Football fans are going to get a taste of the XFL in primetime Sunday night when the Tampa Bay Vipers head out west to battle the Los Angeles Wildcats. This will be an interesting litmus test for the XFL in the television ratings game is concerned since there won't be much sports competition to deal with.
The Vipers (1-3) showed a lot of pride last Sunday in their 25-0 shutout victory over the DC Defenders at Raymond James Stadium. First, the offense was lights out and outgained DC 477-107. De’Veon Smith and Jacques Patrick led a punishing ground attack for Tampa Bay with Smith rushing for 122 yards on 24 carries and Patrick adding 108 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Jerry Glanville’s defense owned the line of scrimmage all night long as they limited the Defenders to just six total first downs and 46 rushing yards on 13 attempts. That level of dominance at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball could be the recipe for success the rest of the way for the Vipers.
Los Angeles (1-3) dropped a hard-fought contest to the New York Guardians, 17-14, at Met Life Stadium last Saturday afternoon. Josh Johnson completed 25-of-40 passes for 325 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception. The lack of a consistent running game (40 yards on 13 carries) ended up being costly for the Wildcats. Defensively, Los Angeles limited the Guardians to just 250 total yards, but it was the 122 rushing yards that allowed New York to do just enough on offense to pick up their second win of the season.
Tampa Bay at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, March 8 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Dignity Health Sports Park (Carson, Calif.)
Spread: Wildcats -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Tampa Bay offensive balance
Head coach Marc Trestman found something over the past two weeks with his offense scoring 52 total points in the last two games. The commitment to running the football has been paying dividends for the Vipers, as they have gained 395 yards over that stretch. One key for the Vipers will be to let the aggressive running game wear down the Wildcats defense, which should allow the passing game to flourish. It would be great if Taylor Cornelius doesn't have to win the game by himself. Cornelius did a good job against an aggressive DC defense last week with 24-of-31 passing for 211 yards and a touchdown and interception, thanks to the running game setting the tone. Watch the performance of the offensive line this week; if they come ready to dominate, things will get interesting quickly in this game.
2. Los Angeles defense
The line of scrimmage battle will be fun to watch, as the Wildcats defense will need to bring their lunch pails this week and play very physically. Ahmad Dixon had a 14-tackle performance last week against New York, including one tackle for loss. Head coach Winston Moss may stack the box with eight or nine guys to stop the run, so look for Dixon to have plenty of opportunities to match last week’s production. Will Smith and Devin Taylor are also going to be key pieces to the puzzle for the Los Angeles defense this week. Those two are going to have to find a way to create some pressure in the backfield to make Cornelius uncomfortable and get him off his spot throwing the football. They also will need to be disciplined on third down and not allow any unnecessary explosive plays that will keep drives alive for the Vipers.
3. Vipers defensive aggressiveness
Expect the Tampa Bay defense to come out with their ears pinned back and ready to attack Josh Johnson from the opening snap. The Vipers did an excellent job last week of not letting Cardale Jones get comfortable in the pocket. Jerry Glanville’s defense was able to get two sacks and four quarterback hits on Jones while limiting him to 75 passing yards. Reggie Northrup and Obum Gwacham each had a sack last week and had three of the four quarterback hits on Jones. Those two guys will need to win their individual one-on-one battles off the edge and generate pressure on Johnson all night long. Tampa Bay’s secondary is going to be another key factor in allowing the pass rush to go to work against Johnson. They will also have to win the one-on-one battles along the outside and not let Tre McBride and Jordan Smallwood get open on a regular basis.
This should be a pretty competitive game heading into the fourth quarter. The Vipers' running attack will end up taking its toll on the Wildcats defense and allow Tampa Bay to play keep away on offense. Josh Johnson will do just enough to keep Los Angeles in the game throwing the football. However, the lack of a consistent running game for the Wildcats will cost them, and Tampa Bay will pick up their second straight win on Sunday night.
Prediction: Vipers 24, Wildcats 16
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.