122 yards on 24 carries and Jacques Patrick rushed 21 times for 108 yards including a “beast mode” style eight-yard touchdown run at 8:43 in the first quarter.

Courtesy of the XFL

The Vipers ran 80 offensive plays, compared to the Defenders’ 39

Defensively, the Vipers pressured Jones, bringing him to the ground twice. After opening the XFL season 2-0, completing 62 percent for 499 yards, four touchdowns, and only one interception, Jones only has 172 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions, completing only 51 percent of his passes.

On the one shot the Defenders had to get on the scoreboard, after forcing a Vipers turnover, Jones overthrew a wide-open Eli Rogers that got behind the defense with 6:38 in the third quarter. Jones was intercepted by Tarvarus McFadden, the 6-foot-2 cornerback from Florida State, giving the ball right back to Tampa only one minute later.

What went right for the Vipers?

Courtesy of the XFL

Everything. Except for one ill-advised pass from Cornelius trying to float a pass to Reece Horn that was intercepted by Defenders safety Rahim Moore on the Vipers’ one-yard-line at 6:48 in the third quarter.

The Vipers were 3-of-5 scoring in the red zone, while the Defenders’ rushing attack was non-existent. Donnell Pumphrey and Nick Brossette combined for 13 carries for 46 yards. Apart from one 14-yard rush, the running lanes were closed by the Vipers’ defensive front-seven. The Vipers spent plenty of time in the Defenders backfield recording five tackles-for-loss.

Tampa’s defensive backs prevented the Defenders receivers from getting any separation. Rogers was targeted nine times for only four receptions, and Ross targeted seven for only three receptions. Both receivers only gained 43 yards, averaging only six yards-per-catch. The defensive back knocked down four passes.

Time-of-possession heavily favored the Vipers. The Vipers 80 plays controlled the clock for nearly 40 minutes: if the other team never has the ball, they can’t score any points.

What is next for the DC Defenders?

Some significant decisions need to be made by head coach Pep Hamilton.

Courtesy of the XFL

Everyone’s favorite player, when the starting quarterback is struggling, is the backup. In clean-up time, DC backup quarterback Tyree Jackson was 1-or-2 for three yards under center.

Is it time to switch to the 22-year-old Buffalo product?

This week in practice, Coach Hamilton needs to take a serious look at his options at quarterback. The offensive line might need some revamping as well.

Tackles De’Ondre Wesley and Malcolm Bunche need to stay competitive to keep their position and guards Chris Brown and Rishard Cook need to be more aggressive protecting the run game.

On the other side of the ball, the Defenders’ defense has a nonexistent pass rush in their consecutive losses, allowing a combined 489 yard through the air while only managing three quarterback hurries.

This Sunday, March 8 at 3:00PM EDT, Defenders look to right the ship at home in Audi Field as Jordan Ta’amu the 3-1 St. Louis Battlehawks in a battle for first in the conference.

Published by Charles Nyonga

A multiplatform journalism major at the University of Maryland. Previously, I graduated from Prince George's Community College in 2018.

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