Written by Matthew Slinn, Mickey De Pinto and Cliff Grizzly
Images by Jonny Law
As the SFL Content Team has found its feet under new Director of Digital Content, Jeff Gagne, we have seen the launch of season-long series’ such as the Players of the Week and the popular SFL Power Rankings. So, I couldn’t help but think “We have so many articles based on the reaction to the previous week’s play, which is great. But, why do we not have anything that previews the games coming up this weekend?”. I felt like, as written content creators, we were missing a trick and that the community would respond well to an article of this sort – I guess the proof is in the reading. Anyway, that explains why I’m now here with a pair of hungry writers ready to list what, in our humble yet educated opinions, are the ‘Keys to Victory’ for each team this weekend. As always, feel free to disagree, feel free to discuss your opinion, feel free to be inspired to write something yourself.
Keys to Victory
Jacksonville Kings (2-1) @ Arizona Scorpions (2-1)
After a runaway loss at Queen City, the team must stay focused. Don’t let a bad week mess up an entire season. Rely on what got you those first two wins and stay confident in your system. Keep Quarterback, Christian Christiansen, comfortable in the pocket. After giving up 2 sacks last week and throwing 6 interceptions, it is going to take an excellent performance by the offensive line to build back some confidence in the passing game. The first two weeks, no sacks, two victories. See the difference? When Ashley Jackson is pressured, there has been a tendency to get a little careless with the football. Lone Star was certainly able to get in the backfield in Week one and forced some poor decision making. Look for Defensive Tackle, Hunter Norwood, to make a big difference in this game if he comes ready to play. He already has a 5 sack game this season.
Don’t allow Norwood in the backfield. Allow Jackson to step up in the pocket, read through progressions, and pick apart the defence. Look to get McCall and the Hands duo involved early and maintain a balanced rushing attack to keep the pass rush at bay. When a player is hot, feed him the rock. Runningback, DJ Moses II, is coming off of two standout performances, rushing for over 400 yards in the last two games. When the pass rush eases up, take some shots down the field. Keep the train rolling. After a tough first loss, two victories in a row surely have the Scorpions feeling confident going into this week’s game. Home advantage and momentum could play a key part in this week’s outcome.
Houston Hyenas (2-1) @ Florida Storm (0-3)
The Hyenas ran all over Lone Star in the first half last week and they should look to keep that rushing form going on the road against a Florida team that is a lot tougher than their record suggests. Getting Warren Murray firing on all cylinders – and keeping him healthy – is essential. Kentez Johnson has been safe if unspectacular and now isn’t the time for him to start taking risks against an experienced Florida secondary that is pretty good at pouncing on mistakes. Turnovers are a killer, especially when playing on the road. Defensively, the Hyenas need to play aggressive. Ron Cockren has been put on his back more times than any QB in the league so far this season, so Wolf Justice and co. need to exploit that. The Hyenas young defensive line has only made one sack so far this season. This needs to improve against Florida.
Last time out in Vancouver, the Storm showed signs of life and looked more like the team that we expect. Protecting Ron Cockren so he has time to hook up with Optimus Cline should be of paramount importance. The passing attack has been the strength of this Storm offense, and the Hyenas have struggled rushing the QB. JW Doyle should also be licking his lips this week, as Houston have allowed the most yards of any team in the SFL against the run. Doyle is yet to cross the whitewash for 6 in Season 15. I expect him to break that duck this weekend. On the opposite side of the ball, Erich Hammer and his fellow linebackers will have their work cut out to stop Warren Murray. I think they will fare better than the Glory did last weekend, but if this front seven let Murray have his way, it will open up the passing game for Houston, which can also be dangerous at times. Hit Murray, and hit him early.
St. Louis Gladiators (1-2) @ Tulsa Desperados (1-2)
The young offense has some guys well on their way to being stars. Javier Vazquez has the tools to be great, keep taking shots and allow him to develop into the great QB he can become. Get the playmakers involved. Guys like Eagle Mondavi, Phil Kos, Paul Dillavou, and Ryan Owens are all worth noting for opposing defenses. Take chances and trust them to make big plays. Defensively, Gabriel Manning can not get behind the defense. Limit the explosive plays, pressure Nickens into making rushed decisions, and this should be a good game.
