- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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A quick breakdown of the Week 13 schedule in the Arena Football League:
Utah (5-7) at Orlando (7-4)
Utah continues to fade because of a nonexistent defense, while Orlando has now won five of its last six games even though the Predators are not playing their best football. This is a matchup of two teams with opposite strengths and weaknesses. Utah is a scoring machine and leads the league in TDs, but Orlando has the best scoring defense in the AFL and does not give up a lot of big plays. Utah QB Joe Germaine knows he must produce points on just about every possession because the Blaze's last-ranked scoring defense is unlikely to make many stops. That is not good news for a Utah offensive line that has struggled recently in pass protection and now faces one of the best pass-rushers in the league in Greg White. Look for the Predators to attack Germaine from the inside, try to flush him out of the pocket and ruin his timing. Orlando will make enough defensive stops to control this game, and if the Predators protect the ball and avoid turnovers, they will easily handle the disappointing Blaze.
San Jose (8-3) at Nashville (5-7)
Both of these teams are playing their own brand of solid football right now. San Jose is a more talented and explosive team, but Nashville is getting it done with a lot of young players and a very physical running game that eats up the clock. This contrast in philosophy and style could produce a very interesting game. The challenge for Nashville is to slow down a hot San Jose pass offense that can spread the field and really test the depth of the Nashville secondary. SaberCats QB Mark Grieb is not hesitant to get the ball to any of his receivers. A good matchup to watch will be Kats DB Ahmad Hawkins versus SaberCats WR James Roe. Hawkins already has 11 interceptions and is the ultimate playmaker. Look for San Jose to avoid Hawkins and go after rookie DB Keon Raymond. The SaberCats must also figure out a way to stop Dan Alexander and the Nashville run game, which, if effective, will limit the number of touches Grieb and the offense get. This is a dangerous, physical game for San Jose.
Los Angeles (6-5) at Kansas City (6-5)
Los Angeles showed a lot of resilience in an almost must-win situation over a more talented Georgia Force squad. Avengers QB Sonny Cumbie continues to play well, but he's not getting a lot of consistency around him, partly due to a lot of injuries to key players. Their best WR, Kevin Ingram, and best DB, Damon Wheeler, did not play last week versus Georgia. Kansas City has an excellent passing duo of QB Raymond Philyaw and WR Charles Frederick, and unless the L.A. secondary gets healthier, it could present problems. Both QBs will make their share of plays in this game, but the key will likely come down to which defense makes a couple of key stops. Right now Kansas City is one of the top scoring defenses in the league and that may give it the edge.
Colorado (8-4) at Grand Rapids (3-8)
Colorado is starting to put together a very impressive late-season playoff run with better play from QB John Dutton and improved consistency by its defense. Grand Rapids continues to play hard, but it turns the ball over at inopportune times and just doesn't make enough key defensive stops. The Rampage rely on the offensive duo of QB Chad Salisbury and WR/KR Timon Marshall because their scoring defense doesn't usually hold up. Marshall has a great matchup versus Crush DB Rashad Floyd, who will try to get physical and disrupt his routes. The problem for Grand Rapids is a secondary that doesn't match up well and is only as good as the pass rush up front. Dutton can pick apart this defense if he has good pass protection and the Rampage appear to have no answer for WR Damian Harrell. When Colorado takes care of the football, they win. But when they turn the ball over, they lose. It's that simple. If they do the former, the Crush will win this game easily.
Dallas (10-1) at Columbus (6-5)
Dallas is coming off a bye week while Columbus is coming off a loss to Colorado that saw its defense allow the Crush to score on nine of their 11 offensive possessions. That does not bode well this week, as they face an explosive Desperados offense that can spread the field with more playmakers than the Destroyers can match up against. Columbus has one difference maker in the secondary, Jerald Brown, but he will cover either Will Pettis or Marcus Nash. The bad news is he obviously can't cover both. Dallas QB Clint Dolezel should have time to throw the ball, which should lead to a lot of TDs. That, in turn, puts a lot of scoring pressure on the Destroyers' offense. QB Matt Nagy injured his elbow last week and was replaced by Scott Dreisbach, who played well, but this position is in flux facing one of the best defenses in the league. Dallas will shut down the Columbus passing game, neutralize WR Damien Groce and continue to roll.
Tampa Bay (5-6) at Georgia (9-2)
Don't look now, but Tampa Bay is starting to put together a playoff run after a horrible early season. The Storm will have their hands full this week versus Georgia, which despite coming off a disappointing road loss to L.A., still features the best pass offense in the AFL. The WR trio of Chris Jackson, Troy Bergeron, and Derek Lee is nearly impossible to stop and QB Chris Greisen is still putting up big numbers. Still, for the first time this season, an opposing defense made key defensive stops, holding the Force to a 3-for-9 conversion rate on third and fourth downs. That's exactly what Tampa Bay must do to stay in this game. The Storm are getting unexpected production from QB Brett Dietz and are playing very smart offensive football, but their defense is the key to their resurgence. They are holding opposing QBs to almost a 50 percent completion rate. If they play that way versus Georgia, they have a shot. But the Force are at home and they will rebound.
Chicago (8-3) at Arizona (3-9)
If you don't think one great playmaker can make a huge difference in the AFL, just ask Chicago. Without injured WR Bobby Sippio, the Rush only scored 27 points in a lackluster loss to Nashville. Arizona was equally disappointing against Tampa Bay last week, when its struggling pass protection and special teams play led to another frustrating loss. Chicago is not an explosive team without Sippio. While the WR duo of Rob Mager and DeJuan Alfonzo is competitive, it doesn't scare many defenses. However, the biggest problem for the Rush is their talented defense that for some reason cannot stop the run. If Arizona is smart, it will try to shove the ball right down Chicago's throat with a physical run game. If Arizona slows this game down and if QB Sherdrick Bonner plays a clean game, the Rattlers have a real shot at upsetting the defending champs.
Sunday, May 27
Philadelphia (5-6) at Austin (3-8)
You have to give Austin credit for still playing hard, even though it has gone through a QB makeover and has been an underachieving team on both sides of the ball this season. It may not matter, however, if we see the same Philadelphia Soul team that humiliated New Orleans 78-34 on Monday night. Getting QB Tony Graziani back from a shoulder injury was a huge boost for the entire organization, but the real story for the Soul was a defense that scored three TDs of its own. Austin has no chance, offensively, to get on a roll if we see the same defensive effort by Philadelphia. Graziani does not have all of his arm strength back, but he can still throw all of the touch passes, including the fade. He should be able to find favorable matchups versus the Austin secondary. Unless the Wranglers can get some hits on Graziani, they will be hard-pressed to stay in this game.
Note: A full breakdown of ESPN2's Monday night game between New York (4-7) and New Orleans (4-7) will be posted on Friday.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
1dEthan Sherwood Strauss