Before starting the article proper, I must apologize to the SFL faithful who have read this piece for the first two weeks. We expect to get this thing out every Thursday without fail. This week, it hasn’t happened and for that, I apologize. Sometimes life takes over and less important things ake a backward seat, but now that it’s all dealt with, here goes…
Week 3 was the best yet in a season that just keeps hotting up. A blowout here or there punctuated a result sheet stacked with close games; games that even now seem to have important playoff implications. We got our first Saturday game, our first game to go to OT, and a dinger of a game between last season’s championship game contenders. I think that’s all the introduction we need, so let’s get into it.
Dallas Ruffnecks vs Houston Hyenas
• What can we really say about this performance from Dallas. They just didn’t play a good ball game. Houston beat up on them in pretty much every area of the field, with only the ‘first down’ stat going in Dallas’ favour. Mike Davis was running into brick walls all day, Prince Escobar dinked his way to an ineffective 92 yards and Macc Wavy Jr seems more intent on throwing interceptions than touchdowns. Wavy Jr threw 3 picks Houston’s way on Saturday, each one of them as ugly as the last. Macc’s stats aren’t awful for the year, throwing one touchdown per interception, but he needs to be lights out the rest of the year if Dallas is going to have any hope of catching up with the leading teams in the West.
• I think we now see how effective Houston can be when their offense backs up their defensive production. Houston’s back end has been balling all year, leading them to a top 5 defence in the SFL (2nd best in the West). We know what we’ll get per week out of them. The difference against the Ruffnecks was that DR. Sim and his boys came to play! The Doctor had 147 yards and 2 touchdowns, Warren Murray ran for over 100 yards and a single TD and Ahmed Cheema rose up from the ashes of Week 2 and threw 3 six-pointers to zero interceptions. If that’s not a stat line to make an offensive co-ordinator smile, I don’t know what is. Houston put it all together on Saturday, and a 40-6 victory over their arch rivals is what they deserved.
• Week 4’s game against the San Francisco Sharks couldn’t have come at a better time for Dallas. The Sharks are also winless, they are away from home and they have had a lot of problems with player development so far this year (5 transactions in the last 2 weeks). It is essential for their Season 10 hopes that the Ruffnecks win this game. It’s also important that they win convincingly to be taken seriously by the rest of the West. One area that Dallas should look to exploit San Fran’s weaknesses is in the passing game. The Sharks are bottom five in pass defence so far this year. Yes, the secondary has been effective at turning over the ball but that’s no good when you have an offence that has a propensity to go three and out. Macc Wavy Jr’s eyes should be lit with confidence this weekend, and I expect him to use all of his experience to throw bombs on the Sharks. Look for Prince Escobar to improve on his 10.4 YPC this week aswell. On a side note – Dallas has bolstered their secondary with two new signings at cornerback this week. This should stop the bleeding against the pass and I can’t wait to see how these new rookies will fare against Gabriel Manning and co.
• Houston roll into a second ‘Texas Showdown’ in two weeks on Sunday as they visit San Antonio at The Vaqueros Stadium. Don’t expect the same story against this Texas native though. The Vaqueros will provide a much sterner test for rookie quarterback, Ahmed Cheema, and Week 4 will really test whether he is the real deal or not. Now you might be asking me, ‘Shady, San Antonio has a distinctly average defence. Why the worried words?’. Arminius Davis, that’s why. Presuming Houston can stop the Vaqueros’ offense, Davis is going to be huge in the field position battle, pinning Cheema back time and time again. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the young QB can play out of his 20 and hold consistent drives under intense pressure from a good defensive front 7 (3rd in the SFL against the run).
