Arena Football Preview: Power vs. Shock
Although the Power remained a banged-up bunch, it wasn’t necessarily injuries that derailed them in Week 8. Newcomers Craig Fulton Jr. and Dayon Benson each contributed, and the defense contained Georgia’s lethal attack for two quarters. Rather, it was inconsistency that did them in, as the Power failed to show up for all four. Anthony Morelli looked shaky for much of the second half last Saturday, his top targets were almost invisible, and so the opportunity for a third road win in as many tries gradually vanished into the warm southern air. Now the Power find themselves back at home, where, for the second time in a row, head coach Chris Siegfried will lead his team against one of his former employers–and an elite quarterback, for that matter–during a potentially pivotal stretch of the 2011 season. Can the Power finally deliver him a much-needed signature win, or was last week’s upset of Arizona a sign of things to come for the defending champs? Here’s what’s on the menu for Week 9:
KICKOFF: 8:00 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 are coming off a 58-39 loss to the Georgia Force at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in American Conference action last Saturday. It was the first road loss in franchise history and their third loss overall in their last four outings. Meanwhile, the Shock have headed in the opposite direction. They are coming off a thrilling 70-69 West Division victory at home over the National Conference-leading Arizona Rattlers, the last remaining undefeated team in the AFL. The ArenaBowl XXIII champions have won three of four overall since beginning the season 0-3 and shaking up their coaching staff.
WHERE THEY STAND: That thumping by the Force left the Power in second place in the American Conference’s East Division, which is where they remain, two games behind the 5-2 Cleveland Gladiators (who defeated the division rival Milwaukee Mustangs Friday), and one game ahead of Milwaukee and the Philadelphia Soul (who lost at home to Jacksonville Friday), who are each 2-6. Despite the recent success of the Power’s Week 9 opponent, the Shock remain last in the National Conference’s four-team West Division, but they did hang onto their No. 10 spot in the AFL Week 9 Coaches’ Poll.
MEET THE QUARTERBACKS:
Anthony Morelli, Pittsburgh: Generally the Power’s offense has been more productive with the former Penn Hills and Penn State star at the helm, though in Week 8 he and his mates missed opportunities, and he appeared out of sync as the game wore on. Against the Georgia Force he completed just 22 of 41 passes (53.6%) for 188 yards and two scores, was intercepted three times, and fumbled near the goal line on a play late in the second quarter that proved rather costly as the game went on. He also ran five times for 42 yards. In three-plus games Morelli has gone 76-of-129 (58.9%) for 824 yards, 14 TD’s, and four INT’s, good for a 92.0 passer rating. He has also scrambled 14 times for 126 yards (eighth in the AFL entering Saturday), one TD, and one two-point play. One bit of good news for the Power is that original starter Bernard Morris is off IR (soreness in throwing arm) and will back up Morelli; in fact, the potential exists for Morris to get the start. In one-plus games the second-year man from Marshall is 38-of-58 (65.5%) for 378 yards, seven TD, and three INT’s, good for a passer rating of 92.5.
Kyle Rowley, Spokane: One of the most proficient quarterbacks in the Arena League seems to have gotten even more comfortable in head coach Rob Keefe’s offense since Keefe took on double duty as the Shock’s offensive coordinator. In Week 8 against Arizona he completed 21 of 31 passes (67.7%) for a very efficient 219 yards and eight touchdowns, was picked off just once, and scored on an early goal-line plunge. Through seven games, the 32-year-old QB from Brown University has completed 179 attempts (third in the AFL entering Saturday) with a completion percentage of 68.6 (fourth in the AFL), good for 2,033 yards (sixth in the AFL), a 116.9 passer rating (sixth in the AFL), and a league-leading 50 TD’s. He has been intercepted just nine times, and earlier this year became the franchise’s all-time passing leader.
