Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bye Week Spotlight: The Soul at Voodoo

I wanted to address this week's final game, as we will be playing both teams in the coming weeks and there was a lot to see in this match-up. Sunday afternoon, the Soul traveled to the Graveyard - the AFL's best-named arena, followed by the Rattlers' Snakepit and the Preds' Jungle - to start their season. Coming in, I was expecting a fairly lopsided game given the Soul's roster and the Voodoo's lack of one - but it came right down to the wire.

The Soul absorbed a fair amount of talent from the now defunct Dallas Vigilantes, including QB "Dirty" Dan Raudabaugh (yes, I'm still pushing that moniker), RB Derrick Ross and former head coach (now offensive coordinator) Clint Dozel. Returning this year is deep threat Donovan Morgan (who was gone, then back, then maybe gone, then re-signed last season) and new acquisition, Jeff Hughley from the Sharks (Note: I am so glad he's not a lineman, because I'm already mentally calling him D.L. Hughley, which is a whole other Hughley.) Also, they're rolling with some brutal defense that doesn't seem to care about such niceties as not roughing the passer or kicker.

On the other side of the field, the Voodoo were returning from a pretty crappy season, with a new head coach and mostly new players. That's "new to Arena Football" not just new to the team. There's only about 5 veterans on the team, including former Cleveland Gladiator rival, Kurt Rocco and Josh Bush (whom you might remember from my past Predator coverage.) Their strength is really in their coaching, with former Preds coach Pat O'Hara and AFL legend Tim Marcum as his assistant. With these two at the head and the performance I saw today, I expect some impressive stuff out of New Orleans this year.

Philly started the game looking like they were just going to crush the Voodoo after putting up two rather quick scores, but the Voodoo got in it and they went back and forth the rest of the game. The Voodoo missed a key PAT, and they spent most of the game staying one point behind. Even though they capitalized on a turnover in the second, the Soul were able to make up the ground and finish it out one point ahead at the end (63 - 62) due to a missed field goal by New Orleans.

When we face the Voodoo in a few weeks, they're going to be a tougher than we've dealt with in the past, despite their lack of experience. Kurt Rocco was fairly solid in Cleveland, and he has matured a lot. With the help of some top-flight coaching and some solid, solid receivers in Josh Bush and Quorey Payne, they have a lot of potential. When Bush had less on the day of these two and still got almost 100 yards in the indoor game, we're seeing solid performance.

Rocco is strong in the passing game and this week went 25/29 for 314 yards 6 TDs. On the other hand, they are not afraid of the rushing game, putting up almost 50 yards on the ground and three TDs. Were it not for their kicking woes and some standout performances from Philly, this game is a win in most situations.

Next week, we face the Philly Soul once again in our home opener and. they. scare me. Seriously. Dirty Dan is a great QB who took the Vigilantes to the postseason last year. Today, he went 23 for 30, 310 yards, 7 TDs and no interceptions. He also has some phenomenal targets in Tiger Jones, Donovan Morgan and Jeff Hughley. All three of them are good at getting open down field and making catches. Both Hughley and Jones had receptions of 29 yards or more in this game and it only took three receivers for Dirty Dan to break the 300 yard barrier.

Morgan was viewed to be good enough to get picked up by the UFL last season, but it only took about a week for him to make it back to this league, whether he didn't like it or didn't work out, and that's the AFL's gain. He "only" had 86 yards receiving today, caught 2 touchdowns and also rushed for another 24 yards. He's highly mobile and can move in the open field.

Hughley is the big threat. As a receiver, he's deadly. Last year under the great Aaron Garcia, he had almost 1200 yards and 22 touchdowns. Today, he already tacked up almost 100 yards and two TDs as a receiver. He was also the only kick returner for Philly, and he averaged 26.5 yards on 10 returns and ran one aaaaaaall the way back for a score. Seriously, I don't want him coming into the Consol next week.

Finally - and this is is just based on their first game of the season - the Soul has got some brutal defensive players. There were several unsportsmanlike calls for Philly today, include a late, hard hit on Rocco, and hard hit to the kicker's leg. I hope they get that under control before they risk our players next week.

So, two weeks in, and we already have a good idea what we're going to be facing in three out of our next five games.

Elsewhere in the league
  • Right now, Philly is at the top of the division with 1 win and more points than us. Next week will show only one of the four of us with 2 wins.
  • Milwaukee put up a good fight against Arizona, but lost by a touchdown
  • The Kansas City Command started out strong against the Garcia-less Sharks Friday night, but just got throttled in the second half. Looks like the Sharks might still be a tough contender.
  • Utah lost this week, leaving both them and the Blaze 1-1.
  • Speaking of Garcia, the Talons lost a close one to the Shock 63-60.
  • The Game of the Week on the NFL network wasn't boring, but it wasn't that exciting either. Tampa Bay started out strong, and the Force did their best to catch up. 50-47 Tampa.

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