Carolina Skyhawks @ London Knights
• The Skyhawks came into this game as the narrow favourites, and, looking at the previous two weeks, you wouldn’t be remiss to predict that AJ Francis was going to have a big day. As it turned out, The Knights didn’t fancy playing along with that narrative. Carolina struggled to run the ball all game, only gaining 84 yards and zero six-pointers. Francis broke the ‘10 yard carry’ once, with Mark Biddix claiming the game’s longest run at 12 yards. This pigeon holed Carolina into having to pass the ball successfully, and being honest, they didn’t do a terrible job. Mark Biddix went 24 of 33 for 229 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Not bad against a defence that is #2 against the pass. Backed up by a decent showing from the Skyhawks’ defence, Biddix can do good things and despite losing in OT, he’ll come good on more than one occasion for the Carolina coaching staff in Season 10.
• London showed some grit in front of their home fans on Sunday. Down 10-zip at the half, rookie quarterback Michael Martin led his tram on the comeback trail and pulled it out his best play at the death. The real star that stood out though, was free safety, Jeffrey Daggs. Daggs has quickly entered the conversation as the best free safety in the league, snagging 3 picks (including 2 against Carolina) and 2 passes defended. Where Daggs truly shines however, is with the ball in his hands. ‘JD’ ran a kick off back in Week 1, nearly broke one off again in the first play of OT against the Skyhawks and also has 35 return yards off of interceptions. He really is the true playmaker on the London Knights roster, and if this play continues, his name will automatically be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
• Carolina have had a very promising start to the season, pulling off a respectable victory against the defending champs and running two teams close in fairly narrow defeats (I know the defeat to TAL wasn’t narrow but compared to their other results). Life doesn’t get any easier for the Skyhawks though as they visit the wounded Queen City Corsairs in Week 4. The Skyhawks could end up being the best 1-3 team the SFL has ever seen, their schedule is just that tough. To exploit Queen City, watch for Mark Biddix to throw the ball more. Week 3 proved that he can find success (especially using Tristan D) and the Corsairs are second worst in the league against the pass. If Biddix doesn’t use this avenue and spread the ball more, I can’t see Carolina evening up their overall record.
• The Knights have quietly made it to 2-1 with a solid start to the season. They have flown under the radar and not necessarily received much recognition for it. A victory on the road against the defending champions will change all that. And you know what – I think it’s quite possible. Success will come in the form of run defence. At the current time of the season, stop Ray Bentley, stop Mexico City. Force them to pass the ball on your #2 pass defence. Make Matt Willson win the game. Make him throw at Jeffrey Daggs. It’s as simple as that really. ‘Simple’…yeah right.
Atlanta Swarm @ Sioux Falls Sparrows
• Week 3 proved how much Atlanta’s offense relies on the production of BDG Hollewood. Hollewood has a bit of a stinker of a game, gaining a touchdown but struggling to only 1.9 yards per carry. Coming into this matchup, you knew it was going to be defensive struggle, but Atlanta still expected more production out of their offense. Demar Woods has to improve his play if The Swarm are going to build on Week 1’s demolition of the expansion London Knights. Yes, champonships are won on defence, but even a stellar defence needs some offensive gains to back it up. Woods has the second lowest QBR in the entire SFL, worst in his conference. You can’t make the playoffs with that kind of production from your quarterback. The Swarm have some good receivers on the outside, they just need to get the ball. That’s something Atlanta didn’t do enough of against the Sparrows.
• Sioux Falls are solidity personified. They are 3-0 because it’s so damn hard to score on them. They have the lowest points against total in the league currently and their win against Atlanta continued that trend. One area of the Sparrows’ defence I really like is their linebacker corps. Alec Parker and Nick Fargo don’t do anything particularly spectacular, they just do the basic things really, really well. You will rarely see them busting into the backfield to sack a quarterback, you won’t see them making athletic interceptions and returning it for yardage. What you will see them do, is make tackles that rarely miss, cover effectively against the pass and they work together extremely well. They held BDG Hollewood to under 50 yards rushing; now that’s tough to do. If these two keep up this good level of play, Sioux Falls will make the playoffs. They may just have the most reliable ‘backer tandem in the SFL.
