There is no way to understate this week's game for the Pittsburgh Power. If they have any dreams of making the playoffs they have to win on the road on Sunday in Chicago.

Pittsburgh is staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start in which they were blown out at home by Utah (64-33) and Jacksonville (61-35). They have to start showing they can compete with teams or else the season is a lost cause.

Rookie quarterback Jordan Jefferson has struggled mightily to adapt to the arena game. A 55.4% completion percentage is nowhere near good enough and he only has eight touchdowns (seven passing/1 rushing) vs. four interceptions. That's not counting the numerous fumbles and 11 sacks he has taken in just two games. He has to learn to make the quick throws and reads and help stabilize a reeling offense.

His counterpart for the Chicago Rush (1-2) is Carson Coffman who is coming off a game against San Antonio where he suffered a dislocated finger. His completion percentage isn't much better (55.7%) but he's producing more touchdowns (16 passing, 2 rushing) and has a win to show for his efforts although he's played one more game. Chicago was assigned Danny Southwick, who has seen limited time in the AFL with Tampa Bay and San Jose. He may get the nod if Coffman's finger is worse than thought.

Pittsburgh's offense still has not identified their go-to receiver yet, preferring to spread the ball around evenly. Mike "The Joystick" Washington has 15 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and P.J. "Superman" Berry has caught 14 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown. The problem is that the Power haven't gotten good games out of them at the same time. Perry Baker and Christian Wise tend to get the other looks on offense.

Chicago's receiving core features Rodney Wright (26 receptions, 326 yards, 5 TD's) and "Big Play" Reggie Gray (21 receptions, 226 yards, 8 TD's). Gray is a second team all-arena selection at wide receiver the past two years. Both players have seen prominent time on the kick return team for the Rush. Keep an eye on Nate Forse, the local kid from Uniontown who played collegiately at California (PA).

Defensively, there is a lot of talent on both teams in this matchup. The last two 1st team jack linebacker selections will play in this game. (Kelvin Morris for Chicago, Alvin Ray Jackson for Pittsburgh.) Chicago also features defensive backs Vic Hall (2011 defensive player of the year), Jorrick Calvin (10 interceptions last year), and Joe Phinisee, who spent the last three seasons with Cleveland.

Sergio Gilliam has the only interception for the Power so far this year, but both him and Chris LeFlore have played strong in coverage so far this year and it's only a matter of time before they start hauling in more picks. Brandon Freeman was placed on injured reserve this week, so look for Christian Wise to move into the starting lineup. Pittsburgh has three sacks on the year and will try to pressure Coffman or Southwick and force some mistakes.

Taking a peek at the intangibles section, let's compare the kickers for both teams. Chicago's Jose Martinez is 18 of 19 (94.7%, 3rd best in the AFL) on his PAT's and has missed his only FG attempt. Josh Czajkowski has not been as good for Pittsburgh. He is only 6 of 9 (66.7%) on PAT's and has not attempted a FG yet. He needs to get that conversion percentage up because Pittsburgh cannot afford to lose any points given their overall struggle to score points.

This will be the first road trip of the year for the Power, but a bit of a homecoming for several coaches and players who have ties to the Chicago area. Head Coach Derek Stingley grew up in Chicago and played defensive back for the Rush in 2001. Offensive coordinator Mike Tomczak was a quarterback for the Chicago Bears for six seasons and grew up in Calumet City, and line coach John Sikora was a player for Chicago's AFL championship team in 2006. Center Beau Elliott also played three seasons for the Rush, earning second team all-arena honors in 2010 and defensive back Brandon Freeman (on IR) played for the Rush in 2012.

Both teams have struggled this year and are looking to get things going. Jordan Jefferson needs to adapt faster to the indoor game and make faster reads and throws. Chicago only has one sack in three games, so perhaps Jefferson will have a little easier time standing in the pocket to make his decisions. This is the game where the Power defense needs to step up and make some big plays. If this turns into a high scoring game, I don't think the Power have the ability to avoid enough turnovers to win.

Prediction: Chicago 49, Power 42

Posted in College Sports

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