Week 4: Defenders at Vipers Preview
Week 4 of the 2020 XFL season pits the winless Tampa Bay Vipers (0-3) against the DC Defenders (2-1) in the Sunday night finale at Raymond James Stadium.
The Defenders were on the wrong end of a 39-9 loss to the Los Angeles Wildcats in Week 3, and they face a Vipers team with uncertainty at the quarterback position despite a week-to-week improvement.
Defenders vs. Vipers kicks off at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 1, and will be broadcast on ESPN2.
DEFENDERS VS. VIPERS PREVIEW
Matchup: DC Defenders (2-1) vs.Tampa Bay Vipers (0-3)
Game Location: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
Date & Time: Sunday, March 1, at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
TV Broadcasters: Tom Hart (Play-by-Play), Joey Galloway (Color Commentary), Pat McAfee (Reporter)
Live Stream: ESPN.com
Radio Station: 106.7 FM The Fan (Live Stream), Sirius/XM (Channel 81)
WHAT TO WATCH
1. Disrupt the QB
The Vipers enter Week 4 with a major QB issue. Aaron Murray is still dealing with a foot injury, and although he was a full participant at practice on Wednesday, he may struggle to find in-game reps even when active. Quinton Flowers took a leave of absence on Wednesday and is not with the team. The Vipers might have to rely solely on Taylor Cornelius, who has thrown three interceptions and just one touchdown through three games. The DC Defenders make the most of the opportunities on defense.
In Week 3, Josh Johnson and the Wildcats gave them zero opportunity to get involved. That is likely to change against Cornelius. He likes to throw to the middle of the field, and that's where a majority of the Defenders' interceptions and fumbles have taken place. If the Defenders can make Cornelius uncomfortable, just as they did to Brandon Silvers and Matt McGloin, they will put themselves in an excellent position to emerge with the win.
2. Getting Separation
The Defenders wide receivers struggled mightily in Week 3 to get create separation. Cardale Jones found himself under pressure throughout and had issues throwing his receivers open. Eli Rogers, the Defenders' top possession receiver, hauled ina combine 11 catches for 123 yards in the team's first two games. But in Week 3, he caught just one pass for 17 yards. Jones has done a great job evacuating the pocket when under duress and finding the time and room to make a play.
Rashad Ross, DeAndre Thompkins and the aforementioned Rogers will need to take advantage of the matchups they have, like against Anthoula Kelly, who gave up a long touchdown and was on the wrong end of two pass interference penalties in Week 3 against the Houston Roughnecks, to find the space needed to make a play.
3. Balancing Act
Through the first two weeks, Donnel Pumphrey and Jhurell Pressley dominated the carries out of the backfield, with 16 touches for Pumphrey and 23 for Pressley. But in Week 3, Nick Brossette, Khalid Abdullah and Pumphrey each received eight carries, with Pressley getting just six carries. Brossette finished with a game-high 75 rushing yards, including a 38-yard touchdown run. With Pressley dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, Brossette could see a big increase in touches. His Week 3 performance, albeit with the game out of reach, was the most impressive among Defenders running backs through three weeks.
The Defenders have run 188 plays through the first three weeks, and 91 of the plays have been rushing attempts. That isn't likely to change in Tampa, and given how effective Brossette was against Los Angeles, it will be interesting to see how head coach Pep Hamilton shares the rock with his bevy of backfield options.
4. Bouncing Back
The Defenders traveled to Los Angeles for Week 3, riding high following a 2-0 start. Losing to the Wildcats 39-9 could've derailed all the momentum built up in the first two home wins. The game was over before halftime.
Nothing seemed to go according to plan. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Week 3 was just how composed the Defenders were following the loss. The players didn't sulk or give up on each other.
The team has been at the same facility together for just over four months now. That is not a significant amount of time to build team chemistry, and a 30-point loss could've started to create cracks within the team. That didn't happen. The team, as a collective whole, is on to Tampa Bay, where they hope to take out all their frustration on the winless Vipers.