The Nickens to Manning Hookup. Gabriel Manning is without a doubt one of the true star receivers in the game and has been off to a hot start. When I say hot, I mean really hot. He’s already caught 5 touchdowns and has over 500 yards receiving. Keep airing it out and taking the top off the defense to open up running lanes, the deep threat should open up the rest of the offense. With such an effective and dangerous passing attack, RB Sonzo Robinson has the potential to have big numbers. The defense has proven effective in causing turnovers. Keep playing aggressive; those turnovers are sure to lead to victory.
Fort Worth Toros (1-2) @ Lone Star Glory (1-2)
The last two weeks have been a nightmare for the Glory. Come out and play smash-mouth football. Look to take an early lead and set the tone quickly. Nothing can take the air out of a team like being forced to watch the opposing running back have his way. Jason Williams has been finding the end zone and finding it often the last two weeks with five rushing touchdowns. Keep him engaged and look for him to make some key plays this game. This Toros defense has proven to be a brick wall in the running game so far this season, not allowing a single rushing touchdown. Playing against a team that only has 238 total rushing yards, it seems like this defensive line could be in for a big day. Keep filling the gaps on defense and force the passing game to beat you. Linebackers, Vinson, Browning and Horrell should be licking their chops. Both losses have come by a single score. The Toros have scored 74 points and given up 73. What I’m saying is, this team could very easily be 3-0 right now. Don’t let the 1-2 record fool you into thinking that you are less than you actually are. Having only forced 4 turnovers so far this year, it’s time for the defense to step up and make a difference in this game. Winning the turnover battle consistently could be what gets this team to the next level.
12 turnovers in 3 games. Wanna know how to right the ship? That is a good place to start. The defense has given up 81 points already, but the ball must stay in the offense’s hands longer and more frequently to give the defensive players a rest. Focusing on ball security and not giving away possessions should be the on the minds of the Glory this week. Quarterback, Ace Fenech, must have a rebound game and look to come out and get things going in the right direction after being plagued with the interception bug the last two weeks. Jukin Roukyn could have his hands full lining up against offensive lineman, Bodacious Tuff. If Roukyn can find success, look for him to build on the five sacks that he has already accrued this season and play a key role in this game. You have to believe that the focus of the defense will be primarily on stopping Jason Williams. The defensive line of the Glory must rise to occasion and leave no room for Williams to break loose. If they don’t, this could be another long game for Lone Star.
Denver Nightwings (3-0) @ Baltimore Vultures (2-1)
The Nightwings are coming off a big win against the reigning league champions in Atlanta. Showing no signs of stopping, Denver seems to have a winning system set in place. Why fix what isn’t broken? They found huge success in the air against Atlanta this past week, with quarterback Josh Miller passing for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Keep feeding the rock to McChesney early. His longest run the past two weeks is 13 yards, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t finding success. Take 4-5 yards at a time and wear down the defense. Look for opportunities to hit star receivers Jockamo Jones and Logan Keel down the field. Baltimore has some legitimate playmakers in the defensive backfield, so a balanced attack will go a long way.
Baltimore has a tough task at hand this week, but have shown that they are no slouch coming into Season 15. If Baltimore wants to get this win, it will start with the front seven. McChesney can’t break loose for big yards consistently; limit him to short gains. That’s no easy task, so the defense has to get all eleven guys flying to the ball and wrap him up.
Chicago Wildcats (2-1) @ London Knights (0-3)
Chicago is having a good start to the season at 2 wins and 1 defeat. Ash Odom is a stud, plain and simple. Give him the ball and let him work. He’s coming off back-to-back 100+ yard games behind a solid o-line and star fullback Mike Improta and should look to do more of the same.
Though this team has started off 0 and 3, they have lost every game within a one-score deficit. Running Back Robert Merril is a good one. The London offense has primarily been a passing team early in the season, despite Merril having solid numbers on the ground. Give Merrill some more carries following behind fullback Iggy Swift and make this tough Chicago defense think twice about dropping their linebackers into deeper coverage. With that being said, keep up the short-yard passing attack. Wide receiver Fox Highwind has proven effective catching those short out-routes, and Vin Calia started has off the season with two big performances. QB Angus MacLaine has the arm to get his guys the ball in tight coverage and has led his team to an average of around 23 points per game. Keep putting up points, slow down Ash Odom, and this could be London’s first win of Season 15.
