Five observations from Wild Card weekend
What's wrong with Dallas? Why was Arizona upset? What can Utah do to improve? Gary Horton knows.
Here are some quick observations after watching the AFL Wild Card games.
Is the Desperados' window closing?Last week's loss to the New York Dragons marks the second year in a row Dallas was shocked in the postseason. The Desperados are loaded with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Clint Dolezel and playmakers all over the field, yet they lost to an inferior opponent again. It will be interesting to see if the team decides to call those two postseason losses flukes and stand pat, or whether it will make changes in the offseason? This team has high expectations every year and I don't think owner Jerry Jones will tolerate losing much more.
The Blaze only need a halfway-decent defenseUtah has been the most confusing team in the league all year. It is the most one-dimensional team in the AFL, having scored 124 touchdowns while allowing 128. Heading into the postseason I believed this was the most dangerous team out there, but they just couldn't make any stops in the postseason. The Blaze had a league-low eight interceptions on the season, and I can't help but wonder how good they might be if they had even a middle-of-the-road defense. Utah shouldn't worry about its offense during the offseason, but it needs to add a pass-rusher and a ball hawk.
Predators' not on the same pageIt was obvious to me that QB Shane Stafford and coach Jay Gruden were not on the same page. Even though Stafford put up good numbers Gruden was not happy with his play, particularly on a slant pass against Cleveland that came late in the game as orlando was trying to preserve timeouts. Gruden is a former AFL quarterback, a tough coach to play for and he has high expectations. Stafford doesn't anticipate well or set his feet effectively and he has a lot of passes tipped. Gruden has pulled him in the past and you just get the feeling he isn't completely satisfied with the team's quarterback play.
Why isn't the Crush offense better?Despite the good numbers that QB John Dutton and the Crush offense put up this year, I still don't trust them. This offense has been very inconsistent, almost confusing, all season long despite looking good in paper. Dutton was sacked only six times during the regular season but the team ranked only 14th in the league in passing.
Upset in Arizona no surpriseArizona faced a Grand Rapids team that has the most creative offense in the AFL and the Rampage scored on all but one possession against the Rattlers, mainly because Arizona has the worst pass rush in the league. However, the bigger reason for the Ratters' loss was inconsistent quarterback play. This team has had three starting quarterbacks -- Lane Campbell, Jeff Smoker and Matt Sauk -- the last of whom was benched for the playoffs. This team is looking at three quarterbacks heading into next season, which means the Rattlers probably don't feel they can rely on any one of them in particular.
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.