*Siegfried should know a thing or two about what Rowley brings to the table. He coached Rowley in 2006 when Spokane was a member of the now-defunct ArenaFootball2 developmental league and he led the Shock to the ArenaCup championship. Hopefully he also knows a thing or two about how to disrupt that offense without two of his top defensive backs. Antonio Smith has been exempted by the Power, with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League having expressed interest in bringing him aboard, and Josh Lay is suspended for two games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. To accomplish that goal, Siegfried has said he’ll give Rowley a lot of different looks on defense–which ranks fourth in the AFL in passing yardage allowed–but above all, the Power simply get more pressure to the QB. Gary Butler is stuck on three sacks since being among the early league leaders in that category, while Terrance Carter added one last week to give him three, and Benson recorded his first in his Power debut. Keep your eye on Carlos Campbell, who led the team with three solo tackles last week.
*One reason to keep an eye on Campbell is because, in all probability, he’ll spend a lot of time covering wide receiver Greg Orton, who ranks tenth in the AFL entering Saturday with 700 yards on 55 catches. His 18 touchdown receptions are tied with Reggie Gray of Chicago and none other than Maurice Purify of Georgia, who lit up the Power’s secondary last week, for third-most in the league. Campbell leads the Power with 37 solo tackles, six pass breakups, two interceptions–one of which came in the second quarter of last Saturday’s loss–and two forced fumbles. Spokane entered the weekend with 2,007 total passing yards, which tied them with division rival San Jose (whom the Power host next week) for fifth-most in the AFL. Although their 408 points are the fewest in the West Division, they are tied for seventh in the league entering Saturday and their 58.3 per-game average ranks fifth.
*As previously mentioned, the Power could use some of that consistency. Only three times this season have they scored 50 or more points, one of which was Mar. 19 against Iowa–the last time they won at CONSOL Energy Center–another of which was Apr. 30, the Power’s most recent victory, at New Orleans. Throughout the 2011 season, with the exception of that victory over the VooDoo, this team has had trouble finishing games. The Power have outscored opponents 83-62 in the first quarter, but have been outscored in quarters two through four. Their first half point differential has been +10, but their second half point differential has been minus-42. One possible solution is to get Josh Rue and Xavier Lee more involved as the game goes on. Rue, the fullback from Duquesne, has collected a team-best ten offensive TD’s, including eight on the ground. Those eight are tied for the fifth-most in the AFL entering Saturday, and Spokane ranks 17th in the 18-team AFL in rushing yards allowed. Lee has fit nicely into this offense, particularly while running the bubble screen, and Florida’s former “Mr. Football” high school award winner is tied for third on the team with six TD’s in just three games. Last week Lee ran for two scores, caught a TD pass, and even threw for one in garbage time. Hopefully he can help spark a Power offense that ranks 16th in passing yardage.
*But perhaps the bottom line for the Power offense is that the primary receivers didn’t pull their weight in Georgia last week, and that needs to change against Spokane. Lonnell DeWalt, who leads the receiving corps with nine touchdowns on 21 catches that have gone for 258 yards, was held to just 37 yards by Georgia. Jason Willis, who leads the team with over 600 all-purpose yards, led the Power in Week 8 with eight catches for 69 yards, but only scored once. Mike Washington, who has 385 yards and six TD’s on 33 catches, but was held to 33 yards and didn’t score in Week 8. One bright spot last week and a potential go-to guy this week is newcomer Craig Fulton Jr., who, after spending 2010 with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz (a defunct AFL team), led the team with 169 all-purpose yards and was very effective on special teams in his Power debut.
Speaking of Power debuts, tonight marks the first game for new linemen Albert Stinson and former Penn State guard Mike Lucian, each of whom could have some big opportunities coming their way, given the knee surgery that standout two-way lineman Neil Purvis now apparently needs. Tonight also marks the 2011 debut of 10-year-old Mick Walsh, an Upper St. Clair native signed by the Power last week via the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
By Matt Popchock