Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by J.R Lawless
Editor’s Note: This Week’s article will act as a ‘taster’ for a Weekly Segment further down the road. Treat it like a pilot episode for a new sitcom or a 7-day free trial period when deciding on a new product or subscription. Week 1 will cover 4 of the 12 games in the SFL this weekend, with plans to add more per article as interest increases. If an article of this nature is something that you will enjoy going forwards, please, be vocal and let us know. We rely on your feedback to present the best written content we can.
What We Learnt from Week 1
London Knights 28-41 Baltimore Vultures
The Knights are just as ‘pass-happy’ as ever…
The drive I enjoyed the most from London this weekend resulted in their opening touchdown to go up by a score early. Baltimore has just turned the ball over on 4th down after a bizarre attempt at a fake punt (not sure I’ve ever seen a play like that work in the SFL) and the Knights moved down the field, utilizing Robert Merrill. Merrill’s uses as a pure running back have been few and far between in London, so it was promising to see how many touches he got on that early drive. Unfortunately, Merrill’s involvement and London’s lead in the game wasn’t to last. Merrill finished the game with a paltry 10 yards from 6 rushing attempts, compare to QB Jonny Pichler, who threw the ball 54 times. London’s aerial attack can be as dangerous as any in the league, but if they want to make a run in the playoffs and consistently stick it to the better teams in the SFL, the scales need to be more balanced. The quick pass heavy attack (including untimely interceptions) gave Baltimore more time in possession, something that they exploited. The Knights are a high-scoring team, no doubt. A more balanced approach may indirectly help their defense out though, against other high-powered squads.
The Vultures punish mistakes like no other…
This victory will have been an important one for Baltimore given the Week 12 loss to London last season, blemishing what would have been a perfect record as well as a championship run. Evidential on the field was the desire of both offensive and defensive players to put pressure on the Knights, despite early hiccups and a late surge that ran out of time to really threaten. The Vultures scored 41 unanswered points – I can’t think of another team that would have pulled that off against a London squad which always starts the season full of confidence. Yes, Jack Wigmore didn’t play his best football, turning the ball over too many times – but the defense held firm and forced mistakes of their own, mistakes that often turned into points. Baltimore still have playmakers all over the field. Ervin and Chimah are an unbelievable tandem at receiver, the secondary plays good football and Alvin Mack is probably the best coverage LB in the SFL. They corner you, find a weakness, no matter how small and then go for the jugular. This is what happened to the Knights in Week 1. Nobody does it like Baltimore.
L.A Lycans 31-28 Charleston Predators
Sully Richardson giveth, Sully Richardson taketh away…
The Los Angeles Lycans quarterback must have had his coaches in agony. The constant flitting between jubilation and horror will have taken it’s toll as big plays were matched by poor decisions and interceptions. With Robert Johnson largely ineffective for large parts of the game, Richardson took it upon himself to force the victory. It happened, but it was a lot closer than it needed to be. The Lycans twice let Charleston come back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game, very much due to turnovers thrown by the experienced QB. Richardson may well be thanking his lucky stars that the wind was against Preds kicker, Brad Brechett, and that receivers Chris Lee and Davius Reid won many of their 1-on-1 contests. Lee, in particular, looked clutch, coming through in huge moments for his team. LA’s offense clearly needs Johnson to be at the races, but they also showed an ability to score quickly through the air. Five INTs however, is not sustainable. That needs to be cleaned up, otherwise narrow victories such as this will degrade into narrow losses.
The Predators have elite players at Tight End and Linebacker, but it is enough for victory?
Charleston dug themselves a hole, not once, but twice in their home loss to the Lycans, and an unlikely comeback was thwarted by a lack of cohesive performance and a 55-metre kick with the wind in their face. Despite the efforts of Jay Taylor and Lyriic Davinci, who both made huge catches in important moments, T.D Drew couldn’t recover from scoreless 2nd and 3rd quarters. Drew needed help, but his outside receivers were well marshalled by L.A all game long. The same can be said for Charleston’s secondary. I mean, yes, 3 picks is solid by anyone’s standards, but the rear guard for Charleston also gave up too many big plays. They played aggressively and often got caught out. The fact that the combination of Jack Brown, Jack Hoffman and Erich Hammer was immensely effective mattered little. If you concede over 30 points at home, there is a very good chance the game will result in a loss. Having elite pieces on a team is never a bad thing – the Predators just needed their solid starters to step up more frequently.
