By Mickey De Pinto, Cliff Grizzly and Matthew Slinn, Images by Jonny Law

Keys to Victory Week 5 

The Slate

Atlanta Swarm (2-2) @ Chicago Wildcats (3-1)

Atlanta

Coming into this season with high expectations following a league championship in Season 14, Atlanta has looked slightly underwhelming to kick off the new campaign. That isn’t to say they don’t have the potential to make another run for the title. They just pulled off a big victory to keep from falling to 1-3. They’ve got great weapons on offense that we all know: Falco, Hollewood, and of course, the long-haired Hawaiian rookie QB Bryant Dynasty. This offense needs to continue airing it out. They average 355 yards per game through the air, which is currently second-best in the SFL. RB Hollewood is averaging over 10 catches per game and has just as many receiving touchdowns as he does rushing touchdowns. Keep getting the ball in his hands and let him make plays, whether handing it off in the backfield or throwing swing routes. Defensively, Atlanta has to be prepared to stop a tough, balanced attack from the Wildcats. Get after quarterback E.T. King, he’s been sacked 10 times already in the first 4 weeks. Pressuring him should allow your playmakers on defense to take advantage of some errant throws. 

Chicago

Chicago has been putting up a lot of points this year, averaging the 4th best points-per-game average in the league with 32. Ash Odom is 3rd in the league in rushing yards and averages over 5 yards a carry. Let him be your workhorse out of the backfield and wear down the Atlanta defense. Atlanta’s leading tackler is a safety, which generally shows that there are some holes being created in the front seven. Rely on the run, and take advantage of the Swarm attempting to stack the box. TE Shann Varner, and WR’s JC Torres and newly acquired Greg Soto could have big games if Atlanta is too worried about the rush. If ET King plays as well as he did a week ago, you should expect to put up some points against the defending champs.

Vancouver Legion (3-1) @ Baltimore Vultures (3-1)

Vancouver

To their credit, the Legion keep surprising doubters as they continue their good run since that Week 1 loss to Jacksonville. Tom Pepper has lead the team well and Robert Redford finally seems to be displaying what we all thought he would bring to the Vancouver running game. Both players are going to be crucial if they want to hang toe-to-toe with the Vultures. Vancouver need to take advantage of every scoring opportunity. The Legion’s offense has been good this season and they will score points against a leaky Baltimore D, but Tom Pepper will need to find the endzone A LOT. For me, at least 30 points will be needed to win on the road with the firepower that Baltimore possesses. Now, Vancouver can stop this if they can continue to limit rushing touchdowns and if the secondary can stay tight in coverage. They will need to play better than they have done all season to pull it off.

Baltimore

The Vultures offense looks well balanced and dangerous – as they do every season up to now. Mike Dazzo has found favourite outlets in the form of Ivory Irvin and Mac Chima, who are both having excellent seasons. Feeding these two heavy-hitters will be key as both have shown the capability of having 10+ catches in a game. You have to expect Vancouver will gameplan heavily against this, so getting T-Roy Gaines more involved than he was last week could be the difference. Gaines can go yard-for-yard with any defensive front in the SFL, so I hope Baltimore recognises this once more. Defensively, things need to tighten up. Yes, they have played a tough schedule and yes, they are 3-1, but the Vultures’ D is one of the lowest scoring in the league. Against a player like Tom Pepper, the defensive line needs to be a presence. Put him on his back and force him into errant throws.

Mexico City Aztecs (3-1) @ Houston Hyenas (2-2)

Mexico City

Mexico City has the leading pass offense in the SFL, averaging over 350 yards per game through the air. There’s no reason to abandon that scheme this week against Houston, who suffered a loss last week primarily due to the air attack. Keep doing what has earned you a hot 3-1 record to start Season 15. Throw it down the field to your playmakers, and punch it into the end zone with Horrell and Jones on the goal line. You have a solid defense, and your d-line has looked tough. Keep the Houston rushing game contained, and force QB Kentez Johnson to make bad decisions. He threw 6 interceptions last week. 

