Written by Cliff Grizzly and Matthew Slinn
Images by Jonny Law
Keys to Victory
#10 Atlanta Swarm (6-6) @ #8 Vancouver Legion (7-5)
Atlanta – Offense (25.92 PPG/9th in SFL) Defense (24.83 PPG/14th in SFL)
It’s time again for Atlanta to make another run for the SFL title. If they hope to retain their title, they’ll have to overcome quite the tough obstacle in Vancouver. Vancouver’s offense was other-worldly a week ago, scoring over 70 points. They will be bringing one of the most well-balanced offenses in the league, led by their quarterback Tom Pepper and running back Robert Redford. With two high-powered offenses like these, the deciding factor is, generally, the better defense. The Legion have lost this season where they’ve lost the turnover battle. Forcing turnovers against their potent offense will be key. The Atlanta DB’s will need to play great coverage and come down with some 50-50 balls. The offense will have to avoid turnovers of their own, and take advantage of some mid-matches with their receivers. BDG Hollewood has had 10+ receptions in every game but two, and will need to be active once more in the passing game. It’s going to be interesting to see who comes out on top of this one.
Vancouver – Offense (30.08 PPG/5th in SFL) Defense (20.92 PPG/3rd in SFL)
One week ago, the Legion tied the all-time record for points scored in a single game, and looked very much like potential champions. This week should be a much different occasion, and Atlanta will have studied the tapes and make sure they’ve accounted for what makes Vancouver so lethal. Will their game planning be enough to over power this dominant Legion offense? Tom Pepper was unquestionably the best offensive player in the SFL last week, and should be looking to play with the same consistency against Atlanta. Atlanta is led by the rookie gunslinger, Bryant Dynasty, who has had potential OROTY numbers in season 15. He’s passed for the 3rd most yards in the SFL, and the Swarm rely heavily on his performance to put up points. Lee Adama and fellow pass rushers need to focus on pressuring Dynasty, forcing him into questionable decisions. Vancouver has to keep their fastest LB over the top of Hollewood as he runs out to catch swing passes. If the Legion can keep Dynasty from getting into a rhythm, they should be able to pull off a big win.
#11 Houston Hyenas (6-6) @ #7 Jacksonville Kings (8-4)
Houston – Offense (30.17 PPG/4th in SFL) Defense (33.58 PPG/22nd in SFL)
Unfortunately, the majority of the league tuned in last week to see Houston get absolutely demolished by Vancouver. It wasn’t pretty. The Hyenas have got to erase that from their memories and move on. They’re in the playoffs now and can’t afford any more appearances like that. After giving up 76 points a week ago, Houston should expect the Kings’ offense to come in feeling confident. Veteran players have got to rally this team and develop a scheme that will stun Jacksonville. Rookie LB Brody Gulch is a true stud on defense, and he’ll need to be at his best in order to slow down Willis when he’s carrying the ball. They can’t allow Jacksonville to gain 5-10 yards a carry in this one or they’ll have a long day. Quarterback, Kentez Johnson, has got to step up big time this week and make for an 8 interception performance a week ago. The Hyenas need to rely on Warren Murray to break some long runs and help Johnson get comfortable in the pocket.
Jacksonville – Offense (28.25 PPG/8th in SFL) Defense (24.50 PPG/13th in SFL)
The Kings are, arguably, the best team to be playing in the wild card round this week. They have been one of the league’s best teams all season long, and will look to make a run deep into the playoffs. First key to victory for Jacksonville, just watch last week’s game film from Houston vs Vancouver. The Hyenas defense can be exposed in the pass game. Christiansen could have a great game passing to his main targets: Wall, Willis, and Gossett. The Kings should attack the opposing defense early with Jared Willis who has been great in season 15, then take some deep shots to those talented receivers. Kentez Johnson had a career worst game a week ago, and he may still be rattled. Hunter Norwood and company need to pile on the pressure and force him into another long day. The Hyenas will probably be shooting to get Warren Murray active this week to help out Johnson, so containing him will force Johnson to win the game for Houston. This could spell trouble for the Hyenas offense, which is exactly what Jacksonville is hoping for.
#9 Lone Star Glory (7-5) @ #8 Florida Storm (7-5)
Lone Star – Offense (24.92 PPG/11th in SFL) Defense (22.75 PPG/8th in SFL)
The Lone Star Glory secured their playoff status last week with a nervy 31-24 victory at the free-falling Chicago Wildcats. It capped off an excellent regular season for the relocation franchise and no matter what happens on Sunday, nobody can argue that this season has been a failure for the team from Texas. However, there is still at least one more game to play and it is against a team that has already beaten them this season. Back in Week 5, the Florida Storm travelled to Lone Star and stole away with a 44-41 victory in a highly entertaining game. I feel like the Glory need to make sure this one turns into a defensive slugfest if they want the best chance of getting revenge. The Glory’s offense has been more consistent than the Storm’s, but in a shootout I think Lone Star will struggle. They should look to dominate the clock, and that means giving the ball to powerhouse fullback, Cameron Collier, and hitting Adam Williams when he undoubtedly runs free from a linebacker. The rookie QB Fenech has played well down the stretch, but Collier and Williams are the focus – especially in the red zone. Florida’s defence is elite, so don’t expect this strategy to come easily. Defensively, keep up the excellent rush defense against JW Doyle and force Cockren to beat you through the air. This is a risky business as ‘Riverboat’ Ron can go off on any given week, but there is also the chance that the will throw 5 interceptions too. Controlling the clock like this will play into Florida’s strengths, but the two teams are so close that it’s easily conceivable the Glory’s assets will prove to be the stronger.
Florida – Offense (24.08 PPG/12th in SFL) Defense (20.58 PPG/2nd in SFL)
A dynamite mid-season run lifted the Florida Storm into the playoffs, and a little more consistency down the stretch may have even seen them avoiding the Wildcard round altogether. That being said, they have a crucial home advantage against the Lone Star Glory, a team they have already prevailed over on the road, albeit in a crazily close high-scoring game. In that Week 5 contest, Ron Cockren threw for over 500 yards and JW Doyle – despite his problems this season – ran for over 100 yards. Don’t expect this to happen again. Sunday’s game will more likely be a much more cagey affair, especially with the improvement of the Glory’s defence down the stretch. Obviously, another 200 yard game from receiver, Stephen Bush, would be nice, but I would look to Doyle to replicate his performance and then some. Florida have struggled mightily with turnovers this season, which in a playoff game will be a killer to their chances. Grind out the yards with J.W Doyle and then open up to the pass in the red zone. Optimus Cline is a big body with great hands – use him when he can grab you a touchdown. On the opposite side, last time against the Glory, the Storm gave up three touchdowns on the ground and nearly 9 YPC to Cameron Collier from fullback. The backfield tandem is hard to stop, but it should be priority #1. Stop the run and force Fenech into 3rd and long situations. The rookie is likely to look for his tight end, so cut off that lane, force hesitation and get the sack. Despite his below par season, Florida still have ‘Big Sexy’ Alex Dominguez on the D-Line. Pressure from him and Raymond Jones III will be crucial in rattling Fenech’s confidence. Florida need to play Lone Star tough on Sunday. Make them know they have been in a real fight, then march on to the next round.