PLANT CITY — As they prepare for their XFL home debut, the Tampa Bay Vipers spent this week searching for how to get their stagnant red-zone offense going.
Is it just that they are a new team with new players in a new league still getting used to playing with each other?
Has shuffling quarterbacks — sometimes within the same drive — prevented them from maintaining momentum into the end zone
Is it that the main practice field the Vipers use across the Plant City Stadium outfield spans just 80 yards?
Regardless of the theory, the Vipers (0-2) enter their 2 p.m. game against Houston Saturday at Raymond James Stadium knowing that something has to change. They haven’t scored a touchdown in eight quarters and are 0-for-7 in the red zone.
"It's like a curse or something right now," said quarterback Taylor Cornelius. "But we're changing things around and we'll find the end zone this week."
It’s not like the Vipers haven’t moved the ball. They rank third in the eight-team XFL in total offense (341.5 yards a game), bolstered by a running game that ranks second (145.5 yards).
On four of those seven red-zone drives, the Vipers had first down inside the opponent’s 10-yard line and netted zero points.
“We’ve moved the field running the ball, we’ve moved the field throwing the ball,” Vipers coach Marc Trestman said. “The bottom line is we haven’t been efficient in the red zone. ... We know we can move the ball. We know we have an exciting offense.”
In a 17-9 loss Sunday at Seattle, the Vipers drove 66 yards, switching between quarterbacks Cornelius and USF product Quinton Flowers. They had a first-and-goal 1 trailing by five in the second half, and couldn’t score. After converting twice on third down with clutch passes, Cornelius threw an incompletion on third-and-goal and Trestman’s decision to kick a field goal blew up when holder Jack Schum fumbled the snap.
The Vipers quarterbacks have varied skillsets. Cornelius is a 6-foot-6, gunslinger. Flowers is a dual-threat. In most of his snaps, he’s been used to supplement the running game. Aaron Murray, who is likely to miss his second straight game with a foot injury, is the team’s starter but struggled in the opener.
The quarterbacks admit moving in and out is an adjustment.
“You have to get a feel for what the defense is doing," Flowers said. "So it’s hard to get a rhythm and get yourself going when you’re not really getting reps or if you keep swapping in and out. So you just got to wait your time and just always stay on top of your game.”
In the opening loss at New York, Trestman made three quarterback changes in the second half. He said it’s “too early to tell” whether switching quarterbacks is a detriment, but Trestman did say that he’d like to make things simpler offensively for everyone.
“I think that's what we're going to try to do across the board,” Trestman said. “We want to give our guys a chance to go play fast and play free."
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.