Houston

Coming off a tough loss to a 1-3 Florida Storm team, Houston should be looking to turn back to their winning ways and play determined football. First things first, they can’t keep turning the ball over. A 6 interception performance resulted in a loss last week; this has to change. Warren Murray is a good RB and has to gash this defense early and often to keep the pressure off of your QB. On defense, be prepared to face a potent passing game. Tight coverage will be key. Don’t let the receivers get behind you, and whatever you do, keep your eyes on TE Mike Daggs. Consider putting your best coverage safety or LB on him every play, or he can burn the defense in a hurry. 

Carolina Skyhawks (2-2) @ Jacksonville Kings (2-2)

Carolina

Carolina can not let Hunter Norwood get back to his ravaging defensive ways. Arizona managed to keep him at bay all game long last week and was able to come out on top. A quick passing game should allow Sully Richardson to get in a rhythm early on. 1 and 3 step dropbacks and take what is given by the defense. The receivers can take care of it from there. Hall and Colon must have big games filling the running lanes of the dangerous Jared Willis.

Jacksonville

Hunter Norwood should be looking to have a big game this week. If he is able to get to the quarterback 2 to 3 times, it is hard to imagine that the pressure won’t lead to poor decision making. Barr, Pennypacker, and Thornton must pave the way for Willis. The Kings have been successful this season when they can rely on their star running back. Reaux, Goodin, and Sprous must lock down the Skyhawks receivers and keep the yards after catch limited to very short gains. Open field tackling will play a huge part in the outcome of this one.

Queen City Corsairs (2-2) @ St. Louis Gladiators (2-2)

Queen City

Consistency, that’s the keyword of the week for the Corsairs. They have a great football team and have the potential to beat anyone on any given day. Last week was a narrow defeat to a good team in Vancouver, but they struggled to slow down the tough Legion offense. An injury to star WR Chris Curtis didn’t help their chances of making a late-game comeback either. However, with a healthy roster this week, look for them to get back to their winning ways and use that balanced attack to keep St. Louis on their heels. Former FB now HB Jett Zero is a punishing ball carrier who loves contact. He’s not necessarily a home run threat, but his style is effective in wearing down the front seven. Let him get some carries, and look for the touchdown-machine TE James Matthew Jr. to give those linebackers a very tough time in coverage. Put pressure on the rookie QB for St. Louis. Queen City has a great pass rush, so this could be a game where passes are available to take away. Look to make plays when the ball is in the air. 

St. Louis

This may come as a surprise, given the young Gladiator roster, the team is sitting at a .500 record after week 4. They seem to have figured out a solid plan built around the new acquisitions, including rookie QB Javier Vazquez. If they want to win this week, they’ll need to improve on protecting their young signal-caller, who was sacked 5 times last week. This is easier said than done when facing the pass rush of Queen City. Duffy and Tilley for the Corsairs are proven pass rush specialists who have combined for 9 sacks this season, so keeping them out of your backfield will be a vital part of your offense’s success. RB Kairo Martinez had his biggest game of the season last week against Tulsa, which helped open up the offense. Get him rolling once again, and keep letting your rookie QB take his chances. Your defense really showed up to play last week, only allowing 3 points. Keep up that same mentality and game plan going into this week, and you have a chance at making another huge statement in Week 5. 

Louisiana Revolution (3-1) @ Portland Fleet (0-4)

Louisiana

The Revolution just suffered their first loss of the season. It will be interesting to see how they react to their first loss in franchise history. This game will give Louisiana an opportunity to show the fans, as well as the rest of the league, how well they can bounce back from defeat. The much talked about QB Johnny Pichler will be looking to make a statement this week against a struggling defense. The first three weeks of the season, Reggie Streeter rushed for over 100 yards on over 30 carries, and all three weeks resulted in victory. This past week, he rushed the ball for 55 yards on only 18 carries, and the game resulted in their first loss as a franchise. They need to go back to letting Streeter get more carries. Pichler has been playing consistent football this year and should have continued success once the offense gets Streeter his carries. 