Arizona Scorpions 30-14 Tulsa Desperados
The Scorpions will be fine with their new receivers…
Entering Week 1, the questions surrounding the fortunes of Arizona’s ‘replacement receivers’ were many after the well-documented departure of James and Donnie Hands. The Hands brothers were as dynamic as any receivers in the SFL, giving Ashley Jackson a big play outlet when other avenues were closed. Upon the evidence on Week 1’s victory in Tulsa, Connor Weston and Ryan Owens will do just fine. Granted, Weston and Owens don’t quite carry the same lustre as their predecessors, but they have reliable hands and know how to get open. Connor Weston, especially, is a receiver I have kept my eye on since he was drafted during Season 15. He plays with flair and has produced some flashy catches and natural RAC ability. Despite zero touchdowns through the air, Weston’s 105 yards form 8 catches helped move the chains to get running back DJ Moses into scoring position. Owens had fewer opportunities to shine, but a 23 yard catch showed that he can be used in more situations than just a ‘short yardage’ guy. The Scorpions looked accomplished in victory. The perceived ‘backward step’ after James and Donnie’s exit only appears to be very small.
Tulsa outmatched, but improvements give cause for optimism…
Let us be blunt for a minute. The Desperados were clearly inferior to the West Division champs in their Week 1 clash. The offense couldn’t turn drives into any form of points for a while and the defense struggled to contain DJ Moses once Arizona entered the red zone. Tulsa looked most effective when Doug Brown was given the ball in the right situations. The #1 pick showed power and a good sense of awareness when finding profitable lanes to hit. Brown has certainly given his new team a reason to feel good about the selection, despite the box score numbers not looking spectacular. Jay Cue was more efficient and ‘safer’ with his distribution, however that may have taken away some big play ability for this offense. Games like this one against Arizona are times when Gabriel Manning needs to step up and be the highlight reel we know he can be. If Manning goes off in this game, who knows how close it would have been. Manning caught 7 balls for 47 yards. If he can double that production at least, the Desperados will be a problem for more than a few teams.
Sioux Falls Sparrows 12-34 Louisiana Revolution
Unnecessary mistakes are a killer…
A slew of brain fades from the Sparrows during the first half of their Week 1 game against Louisiana condemned them to an early loss. Mistakes like fumbles happen – yes, they are frustrating a unnecessary – but to then compound a fumble by committing a neutral zone infraction penalty on 4th down is inexcusable. Ofcourse, Louisiana scored on that play anyway, but had they not, 4th down would’ve turned into 1st, with tempo on the line. The fumbles themselves both came at bad times and both resulted in a TD for the Revs. AJ Levye, a true veteran of this league, fumbled the opening kickoff, giving Louisiana a very short field, then Noe Terrazas caught a nice cross field pass before coughing the ball up following a good hit. Both of these mishaps set the Sparrows back not just on the scoreboard, but with momentum. Eventually, the losing gap was too wide to close and Sioux Falls were condemned to 0-1. The mistakes need to be cleaned up.
Colin Hart hasn’t lost a step in Louisiana…
Powerful running back, Colin Hart, returned to a club dear to his heart last weekend, suiting up in a game involving the Sioux Falls Sparrows, this time in different colours. Hart came out of the gate showing passion in every carry, at one point being recorded to gaining 10 yards per carry. #22 finished the contest under 100 yards, with 95 from 16 carries, whilst also catching an early passing touchdown. Hart was supported well by ‘understudy’, Randy Squarebush, who toughed out some hard yards and crashed into the end zone himself. After a couple of very poor, losing seasons in Sioux Falls, Colin Hart has his mojo back – now there’s a scary thought for the league.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this ‘taster’ article…something to wet the appetite for more extensive pieces down the road. Once again, I must remind you that your feedback is greatly appreciated. If this series is something you would like to follow through the season, PLEASE, let us know.