Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Power Returns! Season Intro and Opening Night Preview

It's that time again, folks: Arena Football season is once again upon us.

After a long winter full of nothing much exciting (aside from the Steelers, Pens, player news/fears for both, and some very bad predictions on my part) it is time once again to get some use out of the Consol Energy Center and see some football!

For those of you new to Arena Football in general and my posts in particular, let me lay things out in a nutshell: Arena Football is similar to the outdoor game we all know and love in that there are two teams in helmets and pads where one is offense and one is defense at any given time. The offense moves the ball down field by throwing or carrying it, and then scores by crossing a line or kicking it through the uprights. The other team attempts to stop them through subtle and nuanced measures that amount to running into each other as hard as they can. The two teams then change sides and continue for 60 minutes with a break in the middle so that the spectators can get beer.

The difference with the indoor game is that it is played on a field half the size with no sidelines and smaller uprights. The clock rarely stops and the emphasis is on scoring. Offense is king, the ball is rarely carried and the players are barely paid. In this form, you have a game played by a combination people who are either just playing for the love of the game, or are desperate as all hell to get into the NFL. The result is a fast-paced, high-scoring game that requires a different strategy than the outdoor one, full of a different kind of excitement and passion on the field.

There - now you know more than 90% of the people out there when asked, "explain the Arena Football League to me." For a more detailed breakdown, see the Pittsburgh Power's page.

Now back to the topic at hand which is - YEAH, BUDDY! IT'S TIME FOR ARENA FOOTBALL AGAIN!

Once again, the Power get the honor of opening the season for the whole league on a Friday night NFL Network broadcast. This year, it's a road game, but it's still awesome that we're first out of the gate. We must have picked up a decent following last year, because between the NFL Network and the CW, all but two games will be broadcast on TV this year. Four of them will be seen nationally on the NFL Network. Although it's handy that every game in the league last year was broadcast online through NiftyTV, I'm glad that I won't have to monkey around with that as much for the home team.

The first post of the season is always difficult, because it's hard to make predictions. The way the AFL works is that players are only under one year contracts, and most are paid a couple of hundred bucks a game. Because of this, there is massive turnover each season, and a team can be a completely different group of guys each season. As such, you can really only go on what you know about veterans, what the local support for a team is, and the coaches. Don't get me wrong, that can mean a lot - but just look at the Sabercats last year. Historically great team, total crap most of 2011.

That being said, we have an exciting game lined up this week. Once again, we travel to Orlando to play the Predators in the Friday night spotlight. This did not work out well for us late last season, but honestly, it was one of the best-played games the Power had all season. The Preds have insane fans and always have, their arena is generally packed, and national games are always more intense. I expect this outing to be no different.

Like I said, it's tough to say what will happen the first outing with a team each year. We have some old faces returning and some new ones we can only guess about. Here's what I can say based on our game last year:

On the Power side, Josh Lay was clutch on defense, LaRico Stevenson was big in pass coverage, Total Chaos showed some stuff, DeWalt, Joystick, and Campbell were key on offense, but were outshone by DJ Hall and, last but not least, even Edinger went 6-8 on PATs. It was a standout game, but we ran out of gas in the second half and we continued to be plagued by our QB woes.

On the Preds side, the show was run by TT Toliver, Josh Bush and Robert Quiroga on offense with Bobby Sippio putting up yards. Coach O'Hara continued his history of risky calls by putting in Collin Drafts at QB instead of his starter, and Chris Dubalt teamed up with kicker Mark Lewis twice in a frickin' row to recover off the uprights for a score on a kickoff.

How does that stack up this year? Well, Coach O'Hara is gone, as is Bush, Quiroga and Dubalt. On our side, we've lost Hall, Campbell and Total Chaos - the latter of these to none other than the Orlando Predators!

Our core is still there. DeWalt returns as our Iron Man, playing both offense and defense. Unless he somehow lost his magic in the last few months, he's still going to be a play-maker. Tall, accurate and quick, he's a sure target in the end zone and never afraid to flip backwards over the boards to make a catch. Also, he's tall enough to smack down passes and a receiver so he knows what to do if he intercepts it.