Portland

Off to an 0-4 start in their inaugural season in the league, Portland has to keep building on the things they’ve done right this year. They have a veteran QB in Matt South, but without the ability to keep him off the turf, it’s hard to get the offense in a groove. Running back Jon Truezman hasn’t found much success either, which points to the most likely culprit… a struggling o-line. Offensively, keep mixing it up and trying to find your receivers open in space. Short routes will go a long way when your offensive line is getting beat by the pass rush. In the last two weeks, the defense has only given up a total of 31 points. They must do more of the same if they want a chance to win at home this week against a very good Revolution football team. Keep Streeter from breaking any long runs, and get after Pichler in the backfield. Don’t let the offense get comfortable. 

Las Vegas Fury (2-2) @Tulsa Desperados (1-3) 

Las Vegas

The Fury should look to find balance on offense this week. Thomas Ramen is coming off of his busiest game of the season after attempting 59 passes for 450 yards while running back Scott Johnson totalled -3 rushing yards on 7 attempts. Continue to rely on the DB’s to force turnovers. Cornerbacks Merrick Itera and Thomas Ramen Jr. managed three interceptions between them last week but will have their hands full against Gabriel Manning. They should try to take him out of the game and make Nickens look for other options. This could create more turnover opportunities for this ball-hawking defensive backfield. Wide Receiver, Mason Kirby, has the hot hand. Ramen should look for him early in order to draw the attention away from his plethora of other options in the passing game. Blades and Pryor should be able to get over the top of the defense and create big-play opportunities.

Tulsa

Gabriel Manning’s numbers have steadily declined over the passing weeks both in receiving and the return game. Tulsa must get the dangerous playmaker back on track this week to challenge the Fury’s talented defensive backfield. The Desperados must look to improve in their pass blocking this week, having lost over 120 yards this season on sacks allowed. They must establish a ground game and ease the opposing pass rush. This should give Nickens the time to air it out and make some big plays with his arm. Berto Demoura is putting together an outstanding season rushing the opposing Quarterback. Through four games, he has five and a half sacks. He must keep the momentum going and disrupt the timing of Ramen, forcing the Fury to lean on their running game.

Charleston Predators (1-3) @ Arizona Scorpions (3-1)

Charleston

I, like many, expected Charleston to push on following their Week 3 victory over Sioux Falls. Instead, they fell to a rather meek loss at the hands of the former champions. Admittedly, this was always going to be a hard game to win, but the lack of fight was what shocked most. Moving onto this week, it will be key for the Predators to establish their running game early. Arizona are fairly middle of the road against the run, and the Predators have done a good job of leaning on Keith Swearingen, who is quickly becoming an elite rusher in the SFL. Swearingen runs hard and consistently, so getting production out of him is key. Defensively, getting after Ashley Jackson is paramount. Jackson is putting together a Hall of Fame level run of games, so you can’t give her time to throw when her confidence is this high. Jeff Hollywood is the only member of the Predators d-line with a sack. This needs to change.

Arizona

Oh boy, the Scorpions are on a run. After the poor showing in Week 1, Arizona have looked like the best team in the league and a dead cert to make it to the playoffs. The offense has been purring, with DJ Moses’ award-winning play now backed up by Jackson and her new-found connection with the Hands brothers. This QB-WR link will once again be the key to scoring on the Predators this weekend. Charleston has allowed 11 TD’s through the air this season, most in the SFL so far. I expect Eddie Gauge to call on Jackon’s number and exploit the underperforming Predators secondary. Obviously DJ Moses will get his touches, but expect James Hands to have the game of his career. On the flip side, it’s all about stopping Keith Swearingen from hitting his stride. The Scorpions have one of the most experienced defenses in the SFL, and that game knowledge needs to show. BJ Loveless and Joey Tropicana are going to be busy. I expect them to have huge influences on this game.

