Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Power vs. Mustangs Review: Keller's Take

Check out Weidman's review for his breakdown of the Power's 49-47 victory over Milwaukee, as well as his thoughts on some of the other action around the AFL.

I think the team is still trying to find their identity.  I think coach Siegfried is still getting his sea legs.  I think the team was damn lucky to come out of Milwaukee with a victory and, as they say, a win's a win.  They're still sitting pretty a 2-1, tied with Philly for the division lead, so they haven't dug themselves a big hole like the 0-3 Mustangs or the 0-3 Talons (our Week 4 opponent) have.

As nice as it is to go on the road and notch one in the win column, I couldn't help but come out of this game feeling uneasy.  The game itself was a tale of two halves, was sloppily played, and unfolded at an uneven pace.  The Power owned the first half, forcing turnovers and jumping out to a 28-7 lead.  Milwaukee turned the tables in the second half, forcing a couple turnovers of their own before they were ultimately undone by their special teams.  So, I don't feel good about this game -- certainly not as good as I felt after the Week 2 drubbing of Iowa -- but I don't feel bad, either.  Like I said, I just feel uneasy.

My big issue is the fact that Siegfried may be forgetting he's coaching an Arena team.  The Power jumped out to a big lead -- just like they did against the Soul in the opener -- then they took their foot off the gas and seemed to be playing it safe in order to protect the lead.  The problem there is that the concept of a "safe lead" doesn't exist in Arena ball.  You just keep scoring until the clock runs out, then try to score some more.  They looked like they were especially playing it safe in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.  In the NFL, heading into the fourth quarter with a 15 point lead is a pretty good time to turtle up and protect the lead.  Not at all in the AFL, as we discovered last night.  Hopefully, Siegfried was also paying attention.

Then there's Kevin McCabe.  I haven't pulled a 180 on him after I fell in love with him last week, but I think that he and Siegfried need to realize and understand McCabe's limitations as a quarterback.  On both his interceptions, he looked like he was trying to be too precise, trying too hard to make the perfect throw, and really thinking too much about not screwing it up.  The result was that he screwed it up and threw two picks.  The reason is that he's just not precise enough to put the ball where only his receiver can catch it.  We take quarterback play for granted at the NFL level and fail to realize that there's only a handful of guys on the Earth that can throw to a specific spot at a high velocity on the run while being pressured.  It's not easy and physically not being able to do it results in turnovers.

Before you forsake McCabe and the Power forever, I think I should point out that there is a silver lining.  The best way to insulate McCabe from his mistakes and limitations is to not change anything.  The Power jumped out to a big lead, then they took the foot off the gas and tried to grind out a victory.  The fact that they did manage to grind out a victory is incidental and should not be a reason to try this strategy again in the future.  They need to keep doing what they're doing.  They need to keep their foot on the gas.  They need to keep scoring until the clock stops, then try to score some more.

Yet another silver lining is that it looks like they have plenty of tools on offense to accomplish that objective.  They can plow through short yardage or goal-to-go situations with Joshua Rue and Eddie Thompson.  They can dink and dunk down the field with those little slip screens and quick hitches/slants to Mike Washington and Jason Willis.  They can go vertical with Lonnell Dewalt and Jerome Mathis.  McCabe can throw every route on the passing tree.

If you add all that up, they just need to mix it up, keep it moving, and kill the bastards.  As the great John Madden said, "The team that is going to be able to score the most points is the team that's going to win this game."  Sage advice. I think the Power should follow it, especially since the defense had some issues on Monday night.

I still have a huge man-crush on Carlos Campbell and Neil Purvis, so they're excused.  Josh Lay is a good read-and-react guy, but he's not a great cover corner and he's absolutely horrible at staying with a receiver until the whistle.  He gets distracted or starts looking into the backfield and then he gets burned.  Until the NFL draft comes and goes and all the undrafted free agents hit the open market, there's not much that can be done.

At a very basic level, there's not much you can do, period, in terms of coverage.  There's too much space and too many receivers in the pattern and not enough guys to cover them.  As I mentioned in my original post about the Power, the AFL is a purer form of football than the NFL because you can't hide.  You can't cover up the fact that Lay gets distracted.  It's just him and the guy across from him.  The other side is that everyone on defense plus Weidman plus the people that read this blog knew that Eric Ward was going to feed the ball to Antione Burns a lot, but no one was able to stop him because he's too good, there's too much space, there are too many guys in the pattern to cover.  The best you can do is pressure the quarterback and force him to make mistakes.  The Power did a good job of that in the first half, but they let Ward and back-up quarterback RJ Archer break contain and run through the huge seams in the defense that were created when the defensive line overpursued.  At a basic level, there's only so much you can do to keep that from happening.  Archer and Ward are fast dudes and they'll find a way to bust out.

Therefore, score as many points as possible. 

Now, the weird thing is that the Power are just good enough in the running game and just efficient enough in the short passing game that they could string together several long, plodding drives like they had in the first quarter against the Barnstormers in Week 3, effectively playing keep-away from the other team.  They could win a lot of "low scoring" games 42-35 that way, but the trouble with that strategy is that it doesn't give you much room for error.  In Arena ball, the rules are specifically designed for random, unpredictable things to happen, so random, unpredictable things are not outliers.  The only way to adjust for those outliers is to give yourself a buffer by scoring as many points as possible.

There's an outside chance the Siegfried actually reads this -- at least a better chance than Tomlin or Bylsma reading the ol' blog -- so I wanted to make sure I hammered the point home.

PS: Coach Siegfried, if you're reading this, Jerome Mathis needs to get more involved.  That guy is crazy explosive and you need to find as many ways as possible to get the ball in his hands.  Don't just relegate him to kickoff returns and deep post routes.

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