Louisiana Revolution (3-0) @ Mexico City Aztecs (2-1)
Despite being undefeated, Louisiana have looked unconvincing in their last two home victories, allowing London to come back and push them to the final whistle, then scraping past an unfancied Tulsa squad on the boot of rookie kicker, Matt Fenech. The offense has been prolific in scoring points, although they may not get the same joy on the ground against the Aztecs as they have been in the last 3 weeks. Jonny Pichler is going to have to step up in his stiffest test yet. Pichler has played a decent season so far, although he doesn’t look to have made much progress since his rookie season. Against Mexico City, he may need to play his best game yet. The role of the defense in this one? Contain the walking mismatch that is Mike Daggs. The tight end is having the season of his life and Louisiana need to be prepared for that. The Revolution have been aggressive in pass defence so far, scoring many a turnover but also giving up 8 TD’s through the air, good for second-worst in the league. If they are to keep Daggs out of the endzone, Louisiana’s ball-hawking secondary will need to pick their chances carefully. The big play is their enemy.
I expect two things from the Aztecs’ offence this weekend. A focus on getting the aforementioned Mike Daggs the ball, and at least 2 interceptions. Matt Willson needs to limit these drive-killing turnovers against a defence that loves to take the ball away. Look for Mexico City to exploit match-up advantages involving Daggs; lining him up against Chuck Diesel could well be the best option. Diesel is more of a run-stuffing ‘backer, so his coverage skills may well best tested if Willson can get Daggs the ball. Defensively, this young and hungry defensive front needs to simultaneously stuff Reggie Streeter and put pressure on Jonny Pichler. Streeter is the engine of the sportscar Louisiana offense, so I expect the more experienced Dexter Jackson to be flying around the field after him. Andre Krimm and Scott Stover have plugged the middle of the line effectively so far and have shown a hunger to make friends with the opposition QB. They will need to be at their disruptive best to keep a streaky passer like Pichler from getting hot.
Portland Fleet (0-3) @ Carolina Skyhawks(1-2)
After a Week one drubbing by Sioux Falls, the Fleet have managed to keep the last two games within fighting distance. Maintain the grit and keep playing hard for that first victory. A championship team doesn’t always start out the way that they visualized. Somehow, Portland MUST find success on the ground, as Jon Truezman has only managed more than 50 yards rushing one time this year. Find some cohesiveness upfront and make a way to win the line of scrimmage. This should allow Matt South to stay in rhythm with his wideouts. Look for #83, Connor Weston, in particular, to make a few plays downfield this game if the running game manages to find some success. The defense should follow linebacker, Frank Champion. He has been just as his name suggests this season. He has managed 10 tackles for loss in just three games and has been tracking down the ball carrier all over the field. Copy his aggressiveness and play with some fire on defense this week. Set the tone early and look to force turnovers.
If I am coaching Carolina, I’m highly considering blitzing, blitzing, and more blitzing. Portland’s struggles in the run game may allow the defense to have a field day in the backfield if they are forced to pass the football. The duo of Hall and Colon could potentially put up some big numbers this week rushing the quarterback. On offense, the Skyhawks must also find some running lanes, as they haven’t managed much success doing so this year. Averaging no less than 4 yards a carry should be the goal. This will keep drives going and allow Richardson the ability to hit Harish Prasad and Jack Flash downfield. Plain and simple, take care of the football. Sully Richardson has been managing to throw for solid yardage but has struggled the last two games with interceptions. The Skyhawks should look to limit unnecessary risks in the passing game and rely on players like safety, Trystan Hatley, who has a two-interception performance already this year, to force some turnovers.
Las Vegas Fury (2-1) @ Sioux Falls Sparrows (2-1)
10 takeaways to only 5 turnovers is a solid margin. The Fury must look to continue this trend if they want to beat a tough Sioux Falls team on the road. The safety duo of Jackson and Colontrelle need to continue their ball-hawking ways in order to slow down this Sparrow offense. The 5 interceptions between them has to be daunting to the opposing quarterback. Thomas Ramen can certainly fling it, but only if given time. The offensive line can’t afford to give up another three to five sacks and expect to come out on top in this one. They must give him time and allow him to use his special talent to lead this Fury team to a victory. I hope this team has studied film of the Sparrows’ last game. Charleston was the first team to put a hold on the dangerous Colin Hart. Vegas can not afford to allow him to run free. If they can manage to limit his success, they could easily add one to the win column. Having only allowed three rushing touchdowns this season, I believe they can achieve this goal. If not, this game may get away from them.
