- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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A quick breakdown of the Week 12 schedule in the Arena Football League:
Friday, May 18
Arizona (3-8) at Tampa Bay (4-6)
These are two proud organizations that have had a lot of success over the years, but the 2007 season has not been kind to them. Tampa Bay is a veteran team that seems to have become old in a hurry. Plus, the Storm has been ravaged by injuries, especially at the QB position. However, head coach Tim Markum will not allow them to quit. They continue to play better than their personnel would indicate and are usually a dependable defensive team. Arizona always moves the ball on offense with one of the all-time AFL great QBs in Sherdrick Bonner, but its problem is a defense that rarely makes key stops and rarely creates turnovers. However, last week against Utah -- the league's top-ranked offense -- the Rattlers played an inspired defensive game. This contest will come down to which defense can make a couple key stops. Although Arizona's offense is more explosive, Tampa Bay plays better defense and that will be the difference as the Storm climb back into the playoff race.
Las Vegas (1-10) at Utah (5-6)
These are two teams in a free fall. While it's not a surprise with Las Vegas because it just doesn't have a competitive roster, Utah is a real disappointment because it has an explosive offense capable of beating anybody. QB Joe Germaine was almost perfect in the first month of the season, but in the last month his pass protection has broken down. Now facing a lot of pressure, he is starting to throw interceptions. That is not good news for a defense that can't stop anybody. However, as bad as things are in Utah, the Blaze get a free pass this week with hapless Las Vegas coming to town. The Gladiators turn the ball over at an alarming rate, lack playmakers on both sides of the ball, and are usually behind so quickly that they are always climbing out of a hole. They are the perfect tonic for the struggling Blaze to get back on track.
Columbus (6-4) at Colorado (7-4)
These are two teams with playoff aspirations and while both seem to fly under the radar, you get the sense that they are getting better each week. Columbus has an offense that is somewhat up and down, but it relies on good defense to keep it in games. The Destroyers have two excellent defensive playmakers in DE Ken Jones and DB Jerald Brown. Jones has nine sacks and Brown likely will be matched up versus Colorado WR Damian Harrell. The Crush have gotten through a tough three-game stretch on short rest and with a healthy Harrell, they might be ready to make a move. Last week, they played excellent defense and had a ferocious pass rush versus Nashville. If they manufacture the same pressure versus Columbus, the Crush will control the flow of the game and create turnovers. This game likely will come down to two factors: Which defense gets to the opposing QB and makes a couple of key defensive stops and can the Destroyers' defense stop Harrell? This appears to be a Colorado win.
Saturday, May 19
Nashville (4-7) at Chicago (8-2)
Nashville is a young team. Some weeks the young Kats are ready to play and some weeks they are not, which was the case last week as an average Colorado defense totally dominated them. The Kats gave up five sacks, QB Jeff Smoker threw three interceptions, and they lost a fumble in an inept offensive game. They failed to run the ball, which is normally their forte, versus a marginal Colorado run defense. They do have a solid playmaker on defense in DB Ahmad Hawkins. He has 10 interceptions and likely will be given the job of slowing down the league's best receiver, Bobby Sippio. But Sippio is coming off an ankle injury that made him ineffective in the second half versus Dallas. If Sippio can't go 100 percent, DeJuan Alfonzo will get the call, but Chicago loses a lot of firepower when Sippio isn't in the mix. The Rush are a veteran team and they know they played a great Dallas team in their "MNF" loss. They will rebound versus the Kats.
Georgia (9-1) at Los Angeles (5-5)
Georgia is coming off a well-deserved bye week. Looking ahead, the Force appear to have a fairly soft schedule and should be a dominating team the rest of the way. They have the most explosive passing game in the league with QB Chris Greisen and WRs Troy Bergeron, Derek Lee and Chris Jackson. Their ability to score points in bunches takes pressure off their defense, which doesn't have to be great and makes enough key stops to keep winning. The Avengers never seem to play consistently to the level that we expect from them. They have a solid defense but they cannot go deep enough to match up with the Georgia receivers. For Los Angeles to win, QB Sonny Cumbie needs to play a clean game, limit turnovers and the Avengers' defense must make a couple of defensive stops. However, this is a tough cross-country trip for the Force and might be the toughest game left on their schedule.
Grand Rapids (3-7) at San Jose (7-3)
The Rampage are not an elite team, but they have an excellent offensive duo of QB Chad Salisbury and WR/KR Timon Marshall and their explosiveness can keep them in a lot of games. They also have improved on defense and are getting solid production from DB Johnnie Harris, who can create turnovers. San Jose is close to being an elite team and is really starting to roll. The SaberCats will be a tough out in the playoffs. The SaberCats are almost impossible to beat at home and have enough playmakers on offense to take the Rampage deep in their defensive matchups. Not only is the San Jose trio of QB Mark Grieb and WRs Ben Nelson and James Roe explosive, but this is not an offense that gives the ball back to the opposition very often. The SaberCats also are coming off a defensive effort that produced four interceptions, two forced fumbles, and several defensive stops over hapless Las Vegas. This looks like an easy game for the home team.
Sunday, May 20
Kansas City (6-4) at New York (3-7)
Kansas City is another one of those teams that seems to go almost unnoticed, but it is fundamentally very sound. The Brigade have the top-ranked defense in the AFL and totally shut down the top offense in the league, Utah, last week. They also have a very efficient offense, led by QB Raymond Philyaw. While the Brigade don't have a great deep passing game, they spread the ball around to three quality WRs -- Jerel Myers, Charles Frederick, and rising star Boo Williams, who is so big and physical that he is almost an impossible matchup for most DBs in this league. With Aaron Garcia at QB for the Dragons, they are capable of scoring as many points as any team in this league. New York can make this an up-tempo high scoring game and upset the Brigade.
Orlando (6-4) at Austin (3-7)
The Predators still are not playing great offensive football, even though they are winning. Right now they are forced to rely on their defense to make key stops and create turnovers. For a smart offensive team with a legendary head coach in Jay Gruden, the Predators do a poor job of converting turnovers into points and struggle to finish drives. However, the Predators have found the receiver that they have been looking for, in Ron Johnson, who is big, physical and gives the Preds a complementary target to go along with speedster Javarus Dudley. Austin QB Lang Campbell needs to grow into his new job because he has some quality receivers in Derrick Lewis and Kevin Nickerson. Orlando's defense will control the pace of this game.
Note: A full breakdown of ESPN2's "Monday Night Football" game between
New Orleans (4-6) and Philadelphia (4-6) will be posted on Friday.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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