The state of the Vipers offense
PLANT CITY, Fla. -- The state of the Tampa Bay Vipers offense is, indeed, a frustrating one.
Despite their 0-2 record, the Vipers rank among league leaders in total offensive production, attributed to their ability to effectively run the ball. With 145.5 rushing yards per game, the team currently ranks second in the league, and their 4.7 yards per carry is second-highest. De'Veon Smith (125) and RB Jacques Patrick (105) are both top five rushers and the only cohort backs to have 100+ yards on the season.
Focus on pounding that rock, right?
In the West Coast style of offense that head coach Marc Trestman is well-known for and employs in Tampa Bay, greater emphasis is placed on the pass than the run.
The pass-heavy plan of attack (40 passes; 26 runs) didn’t stifle the New York Guardians Week 1. In Week 2, Trestman called a more balanced game -- 39 passes to 31 runs. The pass percentage was inflated due to the urgent need to score quickly in the final minute of the game. Unfortunately, that drive ended with a fate-sealing interception by Taylor Cornelius.
Not a surprise from a team whose glaring weakness is at the QB position, but the Vipers have gotten into the red zone or scored a field goal when drives are either more balanced or favor the run versus pass-heavy. In 19 possessions, five have ended in interceptions, three of which came off of pass-heavy drives. They are 2-for-5 on fourth downs and are second-ranked on third down conversions at 50 percent.
However, the only stat that matters in the end is the red zone percentage and that’s zero. The offense is 0-for-6 when it’s most important to make big plays.
Can the Vipers find QB consistency?
Vipers quarterbacks have turned the ball over six times by way of five interceptions and one fumble. Aaron Murray is 16-for-34 on 231 yards and two picks. Cornelius is 16-for-27 on 154 yards and two interceptions. Lastly, Quinton Flowers is 4-for-9 on 50 yards and an interception.
The former USF Bull QB is a beloved talent in the Tampa Bay region. Trestman knows that and wants to get Flowers involved in the passing game, but he hasn’t found a formula that has clicked yet. “We’re still in the process of figuring it out,” said Trestman. “I know that sounds a little indifferent. I haven’t been in this position of having two quarterbacks at the same time play, and I’ve got to do a better job.”
“We know we can move the ball. But we’ve made mistakes we shouldn’t be making that is inhibiting our team from winning,” Trestman said. “We’re going to work each day to try to execute better and get things right, so when we get down there [red zone], we can finish drives. We know we have an exciting offense. We haven’t taken advantage of that as a football team.”
The Vipers went into the season expecting to rotate QBs, but the lack of success has been discouraging. “You have to get a feel for the game; you have to get a feel for what the defense is doing,” said Flowers. “It’s hard to get a rhythm or get yourself going when you’re not really getting reps or if you keep swapping in and out. You’ve just got to wait your turn and always stay on top of your game.”
The bright spot shining through the passing game so far has been receiver Dan Williams. At third in the league, he has 145 yards in two games.
“We’ve had big plays in the pass game; we just haven’t efficiently run them,” said Trestman. “It starts with me to make sure we get this done. I hold myself accountable for a lack of explosives. We’re going to continue to work together -- it’s not just the passer, it’s not just the receiver. It’s everyone involved.”
When will the Vipers find their identity?
There are positives to build off of, but the Vipers are still searching for who they are as a team. “There are so many good things we see on tape, but it’s not good enough because we’re not scoring points, and we’re 0-2,” said offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. “We’re trying to uncover as coaches and players exactly how we can execute at a higher level.”
“We’re trying to find the best solution to maximize the abilities of each player. All three guys have unique skillsets. Sometimes it can be tough with a rotation and the flow of a game; when you substitute, when you don’t."
Many of these guys haven’t played a meaningful game in a year or more. There’s going to be rust. Those who can shake it off quickly often reigren victorious.
The Vipers start their two-game stretch at home against teams that will likely be their toughest opponents of the season in the Houston Roughnecks and the DC Defenders.
“We’re playing at home for the first time,” said Trestman to his squad, following Tuesday’s practice. “And the memory we’ll have is how we play on Saturday.”
Make it a good one.