The Pittsburgh Power (1-1) looked at last week's showdown with Philadelphia as a litmus test for where they stood as championship contenders. They found out there are still some kinks to work out in their quest for the Foster trophy. They will travel to Milwaukee on Thursday night to take on their division rivals, the Milwaukee Mustangs (1-1)
Quarterback Bill Stull took over as the starting quarterback for the Power last week and looked strong early, but faltered in the 4th quarter. He finished the day 26 of 42 for 299 yards, 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He has to put a halt to the turnovers if he expects to be a successful arena football league quarterback. His accuracy also seemed to falter a bit in the second half. Perhaps fatigue played a part in the late struggles.
Stull will have the full confidence of his teammates and coaches and should fare a bit better against Milwaukee. His favorite target last week was Randy Hymes. The former Baltimore Raven had 7 catches for 112 yards and two scores. His size (6'3" 215 pounds) is a big advantage in the AFL.
P.J. Berry has had a slow start to the 2012 season so far at least on offense. I do believe his foot injury has impacted him a bit more than he had hoped, but it's only a matter of time before he has the kind of game Power fans were hoping for when he signed with the team. This could be the week he finally makes his mark in a Power uniform.
Speaking of making their mark. Tyre Young left a lasting impression on the Consol Energy Center turf last week after scoring a touchdown. I'm all for sharing, but I doubt the CEC faithful wanted to share his pregame meal with him quite the way he did. I think any Young touchdowns from here on out should be sponsored by Stanley Steemer. All joking aside, Young has shown why he was the best AFL running back in 2010 and he will be a strongly utilized part of the Power offense in 2012.
Milwaukee's offense funnels through quarterback Gino Guidugli (Pronounced Ga-duel-ee). The second year quarterback has been strong so far on the season connecting on 43 of 65 passes (66.2%) for 603 yards, 10 TD's and only 2 interceptions. There were high expectations for Guidugli entering the season and so far he's lived up to them.
His top target so far has been 6'3" receiver Jared Jenkins. Jenkins has 17 catches for 248 yards and 4 TD's early on in his AFL rookie season. He lines up next to another AFL rookie in Jonathan Wilson, who has added 11 catches for 183 yards and 3 TD's.
Milwaukee has scored exactly 65 points in both of their games this season, and that seems to be a likely scoring level again in this week's contest.
Defensively last week, the Power did what they had to do to secure victory. Don't let the 84 points that Philly put up fool you, the Power D had two interceptions and three recovered fumbles. Anytime you get 5 turnovers as a defense in the AFL you should win handily. I think linebacker John Green showed a lot of great instincts with the ball, but unfortunately he had a fumble of his own after an interception which negated the big play.
Bryan Williams and Chris LeFlore seem to be around the ball on just about every play. No defensive back in the AFL is perfect, but these guys have a chance to make plays throughout the game and that's what you want. I am very impressed by what I've seen from the Power secondary so far.
Milwaukee's biggest strength was on defense in 2011, and they held the New Orleans VooDoo to 42 points in a 65-42 victory in the Graveyard last week. They will pose a strong test for a Power offense still trying to develop a rhythm early in this AFL season. Luis Vasquez already has 2.5 sacks this year, Dwayne LaFall has added 1.5 sacks, and both Ryan McFoy and Marcus Everett have pick sixes for the Mustangs.
The biggest weakness we saw from the Power last week was the kicking game. Collin Wagner made his AFL debut and it's one he'd prefer to forget. He missed three extra points, including one returned for two points the other way, causing a five point shift on the scoreboard. Some of his kickoffs failed to make it to the rebound nets. You need to cause some chaos on kickoffs if you're going to have a chance. I'm not convinced he's the right guy to replace Taylor Rowan.
Opposite of Wagner, you have Ryan Gates who is 8 of 9 on his extra points and has made the only field goal he's attempted. AFL games are so close, and often times missed extra points end up being the only difference between two teams. If the Power keep Wagner in the saddle, he has to improve this week or it could be another loss for Pittsburgh.
Keys to the game for Pittsburgh
? Shake off the mistakes from last week. This team has a lot of playmakers on offense and they are much better than the six turnovers we saw against the Soul.
? Put the pressure on Guidugli early. If the Power can force him to make some errant throws, I think Bryan Williams, Chris LeFlore, John Green and company can come up with a few turnovers and get the Bradley Center faithful out of it.
? Lonnell DeWalt, P.J. Berry, Randy Hymes, Tyre Young or even tight end Moqut Ruffins. Stick with what is working.
Keys to the game for Milwaukee
? Force Bill Stull to make accurate passes. Many of Stull's big plays were to wide open receivers against Philadelphia. Play tighter man coverage against the Power receivers and Stull will have to make the tighter throws for completions. This may open him up to a few more interceptions.
? Enjoy homefield advantage. This is such a big thing in the AFL with the fans right on top of the field. Make it tough early on for Pittsburgh.
I personally think Pittsburgh is a lot better than the final score showed last week against Philadelphia, but we still need to see them prove it on the field. The week one win over Orlando didn't prove anything just yet, so look for the Power to be very hungry in this one.
Milwaukee's defense could be key. I don't think their offense is quite on the same level as what we saw out of the Soul last week. I also don't think their defense is as strong either. Not to take anything away from the Mustangs, but I just feel this matchup is a lot easier for the Power. Milwaukee will get a boost out of the Bradley Center faithful, but I just like the Power's playmakers a bit more.
It'll be close, but I think the Power get the job done on the road.