- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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A quick breakdown of the Week 10 schedule in the Arena Football League:
Friday, May 4
New York (2-6) at Columbus (4-4)
You have to admire the grit and resilience of the Dragons. They continue to fight through a nightmare season and stay competitive, Meanwhile, Columbus teases you one week and lays an egg the next week. With the return of Aaron Garcia at QB, the Dragons can compete offensively with most teams in this league. After missing the first eight games with an injury, Garcia picked apart the Columbus secondary for 231 yards and seven TDs and if the Dragons defense can break on the ball and make plays like they did last week (four interceptions versus Arizona), New York can turn their season around. Columbus is really struggling right now and is showing limited offensive explosiveness. While they play decent overall defense, they do not match up well in the secondary versus Garcia and Co. New York will put too many points on the board for the Columbus offense to compete in an up-tempo offensive game.
Orlando (5-3) at Georgia (8-1)
The Predators did not get caught up in the bright lights of Las Vegas last week. They were efficient on offense and outstanding on defense, but that defense will be severely tested this week at Georgia when they face the best and most versatile passing game in the AFL. This will be a great matchup between the Predators' dominating defense (six defensive stops last week) versus the Force's trio of wide receivers, Derek Lee, Troy Bergeron, and Chris Jackson. If the pass rush can get to QB Chris Greisen and force some hurried throws, it will protect a secondary that cannot hold up too long in man-to-man coverage. However, Orlando QB Shane Stafford is getting hot and his accuracy and decision making is excellent. In an exciting offensive game featuring two QBs who don't throw interceptions the result will come down to which defense makes one or two defensive stops. This should be the best game of the week.
Dallas (8-1) at Utah (5-4)
Although they continue to win and remain an elite team, the Desperados do not seem to be clicking on all cylinders. Still, they usually have enough veteran leadership and playmakers to overcome most of those rough spots. Utah, on the other hand, continues to be an up-and -down team, usually relying on offensive explosiveness to win games and overcome a marginal defense. Blaze QB Joe Germaine is great when he has time to throw, but last week San Jose sacked him four times and forced five Utah turnovers. The scary part for Utah is Dallas has the defensive personnel to produce those same kinds of results. The Desperados can adjust to any style of offense or defense and they can match the Blaze's passing game TD for TD. The the difference in this game will likely be the Dallas defense coming through with pressure and stops. The Desperados are a veteran team who will not be intimidated on the road and until Utah starts playing defense, it will be just another exciting offensive team that teases us.
Saturday, May 5
Nashville (4-5) at Grand Rapids (2-6)
The Kats continue to play hard with their young roster and they never seem to be out of a game. They do a better job of running the football better than any team in the AFL behind FB Dan Alexander, who already has a record 27 rushing TDs. That leads to excellent ball control and red zone production. Grand Rapids has one huge playmaker, Timon Marshall, who is a big threat not only as a WR but also as a kick returner. He is coming off a performance versus Los Angeles where he had 406 all-purpose yards. The Rampage are not explosive on offense and if the Kats can neutralize Marshall and tackle well on special teams, they should be in good shape. Look for Nashville to run the ball and play fairly conservatively on offense, while depending on their defense to control the Grand Rapids passing game. This may be a low scoring contest and Nashville may be better equipped to make a couple of key defensive stops.
Kansas City (4-4) at Philadelphia (4-4)
Both teams are coming off losses, but at least the Soul finally get to play a home game. Right now Philadelphia is just trying to keep its head above water and get through a tough period of multiple injuries. With a backup QB and new receivers, there isn't much of a flow to the passing game. Defenses that play tight pass coverage seem to have a lot of success versus a group of Soul receivers who sometimes struggle to separate and get open . Kansas City has two good DBs who break on the ball well in Kenny McEntyre and Isaiah Trufant, and they will match up well. QB Raymond Philyaw usually makes good decisions and he must be smart versus a Soul secondary who will gamble and take a lot of chances. The Brigade will run the ball well in the red zone and they will not waste a lot of scoring opportunities. With a struggling Soul offense, the defense must step up and control this game. If that happens, the Soul will stop their losing streak.
San Jose (5-3) at Arizona (2-7)
The SaberCats are a scary team when they are in sync and they have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to beat any team in the league. Arizona, on the other hand, is really a disappointment because they can be dominating on offense, but they don't make enough stops on defense. That means when the Rattlers' offense isn't perfect, they are in trouble. Rattlers QB Sherdrick Bonner was picked off four times last week by New York and Arizona can't afford to make that many offensive mistakes facing a SaberCats defense that forced five turnovers and registered four sacks last week at Utah. San Jose will spread the ball around on offense and QB Mark Grieb will have time to let his receivers get good separation. On the other side of the ball, the SaberCats defense will make life miserable for Bonner with pressure and physical tackling. That will be the difference in this great rivalry.
Sunday, May 6
Tampa Bay (2-6) at Austin (3-5)
You have to admire the grittiness of Tampa Bay as they continue to fight through injuries and personnel deficiencies to somehow remain competitive. With QBs John Kaleo and Stoney Case hurt, the Storm are now down to rookie Brett Dietz. While they are not explosive, at least they're not making a lot of mistakes and are getting good production from several good young defensive players. For Tampa Bay to win, its defense must make key stops and create turnovers because this offense cannot afford to get into a high-scoring game. Austin needs to get more consistency out of QB Adrian McPherson. Right now he makes as many plays with his feet as he does with his arm. Until he becomes a better decision maker, this offense will struggle with turnovers and the Wranglers do not have a defense that can overcome those mistakes.
Los Angeles (4-4) at Las Vegas (1-8)
Los Angeles is a very good football team, but it doesn't always bring the "A" game to the party. This week, they face a Las Vegas squad that is undermanned and both offensively and defensively challenged. The Gladiators were behind 34-0 at halftime last week versus Orlando and have no explosiveness on either side of the ball. They cannot protect their QB, convert on third down or make key defensive stops. The Avengers have an explosive offense with QB Sonny Cumbie and when he plays a clean game, they are tough to beat. Defensively, they should have no problem shutting the Las Vegas offense down with man-to-man coverage schemes that will lead to interceptions. When the Avengers jump out to an early lead, this game will be over.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.