- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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Colorado at San Jose
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com
Colorado may be the toughest team in the playoffs to get a handle on. The Crush don't look like a playoff team because they don't dominate in any particular area and at times they seem to underachieve. However, they seem to find a way to win. San Jose is one of the elite teams in the AFL. The SaberCats started the season slow, but finished the regular season with six straight wins, which gave them solid playoff momentum. Colorado puts up decent offensive numbers, but something seems to be missing, in terms of explosiveness, which will require them to play an almost-perfect offensive game versus an a defense that is good at applying pressure and creating turnovers. The SaberCats are hard to beat at home, but you never know what to expect from the Crush.
Colorado keys to success
1. Explosiveness on offense: The Crush offense is somewhat-confusing because some of the teams' numbers are good, but something is missing. The Crush throw the ball more than any other team. They accumulated 116 touchdowns, but they seem to turn the ball over at key times and don't always convert offensive possessions into scores. Colorado is facing an elite San Jose defense, but QB John Dutton must find some matchups that he likes.
2. Pass protection: Most people don't think of this as an elite Colorado offensive line, but it does a good job protecting Dutton. The offensive line must play its best game versus the top pass rush in the league. Dutton is not going to run out of trouble and he is not the same quarterback when he is under pressure. However, he has some quality wide receivers who he can trust. If he has time to throw, he can make some plays versus a good San Jose defense.
3. Pass-rush pressure: Colorado isn't flashy on defense, but it has an underrated pass rush, led by Aaron McConnell off the edge coupled with an active front. SaberCats QB Mark Grieb has thrown more interceptions than usual in 2008 and he is especially vulnerable to pressure from the inside. However, that is not where Colorado usually attacks. If the Crush defensive line doesn't create pressure, it will expose a secondary with only one playmaker, Rashad Floyd. San Jose's pass offense is versatile and deep, which puts a lot of pressure on the Crush.
San Jose keys to success
1. Pressure QB John Dutton: The SaberCats have the most prolific pass rush in the AFL, with a league-leading 30 sacks. But they face an offensive line that is surprisingly good at protecting Dutton. He doesn't have great mobility, he attempts more passes than any other quarterback in the league and when pressured he tends to make some ill-advised throws leading to turnovers.
2. Stay away from DB Rashad Floyd: He is the best playmaker the Crush have and he can make game-changing plays. He reads routes very well and has excellent closing ability when the ball is in the air. Floyd finished the regular season with nine interceptions and 117.5 tackles. He can take almost any receiver out of the game, but he can't cover all three of the Crush receivers. Grieb will likely stay away from Floyd and concentrate on his complementary receivers on the edge.
3. Establish an early tone: There is no question that San Jose plays with a swagger at home. However, Colorado shows more resiliency than you would expect and it doesn't seem to get intimidated easily. The SaberCats need to make a statement early and not give the Crush the opportunity to think they can stay with them. San Jose will come out aggressively in the passing game and try to create a turnover or two before halftime. If the game is close at the half, the Crush have a chance.
Nobody really expected Colorado to still be playing at this point of the season, but now the Crush have a tall task in front of them. San Jose has won six games in a row and it is very tough to beat at home. If the Crush play a great defensive game, they have a chance to be competitive. Dutton also has to play a clean game to stay in it. It is hard to imagine this is going to happen and this looks to be a fairly dominating SaberCats win.
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.
2dKevin Van Valkenburg