On the heels of an exciting Week 2 slate, the 2020 XFL season continues this weekend. And the Week 3 slate starts with a matchup between the Houston Roughnecks and Tampa Bay Vipers, two teams heading in different directions.
The Vipers (0-2), who had the second-best preseason championship odds, are playing their first home game and in desperate need of a win, while the Roughnecks (2-0) are looking to keep things rolling and maintain their lead over Dallas and St. Louis (both 1-1) in the XFL West standings.
Houston at Tampa Bay
Kickoff: Saturday, Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
Spread: Roughnecks -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Home sweet home?
This will be the first game for the Vipers at Raymond James Stadium. How many of the 65,618 seats will be filled remains to be seen, but the Vipers are glad to be able to stay in the same city for the entire week. Perhaps some home cooking can help turn things around for Marc Trestman's team, which been outscored 40-12 (their only touchdown came on defense) thus far. They have issues on both sides of the ball, and they're hoping that having a home crowd will make a difference.
2. It's all about the quarterbacks
Quarterbacks have been the main story over the previous two weeks, and I don't expect this week to be any different. Houston's P.J. Walker has become a human highlight reel because of his stellar play thus far. Walker currently leads the XFL in touchdown passes (7), ranks third in passing yards (442), second in pass completions (43), and third among QBs in total yards (495). Walker has made big throws both from the pocket and on the run, and his mobility has frustrated opposing defenses. If the Vipers defense can slow him down, they'll give themselves a chance to win.
The Vipers have already used three different signal-callers this season. Aaron Murray, Quinton Flowers, and Taylor Cornelius have combined for 453 passing and 49 rushing yards in their ample opportunities to lead this offense. They've all been inconsistent as evidenced by the fact that they have yet to throw a touchdown pass while taking a combined nine sacks with five interceptions. The original plan for Trestman's offense was to have Murray be the full-time starter with Flowers rotating in on specific packages. But Murray injured his foot in the season opener at New York, missed last week's loss at Seattle as a result (Cornelius would get the start there), and he has yet to return to practice.
This team has struggled to move the ball, and it all starts under center. I think it's safe to say that the quarterback position in Tampa is in flux. Whoever gets the start this weekend will face a Roughnecks defense that has already registered eight sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and four interceptions.
3. Run the ball more
In Week 2, we saw more running backs get involved in the offense, and both of these teams were in on the action. In Seattle last week, a collective effort by Flowers, Jalen Tolliver, De'Veon Smith, and Jacques Patrick gave the Vipers 141 rushing yards. They posted the second-most yards on the ground in Week 2 behind the Dallas Renegades (154). As for Houston, Walker, James Butler, Nick Holley, and Andre Williams combined for 78 rushing yards in last week's win over St. Louis. They finished ahead of the New York Guardians (71) in that category.
If the Vipers run the ball more on Saturday, it can take some pressure off of their quarterbacks. And if the Roughnecks can run the ball more consistently, then it can add another layer to their offense. I, for one, would like to see more running plays called in the XFL.
The Roughnecks are a well-rounded team, while the Vipers' glaring issues on offense are making it difficult for their defense to succeed. Ten of the Vipers' possessions this year have lasted just five plays or less. They've reached the red zone on just six occasions this season, and those possessions ended with two field goals, an interception, and three turnovers on downs. Tampa's offensive struggles, combined with Houston's success on both sides of the ball, will keep the Roughnecks among the ranks of the unbeaten.
Prediction: Roughnecks 28, Vipers 13
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.