• The upcoming game for Atlanta is a primetime home game against the undefeated Alaska Storm. Let’s face it, Alaska are gonna be bringing the thunder. Question is, what can Atlanta use an an umbrella to weather the storm? My answer? BDG Hollewood. Atlanta need BDG to go back to what he was doing in Week 1, snatching the heart out of defenders and running away with it. Alaska’s defence is decent against the run, but not brilliant. They also haven’t faced a rusher as capable as Hollewood yet, it’s plain fact. You might be thinking that I’m going against what I said earlier about Demar Woods improving his play and becoming more of a focal point in the offense. I am of sorts, but Woods isn’t gonna win this game for you against the Storm’s secondary; it’s just too good. The only way I see Atlanta having success is by wearing Alaska down on the turf, hitting it between the tackles and breaking the occasional big one. It’s going to be tough, but anything can happen in Hollewood.
• Week 4 brings the first season defining test for the Sioux Falls Sparrows. They face another 3-0 club, the Tulsa Desperados on Fan Night, Sunday. If there was ever a time for Julian Tyree to have a big game, it’s Week 4. Tulsa’s secondary really gets after the ball and Tyree needs to be ready for it. He needs to stay calm in the pocket, ignore the coming pressure from Esp’nn Ryale and use all of his receivers. If he gets focusses too much on one guy (probably Michael Moore) the Tulsa safeties will recognize it and strike without mercy. I still believe Tyree can do it, question is, does he?
Queen City Corsairs @ Tallahassee Pride
• This loss with have felt like a smack in the mouth to Queen City. They had more time of possession, more first down (more than double actually), yet they were defeated by nearly 20 points. It just goes to show the big play ability of the Tallahassee Pride. It’s not all doom and gloom though. AJ Caswell had a decent enough game, despite being sacked 8 times, Ash Odom ran for another 100+ yards and the defence played fairly well (against the run). With a few adjustments, I think this Queen City team is talented enough to return the favour in the reverse fixture. If I was a Corsairs fan, I wouldn’t be too worried just yet.
• Duke Wilson is the Randy Moss of the SFL. The guy only makes big plays. He currently has 29.1 YPC average and 7 touchdowns…in 3 games! Nobody has been able to stop him as of yet and it doesn’t look like he is going to slow down any time soon. I feel like I rave about Wilson every week without mentioning his quarterback, Christian Christiansen. Man can that guy throw a pretty ball. It’s no fluke that ‘Dub-C’ has the best QBR in the league, with 11 touchdowns to only 4 picks. He came into the SFL in Season 9 and showed promise. This year that ability is for real. If Christiansen can keep this level of play up all year (including the playoffs) and Ken Gossett can support Wilson in the receiving game, the Pride are gonna be roaring.
• Dusting themselves down after a loss, The Corsairs find themselves back at home to face the 1-2 Carolina Skyhawks. I’m sure Queen City’s coaching staff are under no illusion that it will be a much tougher affair than it would’ve been last season. Having said that, I can only really see one team winning this game. First port of call: stopping AJ Francis. The Skyhawks running back found life tough in Week 3 and the Corsairs have the linebackers and Ends to make it a second struggle in two weeks. Jeff Duffy and Avry King in particular should have big games, with Duffy wanting to secure his first win since joining the team last week. Carolina also has a pretty average defence, one that may not hold up against the relentless nature of Queen City’s running game. I expect QCC to win this game at home, and I expect them to do it in style. Side note – AJ Caswell needs to be careful throwing the ball deep over the middle. Sir Chappell is an excellent safety, and a break out game is on the horizon. Caswell doesn’t want Week 4 to be that game.
• What is it with the Tallahassee Pride and primetime games? They seem to live off of them. Maybe that’s the key to their success…big time players on a big time stage. However, if there was one game where the Pride have to be careful of a slip up, it’s this one. Vancouver are a real banana skin on the pavement for Tallahassee. Vancouver really showed what they can do last week, and we all know the turnaround they had in Season 9. Tallahassee’s success (aside from their undoubted offensive production) is down to their fairly average defence stopping Tom Pepper. Pepper is a streaky quarterback, so that massive defensive front need to unsettle him and early. ‘Fats’ Johnson needs to have another big game, stopping Jonathan Sanchez from breaking out as well as harassing Pepper. They don’t want to get into a game of ‘you score, we score more’ because eventually…they will lose.