Mike "Joystick" Washington is also back. The pint-sized terror is primed to get back out there and do what he does best - namely, squeak through holes and run 15 yards in the blink of an eye. From what I understand, Mike still has NFL aspirations and plays like he's trying to prove it.

Finally, Josh Lay and LaRico Stevenson are still listed on our roster to cause trouble on defense and, for better or worse, I don't have Edinger to kick around any more.

We have two big unknowns going into this game: Kyle Rowley and the Power's ability to protect the QB. Last year, we had a constant carousel of quarterbacks the whole season. We had at least 4 men fill that role, and I'm having trouble remembering if any of them played 4 games in a row. Part of this was because we had guys without much Arena experience who weren't prepared for how fast the game moves and held the ball too long. They also weren't ready for short passes and quicker defenders. The other problem was that there was seemingly no one blocking for them. They all spent more time on their backs and on IR than they did on the field.

This year, the Power needs to cut that shit out, because we have a QB worth protecting. Kyle Rowley joins us, and his resume (or at least his Wiki entry) reads like a "Here I am, try to stop me" statement. He's the only QB to win the championship in both arena leagues, has been voted MVP, and just all around knows how to win.

Come at me, bro!

Now, I'm not saying that he's suddenly going to solve all our problems, but he's a big key to it. Our weak spot all of last season was mainly at QB, be it consistency, skill, or just coverage. The first two, Rowley's got. He's also played all over the place for a number of years, so he's use to adapting to new teams, coaches and players. As long as the rest of the Power can keep him from getting broken, we're in good gosh-darned shape.

Now for the Predators. One of the only constants generally in this league is coaching. Whole rosters can change, but the same decision makers are up front. Last season, O'Hara lost some key games and for one reason or another, he and the Predators decided to part ways. It's okay, he landed on his feet with the Voodoo, and it should be interesting. So, what can we expect from new head coach Bret Munsey? Tough to say. He's been out of this league for a few years, but when he last coached, it was for the Arena Bowl champion 2008 Soul. That bodes well for Orlando.

Also, although they've lost some key receivers, but retained the total threat of fan-favorite TT Toliver. They picked up former Pittsburgh favorite Terrance "Total Chaos" Carter on defense. Furthermore, Collin Drafts is still backing up the starting QB. This QB is Trevor Harris, who used to back up none other than 2011 Arena Bowl runner-up Nick Devila. He's also worked out with both the J'Ville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills. That's a good resume.

Finally, we gotta worry about that damn Mark Lewis on kickoffs.

So, where does that leave us? Several of the key ingredients of last season for both teams are in the game along with some very powerful wildcards. If both teams play like they did last year, and the Power can protect Rowley and Rowley gels with the team, I think they can win. We have more team veterans in key offensive positions. As this is an offense-driven game, that means a lot. However, if the Power gets up to old tricks of not protecting the QB and running out of gas in the second half, they're sunk.

The game airs at 8:30 on the NFL Network.

Elsewhere in the league
The Power isn't the only game in town this weekend. There's a lot more football to watch. This season, it looks like Nifty is out, and ustream is in. I haven't used it yet, but it advertises in-browser viewing as well as iPhone/Android apps. Sounds fantastic, and a huge improvement over Nifty.
  • Saturday @4, the Blaze visits the recently moved San Antonio Talons. The Blaze is generally entertaining, but I'm more interested in the Talons. They are the new home for Arena Bowl Champ Aaron Garcia, the Pred's Robert Quiroga, and our own Jason "Watchu Talkin' Bout" Willis. They're going to be dangerous.
  • Obviously I'm all about the Storm/Rush game at 8:00. Nick Hill, formerly of the Preds, is heading up the Storm, while my boy Russ Michna returns to the field with receivers Gray and Hall.
  • The Rattlers and Sabercats meet up at 10:30. Even when the Cats stunk last year, these teams meeting up was still something to behold. They're one of the biggest rivalries of the league, and the games are always brutal, showcasing what AFL is all about.
  • Monday night is mainly interesting to see how our rivals the Gladiators do in one game, and how former Soul coach Hohensee and former Rush QB JJ Raterink do in the other.
Enjoy the season, everyone! I'll be back next week with the recap.

Also, don't forget that there's a comments section right down there. Let me know you're out there

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