It’s the Pittsburgh Power (1-5) vs. the Philadelphia Soul (3-3) in a cross state battle for state supremacy. The AFL loves calling this the Keystone Collision and, make no mistake about it, both teams desperately want to win this game.
Pittsburgh enters this divisional matchup still searching for answers on offense. They have made several roster moves this week trying to shore up an offense that has only gone over 40 points once this season. Quarterback Steven Sheffield has been activated from the “Refuse To Report” list and is sharing first team reps with current starter Jordan Jefferson.
It remains to be seen who will actually get the starting nod but I know head coach Derek Stingley spoke highly of Sheffield before camp but unfortunately he was not able to play due to personal issues until now. Sheffield learned the game behind AFL legend Aaron Garcia last year and could shine for Pittsburgh if given the chance. Pittsburgh will also keep Derek Cassidy on the roster to see how things play out.
Offensively for the Power, keep an eye on Shamar Graves who really showed a lot of skill and grit in a losing effort last week. The Power will also use Mike Washington to stretch the field as usual. P.J. berry suffered a hip pointer injury against Orlando, so one has to wonder how that will affect him this week. The Power made a roster move at the receiver position as well by placing Perry Baker on injured reserve and have had James Robinson assigned to the team this week.
The Soul is coming off a huge 72-41 victory over the Chicago Rush and looks to keep that momentum rolling. The offense runs behind Dan Raudabaugh who is once again up amongst the elite quarterbacks in the AFL. He has completed 144 of 218 passes (66.1%) for 1701 yards, 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He’s not a threat to take off with the ball so the Power pass rush could possibly cause him to rush some throws with great pressure.
Raudabaugh’s favorite target is Tiger Jones, who has 52 receptions for 775 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. Jones is listed as questionable on this week’s game notes from the Soul and if he is not able to go it will have a huge impact on the Soul game plan. Even without him in the lineup, the Soul have a lot of size at the position in Andre Thurman (5’11”), Ryan McDaniel (6’3”) and Larry Brackins (6’4”) and will look to take advantage of that.
Another major offensive force for the Soul is fullback Derrick Ross. Running is not usually a viable strategy in the AFL but when you have a running back like Ross it’s hard to ignore him. Ross has 14 rushing touchdowns on the year and is quickly moving to the top of the all-time leaderboard in rushing yards. It is imperative that the Power gang tackle him at every opportunity or he could break off huge chunks of yardage.
The Power defense has been playing more takeaway football the last few weeks and saw JAC linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson return an interception last week for a touchdown. They will need to score on defense to help the struggling offense score points. Sergio Gilliam and Chris LeFlore have been playing tight coverage and making it tough on receivers to get open downfield.
The Soul secondary features 2010 and 2011 first team all-arena defensive back Rayshaun Kizer who hauled in 39 interceptions in his first three years in the league and added one this year for a nice round number of 40. They also have Joe Goosby and LaRico Stevenson with two interceptions each this year. Stevenson is a former Power defensive back.
Up front the Soul pass rush could cause serious problems for the Power offensive line. 2012 second team all-arena defensive lineman Bryan Robinson has 3.5 sacks this year. They also boast six-year AFL veteran Brandon Perkins with three sacks and ten-year AFL vet Dustin Barno with 3.5 sacks.
The Power made a change at kicker this week after three more missed PAT’s by Josh Czajkowski. He was placed on reassignment this week and the team has added Julian Rauch, a three time national championship kicker for the Appalachian State program. He is an AFL rookie, so this will be his first chance at the 9-foot wide uprights.
On paper this matchup is not favorable at all to the Power but keep in mind the Cleveland Gladiators went into Philadelphia earlier this year and beat the Soul in overtime. A lot of this game could come down to whether Tiger Jones is able to suit up and play or not. Without him in the lineup, the Power will have a lot easier time matching up against the remaining Soul receivers.
The keys to success for the Power will be to neutralize that strong veteran pass rush up front and give whatever quarterback starts more time to make throws. They need to be aware of where the defensive backs are on the field. If the play isn’t there, don’t force it.
Defensively the Power must make sure to contain Derrick Ross as much as possible and try to get a strong pass rush on Dan Raudabaugh. Turnovers are a must for the Power if they want to win this game.
I still think you have to favor the Soul heavily in this game because they just possess a lot more all-arena type talent across the board and even the role players seem to have a lot more AFL experience than the Power. Good thing for the Power though is that games are never decided on paper.