Two teams looking for that elusive first win of the XFL season will get together on Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field. The Seattle Dragons (0-1) will host the Tampa Bay Vipers (0-1) as both teams will need a heightened sense of urgency this week to get back to .500 and keep pace in their respective divisions.
Self-inflicted mistakes hurt Seattle in a 31-19 road loss to the DC Defenders. The Dragons surrendered a blocked punt, interception return, and dramatic trick play for touchdowns, which ended up costing them dearly. Quarterback Brandon Silvers completed 21-of-40 passes for 217 yards and threw three touchdown passes to two interceptions. Silvers will need to improve upon his 52.5 percent completion rate moving forward — at least into low 60s. Austin Proehl was a bright spot for the Seattle offense with five receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay did not finish enough drives offensively up at MetLife Stadium where the Vipers dropped a 23-3 decision to the New York Guardians. Aaron Murray threw a pair of interceptions and was replaced by Quinton Flowers in the second half. The defense had some solid moments at times and brought a nice level of physicality, but as the season moves on, defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville will need his guys to play with a bit more discipline and cut down on costly penalties. A couple of positives for the Vipers on offense were wide receiver Daniel Williams, who caught six passes for 123 yards, along with running back De’Veon Smith, who rushed for 79 yards on just under five yards per carry.
Tampa Bay at Seattle
Kickoff: Saturday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. ET
Where: CenturyLink Field (Seattle)
Spread: Vipers -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dragons' pass rush
The ability to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback will be crucial for the Seattle defense to take some pressure off of their secondary. Will Sutton leads a defensive front that had one sack last week against Cardale Jones, and that was not quite enough to get the job done. This week, they will have an opportunity to go up against a less mobile quarterback in Aaron Murray, and they should have a goal of at least three sacks and plenty of quarterback hurries to go along with it. Tackles for loss is another key stat to watch for the Dragons this week, as they had eight last week against DC. If Seattle can consistently win the battle at the line of scrimmage, then things will get interesting really quickly on Saturday afternoon.
2. Tampa Bay offense
The Vipers outgained New York 394-226 last week but were only able to score three points. Tampa Bay was crucially 0-for-4 in the red zone, and that won’t cut it. Murray will need to capitalize on the plays the Dragons' defense gives him, as there will be ample opportunities this week. Head coach Marc Trestman will need to stay patient with the running game since the weather in Seattle in February is always unpredictable. Thus, if De’Veon Smith can get 20-plus carries this week, that will immensely help Tampa Bay’s chances of getting out of the Pacific Northwest with a victory. Also, if Smith ends up getting that many touches, that likely means the offensive line is taking care of business at the line of scrimmage, which will allow the Vipers to flourish on offense.
3. Seattle running game
The Dragons' offensive line definitely missed left tackle Isaiah Battle, who missed the game in DC with an ankle injury. Left guard Cyril Richardson also was injured during the game with a leg injury. It will be very important for the Dragons to have at least one if not both guys available this week. Ja’Quan Gardner, Kenneth Farrow, and Trey Williams shared 27 touches of the ball last week and showed some potential to be very effective. The weather for Saturday appears to call for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s. That is a typical mid-February day in Seattle and the perfect opportunity for Zorn and his offensive staff to pound the rock and test the physical toughness of the Vipers defense.
It will be interesting to see what type of crowd makes its way to CenturyLink Field on Saturday. The Seattle area has an unrelenting passion for Seattle Seahawks and Washington Huskies. Their standard for success is very high, but look for the Dragons to get a boost from the home crowd and play well this week in a tough matchup. Bottom line, this game should stay competitive deep into the fourth quarter with Seattle pulling out a dramatic win over Tampa Bay thanks to a key defensive stop late to win the game.
Prediction: Dragons 23, Vipers 22
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.