Blaze's explosive offense might be too hot for Crush
Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton takes an in-depth look at this week's Colorado-Utah game.
Colorado at Utah
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com
These are unlikely playoff teams, but both played well down the stretch and anything can happen in the postseason. Utah looks like a dangerous playoff team despite its mediocre record because of a terrific offense. It's the lack of defensive stops that is usually the Blaze's Achilles heel. Colorado puts up good offensive numbers and has some defensive playmakers, but something still seems to be missing. The Crush just don't seem to show consistency from week to week. Utah would like to make this a wide-open, offensive-oriented game because it is better equipped to put up big numbers. But this game could come down to which defense steps up and makes a couple of key stops. The Blaze seem to have a lot of momentum right now and playing at home gives them an added boost of confidence. It will be fun to watch their offense.
Colorado keys to success1. Pass rush pressure: The Crush have a somewhat underrated pass rush and a quality edge guy in DE Aaron McConnell (nine sacks). This is a pretty active group. The Utah offensive line has given up 21 sacks, partly because of uneven pass protection, but also partly due to QB Joe Germaine's tendency to hold on to the ball until the last second to allow his receivers to separate. The Colorado secondary does not create a lot of big plays (only eight interceptions) and if the rush up front is not effective, Germaine will pick the Crush apart and exploit good matchups.
2. Don't get into an early hole: Utah is very explosive and capable of putting up points in bunches. They are the No. 3 scoring offense in the AFL with 124 TDs, while Colorado is ranked 10th in scoring defense. In a tough road environment, the Crush cannot afford to get behind early and let Utah's confidence grow. If they can stay close until halftime and slow this game down a little bit, they have a chance to steal it in the second half. The Crush must create a positive tone early in the game, but it won't be easy.
3. More explosive offensive plays: This is a tough offense to get a handle on because John Dutton is having a career year with a league-leading 681 passing attempts and 94 TDs, yet the Crush pass offense is ranked just 14th. Dutton has also thrown 17 interceptions. They just don't seem able to convert key possessions on a weekly basis. They score well versus the weaker teams, but when the Crush play an elite defense they seem to struggle and this is a team that cannot waste offensive possessions. They are also thin at WR because of injuries, but Dutton needs some big passing plays to match Utah's explosive offense.
Utah keys to success1. Stay away from DB Rashad Floyd: Floyd is a difference maker and might be the best center fielder in the AFL. He has great instincts and closes on the ball very well. His nine interceptions and 117.5 tackles are a good indication of how good his ball skills are. He can take almost any receiver out of the game in single coverage situation, but he can't cover everybody. Look for Germaine to use motion and his complementary receivers to stay away from Floyd and create more favorable matchups. The Blaze will not allow Floyd to beat them.
2. Make some plays in the secondary: Utah's defensive backs just don't make a lot of game-changing defensive plays and are not a group of ballhawks (just eight INTs). The Blaze also tend to give up a lot of big play (16th in scoring defense) and do not match up well versus elite pass offenses. Colorado only has two healthy quality receivers -- Ben Nelson and Willie McQuinnie -- and that should allow the Blaze to change up their coverages and take a few more chances than they usually do. They need to keep Dutton off-balance.
3. Set an offensive tone early: Utah is a hot team right now and enter the playoffs with confidence, especially at home. A perfect scenario for the Blaze would be to have big first quarter and force the Crush into playing catch-up football. That would also keep the crowd in the game, but a slow start would give Colorado unexpected confidence.
PredictionUtah is the more dangerous team right now and despite its 6-10 record, it is an explosive offensive team and capable of getting on a roll. Can you imagine how good the Blaze would have been if their defense played even adequate football on a weekly basis? Colorado has a chance to put up decent offensive numbers, but they doesn't look explosive enough on either side of the ball to go deep in the playoffs. Look for Utah to make a statement at home and send a message to the rest of the playoff teams that it is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.