Oklahoma City Renegades @ St. Louis Gladiators
• This was another game where Oklahoma City had more first downs, more time of possession and more passing yards, yet they lose. Surely this trend has to stop eventually. My take from this game is the same as the last two weeks. Deacon Nicks throws too much. He is a pass happy quarterback with a pass happy coach, but he doesn’t have the arm talent to get it done. Nickens threw 6 interceptions last week…6! Yes, he had over 300 yards yet again, but what is the point of those yards if they aren’t’ going to turn into points. He really needs to use Donk Bonkers more often, because I think Bonkers could be a very good player. He had an average of 4.9 yards per carry with a long of 49 against the Gladiators, but he only ran the ball 17 times. That may seem like decent amount, but not when you pass it 50+ times. If OKC had used Bonkers more instead of gunslinging it, I’m not sure they would be 0-3 right now.
• St. Louis came back from their meek performance against a strong Indianapolis team to put a beating on Oklahoma City in Week 3. The St. Louis defence was legit last year and that fact seems to be true in Season 10 too. Aaron Arrington had 3 picks to call his own, running one back for a touchdown and really cementing himself as a corner to be feared by quarterbacks in the Central Conference. The defensive front also took charge in the game, registering 5 sacks by contacted players alone. Aidan Friday and Scott Leroux had a sack each and ‘Mammoth’ Manny Icenhower flattened Nickens 3 times in a great display of strength and power. St. Louis’ defence came to play in Week 3…sit up and take note SFL.
• The Renegades face off against the recently beaten Indianapolis Red Devils in Week 4. Make no mistake, this is going to be one hell of a tough game for Oklahoma City. Indy has five contracted players in their secondary, and we all know Deacon Nickens is struggling with turnovers so far this season. Oklahoma’s chance comes in keeping the game close, making the Red Devils nervous and nicking a victory in the final knockings. This plan relies on the offense keeping hold of the ball, limiting turnovers and using Donk Bonkers against their opponents’ largely untested rush defence. Indianapolis are going to score points; it’s an undeniable fact. Oklahoma City need to limit Indy’s chances as much as possible, and try and score more than they have been up to now. It’s going to be a grind, you can guarantee that.
• The Gladiators will try to keep their winning run going this week against a team they defeated in Week 1: The Chicago Wildcats. If St. Louis can pull off a double over their stumbling rivals, it will be huge in the tight race for playoff positions in the Central Conference. I predict another low scoring affair, possibly being decided by one score or a field goal. Despite Chicago being 0-3, every game they have lost has been close. The Wildcats’ defense is generally considered one of the best in the league, so the Gladiators’ offense needs to be chomping at the bit. One area that St. Louis should look to exploit is the Chicago rush defense: it is last in the league. Denzel Diaz has surprised so far this season with his speed and power between the tackles. The 5’6 back needs to be ambitious in this game. St. Louis need to establish him early and often. They do that; they win the game.
San Antonio Vaqueros @ Alaska Storm
• This article is about things we noticed from last week’s games. One of the major things that stood out to me is the fact that San Antonio are a low key team to be feared this year. They gave the Alaska Storm their sternest test they’ve had all year and at half time it looked like the game could go either way. The Vaqueros matched or out did the Storm in offensive touchdowns, time of possession, offensive yards and first downs. The difference? A defensive touchdown and a field goal. There were stand out performances on both sides of the ball with Daley Holder making the sort of performance we’re all used to (6 catches for 118 yards) and defensive tackle, Bailey ‘Chew’ Bacca, bringing Ron Cockren down twice in the backfield. A 10-point loss away to Alaska at this point in the season isn’t horrible for The Vaqueros, and they should be confident that the return fixture will go in their favour.
• Alaska kept up their SFL-leading level of performance last week, with Optimus Cline having another big day and Ron Cockren being his usual accurate self. Cockren is currently completing nearly 80 percent of his passes. I mean, just let that stat sink in. He keeps this up, The Storm are heading to the championship. That being said, the man of the moment against San Antonio was free safety, Ryan Tobin. Tobin picked off Joey Langdon and brought it back for a touchdown; this was the difference between the two teams. Alaska were put under more pressure than they have been all season by San Antonio, and they came out the other side with a win.
• San Antonio face another great defence in Week 4 as they host the Houston Hyenas. This game is much more nip and tuck as it would’ve seemed last week, since Houston absolutely destroyed Dallas. The Vaqueros’ defence now has something to worry about, with Warren Murray and talisman, DR Sim finding some form last week. San Antonio will need to score points, and that’s not going to be easy. Houston has a top 5 defence in most categories and they have no real weaknesses. The weakest part of the Hyenas’ rear guard is their ability to stop the run. I’m very much looking forward to seeing newly signed running back, Anderson Silver hitting it up between the tacklers, hopefully having a marquee day in his first game. He will need to if San Antonio are going to be assured of victory.
• The Storm have another tricky opponent during Week 4 in the Atlanta Swarm. A primetime game on Monday night beckons which is no better time for Alaska to cement themselves as the team to beat in Season 10. They have plenty of weapons to attack the Swarm with, but they mustn’t get complacent. Atlanta are a dangerous team with an elite level running back. Underestimate them at your peril. Cockren’s charges on offense have the ability to cause problems for Atlanta, but he needs to stay as accurate as he has all season, because Atlanta’s secondary gets after the ball. They cause turnovers and turnovers are one way to beat a team that seems unbeatable. I think Alaska will win, but I don’t think it will be routine by any means.
Indianapolis Red Devils @ Tulsa Desperados
• Indianapolis came into this clash of the two remaining undefeated expansion teams confident that they would remain on that path, and things started out well. I tuned in at different points during the game and each time, winning odds were getting shorter and shorter. The main problem as far as I could see it…The Red Devils stopped throwing the ball. Nathan Lee went through a phase in the second and third quarters of handing the ball off over and over again, looking scared to pass. You can understand it. Tulsa’s defence picked Lee off 5 times, something that must have felt totally alien to the previously extremely successful quarterback. The only problem with a rushing approach is that Indy’s two main playmakers are on the outside. Dan Daly and Eli McCormick are up there with Tallahassee’s tandem as being the most dangerous receiving corps in the SFL. Lee needs to learn how to fight off those demons and get his big play guys the ball.
• What is it with the surname ‘Ball’ being synonymous with hype and perceived greatness? First we had Lonzo, now we have Charles. The difference is, this time, the man with the four letter surname is living up to the hype. The strong safety has shot to the top of the leaderboard with 6 interceptions. That’s an average of 2 per game. He snagged 3 takeaways against Indianapolis and also returned a kick off for a touchdown. Ball had one of those all time great performances, showing next level hands and dangerous running ability, nearly bringing a further two kick offs back for 6. He pretty much single-handedly kept Tulsa in the game against the Red Devils, and if he keeps up this level of play throughout the season, Lavar Ball is gonna be claiming he’s fathered yet another son.
• The Red Devils will look to get back to winning ways as they visit the Oklahoma City Renegades in Week 4. A lot of fans have been backing Indy to make it to 3-1, and looking at the stats, you can see why. It’s the league’s most scoring offense facing a bottom 5 defence. It’s a team that likes to turnover the ball against a team that seems compelled to throw the ball to the opposition. It’s widely accepted that Indianapolis should win this game, and to guarantee it, Nathan Lee needs to get back to his gunslinger ways. The blip against Tulsa needs to stay in the past so the Lee-Daly-McCormick trifecta can get cooking once again. I think they could break records against OKC. Go out and do it boys!
