Struggling to stay afloat in The East
Atlanta and Carolina are two teams that came into Season 10 with vastly different expectations. The Skyhawks entered Week 1 with optimistic but realistic goals, attempting to sneak a Wild Card playoff spot after a 1-11 Season 9 record. A solid off-season of rebuilding had injected the club with new blood, and patrons of the SFL were unanimous in agreement about an improved Season 10. On the opposite end of the scale, the Atlanta Swarm started the season off believing they could pull of a surprise victory over their Eastern Conference rivals by topping the ‘toughest’ of the three. One would think they had a decent chance after excelling last year and making it al the way to the Conference Finals. However, sceptics pointed to a weaker build that might not match up to the powerhouse teams of the East, especially with star players like Boo Chisolm taking major pay cuts under the new progression system.
As we all know, both teams have had indifferent results through the first third of the season, going 1-3 and finding themselves in danger of slipping too far behind the top teams in the East. Neither side necessarily deserve to have a losing record, with both performing admirably in close losses and also bagging quality wins over good teams (London and Mexico City respectively). A losing record is what both have though, which made this match up one of the key games of Week 5. The winner had the chance to make up ground on their rivals in the East, putting themselves back in the hunt for a playoff place; the loser would be left lagging behind at the foot of the Conference, facing an absolute dogfight to get back to a position of strength.
Could Atlanta get back to winning ways and meet their own exceptionally high standards? Would Carolina take that next step into becoming a team to be reckoned with?
Well, you know the score…read on to find out more…
1st Quarter: BDG goes to Hollewood
In what was a nervous pre-game atmosphere at the David A. Richardson Memorial Stadium, both teams struggled getting going in the early knockings. Both offenses looked shakey, running the ball a bit too much and missing passes on timing patterns. These two clubs (especially Atlanta) are crash bash defensive grinders. The crowd wasn’t anticipating a high-scoring affair. After a couple of unsuccessful drives, it was clear what Carolina was trying to do. Run the ball with AJ Francis and wear away at the Swarm’s resolve. Unfortunately for the Skyhawks, Atlanta came into Week 5 with the third best run defence in the league. It was to be a long day for Carolina’s star ball carrier.
The pace of the game picked up after a pinpoint accurate punt from Carolina’s non-contract punter. He caressed the ball to land softly at the 1, pinning Atlanta back and raising the hum of the crowd a little. This gentle buzz turned into all out euphoria one play later, but for all the wrong reasons as far the home side were concerned.
Carolina’s defense were up in the faces of the Atlanta offense, smelling blood and a potential safety. Enter BDG Hollewood. The Atlanta Swarm running back had been quiet since his mammoth in Week 1, lulling owners and coaches into forgetting his home run hitting ability. On his day, Hollwewood is the biggest producer of spectacular long range runs, using an awesome breakaway burst of speed when he gets into the open field. This speed was pit on display on this occasion. Receiving the ball at the one, Hollewood it it to the outside up the left, following some excellent blocking from his receivers. They opened up a hole and he was gone, brushing off the attempted stretch tackle by Jay Bolt then opening up his stride and outpacing safety, Giovanni Bolt. It was an outstanding display of running, giving his team 7 points and himself over 100 yards off 2 plays.
The quarter wound down with Carolina winning the position battle after pinning the Swarm back yet again.
2nd Quarter: A war of attrition…and not much else
Due to their good starting field position, Carolina were licking their lips at an opportunity to level the score at 7-7. Despite the drive starting well, it quickly lost momentum and the Skyhawks had to settle for a field goal from the Atlanta 27. I had hoped that this points scoring would spark some offensive quality, but Demar Woods was looking like Atlantas’ weak link, seeming rather panicky in the pocket and lofting balls in aLL direactions when he’s put under pressure.
The remainder of the quarter was largely dour. One spark happened when Atlanta started to finally make things happen, Boo Chisholm making an insane catch to make is 1st and goal. However, Chilsolms acrobatics were only rewarded with three points due to poor redzone playcalling from the offensive co-ordinator.
The dull half wound down with The Swarm’s defense easily holding Carolina at bay, and BDG Hollewood doing what he does best…spinning defenders out of their trousers. Hollewood had 137s had 10 carries.
3rd and 4th quarters: ZZZ…ZZZ…ZZZ
The rest of this game was, IMO, not the most riveting thing ever. You can essentially book it down to:
• BDG Hollewood abusing Carolina’s rush defense
• Demar Woods looking better in the pocket and showing good footwork, although his thrown ball was still suspect
• Both teams missing field goals and Atlanta closed out the game
• Game ended 16-3, Swarm
(Very Brief) Final Thoughts
This was not a game of high quality. It was not a game of high scoring. What it was, was a game of attrition, resilience and toughness. You could tell both teams were nervous about losing yet another game, with the Carolina offense especially struggling against a stingy Atlanta defense.
Atlanta will obviously be pleased with their victory, but a performance like that won’t trouble any other team in the East. I’m still not a huge fan of their build as I like the effectiveness of multiple players on the defensive line, and it will be a struggle for them to realise the playoffs IMO.
Carolina need to get a team identity. We know most teams by the way that they play, but The Skyhawks don’t seem to know themselves. I can’t tell whether they are a passing side, showing a lot of confidence through the air, or a running team, hitting AN Francis up the middle for a few yards each game. If they want to improve their record, Carolina needs to find an identity, and stick with it. Pronto.