It’s rivalry week for the Pittsburgh Power (2-6) and the Cleveland Gladiators as they square off Saturday night at Consol Energy Center. Both teams need a win to keep pace for the final playoff spot in the American Conference. Pittsburgh is coming off a disappointing 62-34 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Storm while Cleveland is looking to bounce back after falling to San Antonio 55-37.
The fate of either team will come down to their starting quarterback being able to bounce back from a bad game. Power quarterback Steven Sheffield threw four interceptions and admitted he got greedy trying to force the ball into covered receivers against the Storm. Early injuries to James Robinson and Shamar Graves left the Power with a depleted arsenal of weapons and the Storm took advantage of the mismatch. Sheffield has the tools and talent to bounce back from this one and he’ll want to show the home crowd he is the long term answer for the Power at quarterback.
Cleveland saw Chris Dieker show some promise before suffering an injury and they were forced to go back to Brian Zbydniewski. Zbydniewski was picked off six times by the Talons and that has to have the Power secondary licking their chops this week as they try to assert their dominance in this game. Overall this year Zbydniewki is 159 of 273 (58.2%) for 1797 yards, 31 TD’s and 13 interceptions. While he has some experience in the AFL, he is prone to making mistakes so it will be important for Pittsburgh to take advantage of that.
The Power will rely on Mike Washington in the receiving corps as he is the only truly healthy option in the lineup right now. Alvin Ray Jackson might continue playing both ways to help out the Power offense. Shamar Graves is still fighting through his injury last week and P.J. Berry is still out for at least another week with his hip pointer injury. James Robinson was placed on injured reserve this week and the team could look to newcomers Julian Talley and Kenny Stafford to make some key plays this week.
Cleveland’s top receiver is AFL veteran Dominick Goodman. He’s been a steady performer in his three years in the league and had 11 catches for 120 yards and four touchdowns in the lone meeting between the two teams last year. Goodman also excels in the return game making him a dual threat. Thyron Lewis is another veteran receiver who will test the power secondary.
Look for the Power secondary to aggressively attack Zbydniewski’s passes this week. I expect big games out of Chris LeFlore and Sergio Gilliam. Zbydniewski isn’t much of a threat to run the ball so jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson should be able to make some plays in coverage without having to creep towards the line.
Cleveland has some experienced defensive backs who will look to change the scope of this game. Laroche “Action” Jackson joined the team a few weeks into the season after being reassigned by the Jacksonville Sharks. He had 10 interceptions in his first two years in the league and has one this year. Joe Phinisee returns to Cleveland via trade and will see the Power for the second time this season. He played the last two years for Cleveland. The Gladiators will also rely on former Power defensive back Lennie Wicks who leads the team with two interceptions.
I like the Power playmakers on defense in this one, especially against a guy coming off a six-interception game. There is a reason the Gladiators went to Dieker in the first place and his injury is the only reason Zbydniewski is back in the saddle. If the Power can contain Dominick Goodman on special teams and prevent him from getting behind them on big plays I think the defense can do enough to force a few turnovers and flip momentum their way.
I need to see Steven Sheffield bounce back from a horrendous game last week. His game against the Soul should give Power fans hope that is more of the norm and not what Sheffield did against Tampa Bay. He can make the throws necessary to win you ball games and with Jordan Jefferson going on injured reserve this week there is no disputing who the starter is for the forseeable future.
The key to this game could be the injury status of Shamar Graves. If he plays, I love his physicality and he could be a difference on some key plays as he fights for every yard. If he is unable to go the Power will be utilizing a few receivers who have not played for the team yet which could impact chemistry and offensive flow.
Don’t expect a lot of offensive fireworks but it should easily be one of the most competitive games of the week and I think the Power have the edge in this one.