Look for the Sparrows to get Hart going early in this one. He had 43 carries between the first two games with over 350 yards and 5 touchdowns. He also added 6 receptions. With production like that, this team is difficult to slow down. They must find a way to correct the mistakes from last week and get their star rusher back into form. They can not allow Ramen to sit in the pocket and dissect the defense. We all know that the Fury can put up big numbers in the passing game but have been prone to the pass rush. Keep your eyes on Kamph, Frosby, and Kelly to have breakout games on the defensive line. Managing to keep Ramen at bay has to be the top priority of this Sioux Falls defense. If Ramen finds consistent success and is able to put some points on the board, the Sparrows must be prepared for a shootout. Julian Tyree might have to be asked to put this team on his back and play as he never has before. Given that he has only been sacked 3 times, it could be time to open up the passing game and attempt more than 30 passes for the first time this season, especially if Hart can’t get the running game going.
Vancouver Legion (2-1) @ Queen City Corsairs (2-1)
Vancouver is coming off a nail-biter with the Florida Storm. Despite some struggles against the veteran Florida offense, Vancouver showed some serious heart and earned another victory. They were able to keep quarterback Tom Pepper off the ground for all four quarters, and they’ll have to do more of the same this week against a tough team in Queen City. You’re facing the reigning DPOTY in Jeff Duffy, so make sure your O-Line is very aware of where he is at all times. Running back Robert Redford was able to get his game going again last week, and this proved effective in opening up the offense. I’d be looking to do more of the same. Nullify the pass rush of Queen City, get Redford rolling early and often, and trust your receivers to make plays when they get a chance.
Queen City has proven time and time again that they know how to win football games. They’re coming off a big win against a very talented Jacksonville football team, and need to keep the momentum going against Vancouver this week. RB Jett Zero hasn’t been putting up huge numbers but is still a tough guy to bring down, and opposing defenses can’t expect an easy day at the office when he’s carrying the rock. Quarterback A.J. Caswell already has two 300+ yard games under his belt this year and threw a stellar 5 touchdowns this past week to lead his team to victory. Vancouver had difficulty slowing down the Florida Storm’s passing attack this past weekend, so look for Caswell to potentially have another big week through the air. Defensive end Jeff Duffy already has 4 sacks on the season, so take advantage of Vancouver scheming around him.
Charleston Predators (1-2) @ Atlanta Swarm (1-2)
Charleston managed to get the monkey off their backs last week against the Sparrows, but the brutal opening schedule doesn’t get any easier for them. One thing that the Predators definitively need to improve is their pass defense, something that was a huge strength back in Season 14. Charleston’s defense has given up the most passing touchdowns in the league so far with 9, whilst only taking the ball away 2 times. Clearly the bend but don’t break strategy isn’t working, so more aggression when the ball is in the air may be the key. We all have seen that Dynasty likes to sling it, so Week 4 is as good a time as any to start upping their take away stats. If Charleston can gain more time in possession with turnovers, Keith Swearingen is the perfect running back to ride to victory. Not only has the 220lb workhorse been effective on the ground, he has opened up the passing game for T.D Drew and his receivers. The Swarm have been average against both forms of attack, so a balanced approach may be the best way to go for the Predators.
The Swarm have a player in Bryant Dynasty. The rookie QB has looked on a different level to his fellow rookies so far this season and against a defence that allows a lot of 6-pointers through the air, he should be more prolific than ever. The Predators have just replaced their #1 cornerback with a rookie. Dynasty, Boo Chisholm and Siege Falco must be licking their lips at the prospect, especially after how they abused Chris Dodd in Week 1 after his return to CB. I want to see Dynasty attempting to hit his receivers deep. Defensively, Keith Swearingen must be stopped. T.D Drew is a good QB, but right now it’s hard to tell how much he is being helped by the play of his running back and whether his form would drop if that outlet wasn’t available. The Swarm are at home and they need to play like it, shutting down the run early and forcing Charleston to throw into the teeth of the secondary. We know Charleston can score. If they want to win, the Swarm need to do a better job of stopping that than they have been doing.
That’s it for this week! Enjoy the games over the weekend, and best of luck to the teams you are supporting!