By Matt Popchock
If the Power aspire to be a championship team, the team and its head coach, Chris Siegfried, like all champions, must manage adversity, and once again, they have some adversity on their hands.
Last Saturday’s 62-55 loss to the Storm in Tampa Bay ended the team’s four-game winning streak, and dropped the Power (7-5) back into a dead heat with the Cleveland Gladiators for first place in the American Conference’s East Division. Furthermore, they must endure more injuries and subsequent roster turnover.
Siegfried is preparing his men for another worthy road test, as the host Utah Blaze (5-7) will be eager to get out of their ongoing slump and back into the playoff picture themselves.
We caught up with Coach Siegfried before Thursday’s practice on the South Side, and he discussed what the team needs to fix before Saturday’s 9:00 P.M. kickoff at EnergySolutions Arena, who the latest player is to return from injury, and whether the team can take anything from two earlier wins over West Division teams…
Q: As you look back on the season, and on last Saturday’s game specifically, are the self-inflicted wounds still the biggest thing keeping this team from reaching its peak? Or was last week’s game just one of those games where you have to swallow your pride, and give the opponent credit?
A: It’s a little bit of both, I think. If you look back at the rest of the season, and the games we’ve lost, we’ve battled through some injury issues, and that’s the first part of why we let some games get away. A lot of times, it is self-inflicted mistakes…you throw a bad ball, or you fumble, or don’t make an interception when you have an opportunity to…or you allow the officials to affect the game. But you really do have to take your hat off to Tampa, because offensively, I think they played better than they’ve played all season long. And they made plays…the receivers made juggling catches, diving catches…they were really on fire Saturday night. I thought we hung in there and fought hard, but at the end of the game, we made more mistakes, and they made more plays.
Q: Is the mindset going to be similar as you get set to face Utah? When I look at them, I see another team that, like Tampa Bay, has a lot of veterans, and has some talented individuals on defense.
A: They’re a good football team. They’re a high-scoring team, they’re a team that plans on outscoring opponents. They’re not a great defensive team, though their defensive line is very, very good. They’re just a team that has a veteran quarterback and veteran receivers, and relies on that. That poses a pretty good challenge for us; we’re used to a little more of a smash-mouth type of football, especially in our division and in our conference. We want to slow down that offense, and we want to work on our own consistency offensively.
Q: That seems to favor you guys, because you’ve already played a couple teams from their division that play a similar style–Spokane and San Jose–but in those games, you came out on top.
A: True, though we played those teams at home, which helped. But when we go into games expecting the other team to score a lot of points, it seems to motivate us and put a lot of pressure on the offense. And that’s a good thing, when the offense knows we have to score points, as opposed to going against a team that’s struggling on offense like Tampa was. Maybe our mindset at the time was that, as long as we get 50, 55 points, we’ll be okay, but obviously 50 wasn’t enough.
Q: What’s the biggest thing that has to be cleaned up going into Saturday?
A: We’ve got to protect the quarterback. Defensively, we have to make teams work more for their touchdowns. They can’t be scoring touchdowns on two- or three-play drives. It has to be, make them make a seven-, eight-, or nine-play drive, and that’s when they’ll make mistakes.
Q: I understand you get to see your “buddy” Khreem Smith again (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, blocked P.A.T. with Spokane, at Pittsburgh, in Week 9)…
A: (laughs) He’s probably the premier pass rusher in this league, if not, a top two or three guy, for sure. I think he’s a heck of an athlete, and I’m not looking forward to seeing him again. I was upset when they made that trade, but we’ll be ready for him.
Q: What’s the book on Utah’s Tommy Grady? He’s another veteran quarterback, but this team has faced talented quarterbacks of that nature in the past, and lived to fight another day.
A: We’re not really worried about their individual personnel. I mean, we are, for scheming purposes, but we’re going to play our game, and I think we’ve got a good game plan offensively and defensively to beat Utah, and it’s just a matter of who’s going to execute it better. Utah’s been struggling as of late…lost three games in a row…so we know they’re going to be pressing pretty hard, and we’ve got to get back in that win column so we can stay on top in this division.
Q: We understand there’s been further roster-tweaking this week, if memory serves?
A: (laughs) There’s roster-tweaking every week. (Wide receiver) Irving Campbell is back healthy, and we anticipate him playing. We’ve released a couple linemen…Albert Stinson, just to name one. We’re a little banged up, but we’re making our adjustments, and we’ll be fine.
Q: Talk about the impact of (wide receiver/kick returner) Jerome Mathis. He’s had a good year–when he’s played–on special teams, and it seemed like just a matter of time before he had a breakthrough game, which seemed to be the case last Saturday.
A: The biggest thing is he’s healthy. When he is healthy, Jerome Mathis can outrun anybody in this league. He poses an interesting matchup for any of the DB’s that want to cover him; he’s got world-class speed, and if they play high, we’re going to look for him low, because he’s good [at gaining yardage] after the catch. If they play low, we can let him run and throw the ball deep. So no matter what the DB does against Jerome Mathis, they’re probably going to be wrong. It does help that he’s had a little bit of success in the NFL–he made the All-Pro team as a rookie–so we definitely like having that [experience] on our team.
Q: What’s the biggest key to victory Saturday?
A: We’ve got to get two or three stops, and we’ve got to make sure our offense is clicking.
Be sure to revisit 937thefan.com this weekend for more on the Pittsburgh Power’s visit to Utah to take on the Blaze!