DC DEFENDERS: STAT LEADERS
Passing: Cardale Jones -- 52-for-78, 614 yards, 4 passing TDs, 5 INTs, 15 carries for 61 yards
Rushing: Donnel Pumphrey -- 24 carries for 97 yards; long of 23; 4.0 average
Receiving: Rashad Ross -- 7 receptions for 164 yards on 13 targets; long of 40; 1 TD
Defense: Jameer Thurman -- 18 combined tackles, 14 solo tackles. 2 tackle for loss, 3 pass deflections, 1 INT, 1 Def. TD
DC DEFENDERS: PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
QB: #12 Cardale Jones, #3 Tyree Jackson
RB: #24 Donnel Pumphrey, #26 Jhurell Pressley, #31 Nick Brosette
WR: #19 Malachi Dupre, #1 DeAndre Thompkins
WR: #15 Rashad Ross, #10 Simmie Cobbs
WR: #4 Eli Rogers, #5 Deion Holliman
TE: #86 Khari Lee, #85 Derrick Haward, #80 Donnie Ernsberger
OT: #79 De'Ondre Wesley, #69 Cole Boozer, #72 Logan Tuley-Tilman
OG: #74 Rishard Cook, #78 Malcolm Bunche, #75 Chris Brown
C: #64 Jon Toth, #62 Randall Harris
DE: #93 Tracy Sprinkle, #90 Peli Anau
DT: #96 Jay Bromley, #95 Kenny Bigelow Jr.
NT: #92 Elijah Qualls, #94 Kalani Vakameilalo
SLB: #54 Jonathan Massaquoi
MLB: #58 Scooby Wright, #59 A.J. Tarpley
WLB: #53 Jameer Thurman, #52 Jonathan Celestin
EDGE: #56 KeShun Freeman, #97 Anthony Johnson, #99 Sam Montgomery
CB: #21 Doran Grant, #37 Deion Harris
CB: #25 Desmond Lawrence
S: #22 Matt Elam, #29 Tyree Kinnel
S: #45 Rahim Moore, #38 Shamarko Thomas, #20 Carlos Merritt
Special Teams: #2 Tyler Rausa (K), #7 Hunter Niswander (P), #42 Brian Khoury (LS)
DC DEFENDERS: INJURY REPORT
Injured Reserve: CB Jaylen Myrick, OC James O'Hagan
Injury Report: TE Donnie Ernsberger (shoulder, probable), RB Jhurell Pressley (shoulder, probable)
TAMPA BAY VIPERS: STAT LEADERS
Passing: Taylor Cornelius -- 32-for-58, 347 yards, 1 passing TD, 3 INTs. 6 carries for 33 yards, 1 rushing TD
Receiving: Dan Williams -- 11 receptions for 180 yards on 20 targets. 16.4 avg. 1 TD. Long of 42 yards
Rushing: De'Veon Smith -- 42 carries for 174 yards. 4.1 avg. Long of 13 yards
Defense: S Marcelis Branch -- 21 combined tackles, 10 solo tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for a loss
TAMPA BAY VIPERS: PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
QB: #11 Aaron Murray, #4 Taylor Cornelius, #8 Chase Litton
RB: #24 De'Veon Smith, #29 Jacques Patrick
WR: #17 Jalen Tolliver, #19 Tanner McEvoy, #1 S.J. Green
WR: #18 Reece Horn, #12 Ryan Davis
WR: #81 Dan Williams, #15 Seantavious Jones
TE: #85 Nick Truesdell, #80 DeAndre Goolsby, #86 Colin Thompson, #89 Pharoah McKever
LT: #73 Martez Ivey, #78 Marquis Lucas
LG: #67 Jerald Foster
C: #63 Jordan McCray, #50 John Yarbrough
RG: #76 Daronte Bouldin
RT: #71 Isaiah Williams
DE: #96 Jason Neill, #95 CeCe Jefferson
DT: #92 Josh Banks, #97 Ricky Walker
DT: #49 Nikita Whitlock, Shane Bowman
DE: #53 Deiontrez Mount, #91 Bobby Richardson
MLB: #45 Lucas Wacha, #43 Emmanuel Beal, #54 Anthony Stubbs
WLB: #41 Terrance Plummer, #52 Reggie Northrup
NCB: #27 Micah Hannemann, #37 Robensen Therezie
CB: #32 Jalen Collins, #26 Herb Waters, #31 Trey Caldwell
CB: #23 Anthoula Kelly, #20 Tavarus McFadden
SS: #21 Robert Priester, #30 Demontre Hurst
FS: #35 Marcelis Branch, #28 Bryce Canady
Special Teams: #3 Andrew Franks (K), #10 Jake Schum (P), #42 Nick Moore (LS)
TAMPA BAY VIPERS: INJURY REPORT
Injured Reserve: WR Antonio Callaway, RB Tarean Folston, DE Obum Gwacham, CB Rannell Hall, CB Shelton Lewis, OT Christian Morris, TE Andrew Tiller
Weekly Injury List: CB Jalen Collins (ankle, probable), QB Quinton Flowers (personal, doubtful), WR S.J. Green (knee, questionable), OT Martez Ivey (knee, probable), QB Aaron Murray (foot, probable), TE Nick Truesdell (knee, doubtful), DT Ricky Walker (ankle, probable)