• Oh man, Tulsa’s schedule doesn’t get any easier does it? A primetime home game against an elite conference foe followed by…a second primetime home game against an elite conference foe. These games are where the Central Conference is going to be decided, making the pre-season ‘weaker conference’ possibly the most exciting race of the lot. Sioux Falls present an entirely different challenge to Dion Hawkins’ team compared to their previous opponents. The Sparrows are masters on defence, leading the league in points scored against with only 11 per game. I fully expect this to be a defensive grind, with Dion Hawkins’ running back play being the key to victory for the Desperados. Expect Charles Ball to do what he does, but Hawkins will carry this team to victory If he plays to his full ability. Nothing is for certain in this game, apart from one thing…it’s going to be a doozy!
Mexico City Aztecs @ Chicago Wildcats
• What a great way for these two to close the saga of ‘The Championship teams’. A matchup with vastly different implications but no less hype and no less drama. Mexico City won the day in a defensive grind, and it was helped by another great performance by running back, Ray Bentley. The ‘Altered Beast’ has so many games where he rushes for over 100 yards, it’s becoming a weekly event in the SFL. Bentley ran for 122 yards in a workhorse performance, often putting Mexico City in great field position to score points. When you’re on the road, a rushing performance like Bentley had really helps the team get a foothold in the game and silence the home crowd. Matt Willson’s play is improving, and the defence is slowly coming together. This won’t be the Aztecs’ only win this season, that’s for sure.
• Chicago will be wondering what they need to do to win a game this season. They’ve restricted the opposition to under 20 points in every game and still have a goose egg in the wins column. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is down to the stunted offensive play. J Calvin Kim looks a shadow of his former self so far, barely cracking 3 yards per carry. ET. King is also struggling, throwing 3 touchdowns so far but doubling that total in picks. However, there is still hope. If you condensed this season’s sample size to the last two minutes against The Aztecs, you would think that Chicago had a lights out offensive game. ET King finally turned it on late, and showed the sort of ability that had him in the MVP conversation in Season 9. Look for this to continue, for Chicago’s sake.
• In Week 4, The Aztecs host the London Knights who will be travelling across the Atlantic Ocean for a second time. Mexico City will be hoping they can inflict another big defeat on London, after Atlanta destroyed them during their last trip to America. This is a totally different Knights team than the one that rocked up at the Hive on opening weekend. The Aztecs will particularly have to watch out for giant receiver, Andre Godspeed. Godspeed has been balling all season, harassing defences with his speed, size and catching ability. One area Mexico City should definitely look to exploit is the London rushing defence. It’s Ray Bentley vs Slinn Shady. The unstoppable force vs the Immovable object. If Bentley gets around Shady, there isn’t too much in the way of him getting to the endzone. Bentley should have a big day under his belt in Week 4.
• I can’t really emphasize this point enough. Chicago needs to win this game. They go 0-4 in this conference, it’s pretty much game over for me. Yes, The Legion came back from an 0-4 start in Season 9 to make it to the playoffs, but Season 10 is a different kettle of fish. Essentially, ET King needs to pick up his play and lead his team to victory. It’s not going to be easy. Week 3 showed exactly how dangerous this St. Louis defence is, but as long as ET throws away from on fire cornerback Arron Arrington, he should have some success. The defence will play well, we know that. They just need their offense to show some life. I expect Chicago to come good at some point and realise their potential. Let’s see if Week 4 is the magic week.
Vancouver Legion @ San Fransisco Sharks
• The Legion picked up their first win of the season and came in a dominating way. Their defense forced 3 turnovers and despite the score being 38-24 it was much more lopsided as most were garbage time stats and scores.
• SF continues to struggle and find themselves in a desperate 0-3 hole. Their defense has not been shutting teams down.
• Vancouver’s home opener is against a ferocious Tallahassee Pride team who reside among the elite teams in the SFL. Look for offensive fireworks in this one.
• The Sharks go up against another lowly team, the Dallas Ruffnecks. This one could turn ugly as defences have a hard time stopping other teams.
I know this article is late, but I’ve worked to the bone to get it out. I hope you guys enjoy the read and what I say makes some sense to you. Believe me, next week it’ll be on time.
Shady and Ajlouni out…