After a game head coach Chris Siegfried would probably like to forget, he believes a bye was just what the doctor ordered for the Power, who limped into the off-week literally and figuratively. Injuries continued to plague the young team, and a 23-point loss to a struggling Tulsa squad was definitely the low point of this young season. Now Siegfried is getting his players ready for a game he probably won’t forget even if he tries. It’s a home contest against the organization he called home last year as its offensive coordinator. Furthermore, with the Power stuck in second place in the East Division–with a little help from Philadelphia and Milwaukee–it’s a chance for the expansionists to make a statement against one of the AFL’s early front-runners, a team that seemed to pick up where it left off after winning the South Division in 2010. Here’s a look at what the Power are up against in Week 6:
KICKOFF: 7:30 PM, CONSOL Energy Center
TV/RADIO: WPCW-TV/The CW (Bob Pompeani on play-by-play, Craig Wolfley on color); 93.7 The Fan (Troy Clardy on play-by-play, Darnell Dinkins on color, Megan Wolfley reporting)
LAST WEEK: The Power enjoyed that bye in Week 5 after a 45-22 inter-conference loss to the Tulsa Talons at CONSOL Energy Center in Week 4. It was the Talons’ first win of the season after dropping three straight, and it came after back-to-back wins by the Power. The Sharks also had Week 5 off following a 54-30 road victory over their South Division rivals, the Tampa Bay Storm, in Week 4. Jacksonville has won three straight, all against divisional opponents.
MEET THE QUARTERBACKS:
Anthony Morelli, Pittsburgh: A couple of local boys who signed with the Power have gone through baptism by fire during this young season. First, Pine-Richland native Kevin McCabe was thrust into the starting QB role when original No. 1 guy Bernard Morris went down with a bad shoulder, and now, with McCabe out indefinitely due to a herniated disk, the Penn Hills grad and Penn State alumnus gets his turn. In Week 4 versus Tulsa, Morelli went 11-of-14 (64.7%) for 114 yards, one TD, one INT, and a two-point conversion run in mop-up duty, good for a 74.1 passer rating, while scrambling once for 11 yards.
Aaron Garcia, Jacksonville: He is the undisputed driving force behind the Sharks’ offense, and at age 40, the 17th-year man from Sacramento State is one of the elder statesmen of arena football, the AFL’s career leader with 46,068 pass yards all-time. He broke into the old AFL with the Arizona Rattlers in 1995, and Jacksonville is his sixth different team. In this, his second season with the Sharks, he is 81-of-110 (73.6%) for 982 yards, 25 touchdowns, and four INT’s. His 125.1 passer rating is currently second in the AFL, he’s tied for the third-most TD tosses, and his aforementioned completion percentage is tops in the league. In Week 4 at Tampa Bay, Garcia went 21-of-27 (77.8%) for 238 yards, six TD’s, and was picked once.
*Chris Siegfried is not the only member of the Pittsburgh Power who should be looking forward to this “homecoming” game, so to speak. Five members of Siegfried’s active roster played under him in Jacksonville last year, most notably injured quarterback Bernard Morris, kicker Paul Edinger, and wide receiver Jason Willis. Edinger has converted 21 of his 23 P.A.T. attempts to go with a pair of field goals, putting him in a fourth-place tie for AFL scoring by kickers with 27 points. Willis has caught 26 passes for 220 yards and two scores, including the first in franchise history.
*As is the case at Penguins home games, programs are given away at Power home games upon entry to CONSOL Energy Center…and this time, you might want to keep it handy. Defensive back Lenny Wicks, one of the team’s top tacklers, and lineman Darius Robinson have been released by the Power. Wide receiver David Ball has been reassigned, as fellow receiver Lonnell DeWalt returns from a one-game suspension for violating league rules in Week 3. Defensive back Antonio Smith is off IR, and McCabe has been placed on IR. Former Tulsa fullback/linebacker Anthony DeGrate has been added, as has quarterback Xavier Lee, who played last year with the AFL’s now-defunct Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz.
(By the way, despite recent legal issues, defensive back Josh Lay remains on the roster, according to team sources, but is out for Saturday with a concussion.)
*Garcia’s impact is quite obvious. The Sharks entered Week 6 in a three-way tie with the Orlando Predators and Georgia Force for the top spot in the South Division largely because of their offense, which has registered 241 points. Through Week 5 that was the most of any team in the American Conference, in which both these teams play, and it was the third-best output in the AFL. But the Jacksonville QB isn’t doing it by himself. With 71 yards and three TD’s on 17 carries, Kirby Griffin is ranked as one of the top ten fullbacks in the league. Jomo Wilson leads Jacksonville with 398 receiving yards on 25 catches, and Jerome Harvey sits second with 353 on 26. Both are among the top five in the AFL in TD receptions; Harvey has ten, and Wilson nine.
*For all the Power’s offensive struggles, one of their most redeeming qualities has been the play of fullback and Duquesne graduate Joshua Rue. Through four games he has toted the rock 17 times for 39 yards, and his six rush TD’s tied him for fourth in the Arena Football League in that category entering Week 6. He also has two receiving touchdowns on the year, giving him the team lead in scoring with 48 points, and one of them was a pretty catch-and-run play that got Pittsburgh on the board against Tulsa two weeks ago. Jacksonville should be an interesting–and difficult–matchup for Rue, as the Sharks have allowed a league-low 46 rush yards.
*Defensively these teams seem to mirror each other. Both have executed at a very high level; Jacksonville enters this game with a negligible edge in points allowed, 175-178. That puts the Sharks fourth overall, while the Power rank an equally respectable fifth going into this weekend’s action. The question is, which team can best finish its drives? As well as the Sharks have played defensively, they rank a mere 16th out of 18 in passing yardage allowed (1,257) through Thursday. The Power’s defense, for all its commendable efforts, has allowed the second-most rush yards in the AFL (159). A big key for Pittsburgh may be the ability of guys like linebacker Gary Butler, who is tied for second in the AFL with 3.0 sacks and leads Pittsburgh with three fumble recoveries, to get pressure on Garcia. Thanks in large part to Butler, the Power entered Week 6 fourth in the league in pass yardage allowed. Conversely, Morelli is going to have to protect the ball, which means keeping it away from Jacksonville DB Micheaux Robinson. Robinson was among the AFL interception leaders last year with seven, and he’s already tied for second in the league with three picks in his first four games.
By Matt Popchock