London Knights (0-4) @ Denver Nightwings (3-1)

London 

London is looking for a big win to turn things around this week. Coming out of the gates with some big plays could help slow down this high powered Denver team. An early lead to take the crowd out of the ball game would be a huge first step. Safety, Jack Russell, had 10 tackles last game. While that does show solid ability on his part, the front 7 of London must consistently stop Denver from getting into the defensive backfield and allow Russell to focus more on coverage. The Knights should look to control possession of the football as long as possible by forcing turnovers on defense and creating long drives on offense. Allowing Robert Merrill to get behind Iggy Swift and the offensive line for a consistent rushing attack should allow MacLaine to hit receivers downfield on play-action passes.

Denver

Quarterback Josh Miller should be looking to put on a show this week as he did early on against Atlanta. London has not been able to force many turnovers this season, so the talented lefty QB could take advantage by taking some shots downfield to his receivers. Along with the ability to throw the ball, Denver could also use McChesney to take control of this football game. Seven rushing touchdowns this early on in the season is certainly an impressive feat, so they should look to keep that train rolling on the ground. The Denver defense should look to shut down the London passing game by pressuring MacLaine and forcing mental errors. London will surely be firing out of the gates, so they must not allow any big plays early and set the tone by playing aggressively on defense.

Florida Storm (1-3) @ Lone Star Glory (2-2)

Florida

After getting the sweet taste of victory, Florida should be looking to ride this wave of momentum into Lone Star. Playing with confidence and some newfound fire should boost the Storm towards the glory of old. Alex Dominguez, the SFL’s all-time sack-leader, has not been able to get to the quarterback this season. The defensive backs for Florida must do their jobs in coverage in order to give the legendary defensive end more time to reach Ace Fenech. Ron Cockren is coming off of a 5 interception game, but still found a way to come out victorious. Taking care of the football will be crucial, but he can relax knowing that his teammates can rally around him and still find a way to win. 

Lone Star

Lincoln Kingseed Sr. should be ready to play a huge role this week in coverage. He has already managed 3 picks this season, and Florida’s Cockren is coming off a week in which he threw 5 interceptions Tight end, Adam Williams, has put together some solid games this season and should look to continue to do so. After registering a touchdown in three consecutive contests, the Glory should look to get the ball in his hands often in this one. Lewis, Barr, and Reynosa should be eager to play in this game. Florida has not proven itself able to protect its veteran QB so far, and getting putting him on the ground frequently should lead this Lone Star team to victory. 

Sioux Falls Sparrows (3-1) @ Fort Worth Toros (1-3)

Sioux Falls

The Sparrows got back to winning ways last week in what proved to be a hard-fought game against the Las Vegas Fury. The Sparrows’ red zone defence was the real factor in the victory, and if they can limit the Toros to field goals as well, it will put them in a prime place to grab the W. The trio of Alex Parker, Jose Fuentes and Nick Fargo will be key in stopping Jason Williams from repeating another 100-yard game, and I expect the young defensive front to give Xander Gold hell in the pocket. Offensively, once again, Colin Hart needs to be the star. Fort Worth have proven to have a great pass defense, so establishing Hart in the game should be the number 1 goal here. Tyree may not get many yards – in fact the Sparrows are last in the league in passing yards – but his experience shows in the red zone. Use Hart to get you in scoring position, then let Tyree do his thing.

Fort Worth

The Toros may be 1-3 after a tough loss to Lone Star, but things are not all doom and gloom in Fort Worth. Jason Williams is turning into a bonfide stud, so getting his hands on the ball is very important. Granted, Sioux Falls have an excellent defence, but Williams can still cause issues. This can then open the passing game up to Xander Gold, who has experienced receivers who could exploit the Sparrows through the air. It will be a slog, but they could get the job done. Defensively, it’s all about stopping Hart and forcing Tyree to throw between the 20’s. Last week showed that Tyree will make mistakes if pressured into choosing a different option than Colin Hart, so E.K Vinson needs to lead this young front 7 by example. Vinson needs to be as big of a presence as he has ever been in his long career.