By Matthew Slinn
Taking advantage of favourable match-ups is often the key to winning games, especially if they are close. It’s hard to pick out any areas between these two sides, where one trumps the other; it will come down to individual performances on the day. Here are some of the most important battles that will take place on Monday night.
Jaye Eniola vs DJ Majesty/Andrew Francis
Jaye Eniola has ravaged defenses all over the SFL this season (except maybe Carolina), showing too much burst for opposing front 7’s and too much power when he breaks into the secondary. Eniola produced an unfathomable number of 20+ yard runs, ripping the heart and will out of the defense, especially enemy linebackers. The Skyhawks’ pair of Phil Hall and rookie, Shravan Prassad were the only players to really slow #28 down this season, helped by Carolina’s all-star defensive line. The task of replicating Carolina’s effectiveness and limiting the 232lb freight train to less that 100 yards falls mostly on the shoulders of DJ Majesty and Andrew Francis (shoulders that are sure to be sore come Tuesday morning).
Majesty and Francis are both seasoned campaigners, plying their trades equally for 3 seasons (Majesty spent 2 seasons with Houston) and they have both proven to be sure tacklers when called upon. Making over 70 tackles each during the regular season, the two mid-sized ‘backers play slightly different roles in Max Paul’s formidable defence (a defence that is well above average against the run). Majesty has shown a decent ability to diagnose the run (making 11 TFL’s) although he is also utilized in the pass defence, proving to the league that he is an effective coverage linebacker. Francis is the fiercest run stuffer of the group, making 21 TFL’s – 2nd amongst linebackers – and you can only assume he will bear the brunt of Eniola’s shoulder.
Francis and Majesty’s task will be to force Tallahassee to throw the ball, also taking away the play-action, whereas Eniola will be hoping to make consistent gains and keep the Pride’s offense fluid. If he can do that, Tallahassee have a great chance.
Ron Cockren vs Alex Bond
The Season 9 class continues to run like a vein through this championship game, as 3-year veterans, Ron Cockren and Alex Bond, are set to do battle – a battle between two of the most exciting players in the SFL.
Cockren has been a gunslinger with precision this season, coking towards the top of the league in all positive statistics and ending the season with a league-leading 99.6 QBR rating. He has carried his ultra-accurate play into the post-season, leading all quarterbacks with a completion percentage of over 77%. However, ‘Riverboat’ Ron has been known to throw interceptions, tossing 25 in the regular season, as well as having a 4:4 TD – INT ratio in the playoffs. Cockren’s slinging mentality plays right into the hands of Alex Bond.
Bond may not have the most interceptions in the Pride secondary (Michael Sprous has 7 to Bond’s 6) but the strong safety has been Tallahassee’s defensive Captain for two seasons now. He is the glue that holds it all together. The playmaking safety has always shown an ability to perform big in clutch moments, leading interception charts in the post-season, leaping like a salmon to make 2 picks over the last 2 games. Bond has a way of stalking the quarterback’s eyes and making a play on the ball, just at the right moment. Cockren will do well to stay away from the middle of the field, but you know he won’t. He will have faith that his receivers can beat Bond to the ball, especially star receiver Optimus Cline, a match-up nightmare for any defensive back. I expect Bond to have at least one chance to make a huge play during this game; and a large part of me thinks that he won’t whiff.
Alex Dominguez vs Tallahassee’s Defensive Line
Now, we look to the big uglies. The men on the front line. The seismic battle between a great player and a great unit. Both ‘Big Sexy’ and the Pride’s defensive line will have an impact on the game (expect ALOT of sacks) and I can’t predict which team will gain the most benefit from their big guys, just know that whoever shows up for the big occasion more, will put their team in the position to win.
We all know how dominant Alex Dominguez has been this season, making nearly 40 sacks despite being the only player in Alaska’s defensive line to hold a star contract. Tallahassee’s line is essentially run by the opposite philosophy – 4 contracted players who are all considered one of the best in the league at their position. The combination of Hale, Bane, Norwood and DeCue gave the Pride the most dangerous pass rush in the SFL for the second season running, and they have carried that form into the playoffs (Taqwuan Hale actually has more sacks than Dominguez this pre-season). Both Ron Cockren and Christian Christiansen perform well under pressure, but getting hit multiple times by 300lb monsters takes it’s toll on the body. That kind of pressure could cause mistakes, and we all know that one mistake can change the tide of a championship game in an instant. These two groups should cancel each other out. Again, it depends on who turns up on the night and who doesn’t. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited.