- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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After watching Dallas beat Philadelphia Monday, I am convinced the Desperados are the most complete team in the AFL. The only way they are going to lose is if they take an opponent lightly and are not mentally prepared to play.
Dallas has all the ingredients of a great team -- a poised veteran quarterback, a great duo of receivers, an offensive line that pass protects and a running game that can eat up the clock and dominate in the red zone. Defensively, the Desperados have an excellent pass rush, athletic linebackers that are playmakers and a very physical secondary. The Desperados are stacked with veterans and have an uncanny sense of who they are, which is why they can win so many games coming from behind.
QB Clint Dolezel calls his own plays, which allows him to get into a great flow. The Desperados don't get rattled on either side of the ball and rarely abandon their game plan. Dallas might lose a couple of games along the way, but this is a team capable of running the table on the way to the championship -- if it plays up to its ability each week.
Around the AFL
• Utah QB Joe Germaine could be the best this league has ever seen by the time he's finished. He is still somewhat of a newcomer to the indoor game, but he's being coached by the best in the business, Danny White. He obviously has physical skills, but what I really like about Germaine is his mental approach. He is cool under pressure, never gets rattled, and the game seems to go in slow motion for him. His decision-making is off the charts, with 52 touchdown passes to only three interceptions. And because the Blaze are not as strong defensively, Germaine is in a system that emphasizes scoring, which will further inflate his stats. Right now, I think Germaine is the best quarterback in this league.
• The Western Division of the American Conference, which has always been very competitive and entertaining, has been very disappointing so far this season. San Jose, Los Angeles and Arizona have been inconsistent. Despite flashes of brilliance from all there, neither team appears to have the ability to put together a string of productive performance. Even though they look like mediocre teams right now, San Jose and Los Angeles have the talent and personnel to be very competitive in the playoffs. Could we see a repeat of 2007, where Chicago was a mediocre 7-9 during the regular season before going on a run in the playoffs and winning it all?
• Because of the short field and receivers taking advantage of forward motion, it is very difficult to be a good cover corner in this league. Even the best AFL defensive backs have receivers run by them, which forces them to play trail-position coverages and try to make a play on the ball at the last second, often going over the top of the receiver. What it really leads to are a lot of DBs that sit on routes and try to guess. The good ones watch a lot of film, get a great feel for routes and then take chances by anticipating and reading the quarterback and receiver. That can lead to big plays on defense, but it can also lead to surrendering big plays with blown coverages. This game doesn't favor the type of turn-and-run cover corner who can play in the NFL.
• We have talked in the past about how the free substitution rules have really improved the play of the offensive lines, which has led to better quarterback play and more entertaining passing games. A lot of people thought these rules actually would favor the defense because teams could utilize smaller and more athletic pass rushers who didn't have to play both ways. However, the pass rush and pass protection schemes in this league are very simple and it usually comes down to one-on-one confrontations. And with no twists on defense, blown assignments are rare because the offensive linemen and blocking fullback easily identify their assignments. With big pass blockers who don't have to play on defense and quarterbacks who get the ball out quickly, blockers usually can engulf the defender and hold their ground. The smart teams have put a lot of work into re-tooling and upgrading their offensive line.
• We tend to think of the AFL as a pass-happy league, where running the football is an afterthought, but we probably have more successful rushing teams now than at any other time. Offensive linemen are now one-way players who don't have to take snaps on defense, and they are big guys who have been blockers all of their lives. That not only improves pass pro, but it also enhances run blocking. You also have fullbacks who are fresher, because they don't have to be full-time linebackers on defense. Most teams have gone a little smaller along the defensive line to get a better and more athletic pass rush, but that creates a size mismatch for a bigger and more physical offensive rushing attack.
• Tampa Bay is a proud organization, but the team is a disaster right now and is devastated at the quarterback position. Ineffective John Kaleo was replaced earlier in the season by Stoney Case, who played well. But now Case is out with a separated shoulder, and Kaleo is back in the lineup. Good defenses are dominating the Storm offense, and Tampa Bay is struggling to even be competitive. The Storm will work to fix their problems, but if the personnel isn't good enough, it doesn't matter what adjustments they make.
• Who are Kansas City and Columbus? Both are playing well, but we don't know a lot about either. Maybe we will have a better feel for Columbus after this week's game against Philadelphia.
• With a lot of immobile quarterbacks in this league, we see a lot of defenses trying to create pass-rush pressure up the middle. These AFL quarterbacks don't like to be flushed out of the pocket and throw on the run, so that's exactly what defenses are trying to do.
• You have to give Las Vegas credit for playing hard last week with an undermanned roster, a new quarterback, and a lot of inside turmoil. They took a superior Georgia Force team to the wire before losing by one point -- that's a credit to both the coaches and players.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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