Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Playoffs Round Two Review, Arena Bowl Preview

Due to happenings with two other professional teams in town, we decided to combine this week's posts into one. Another round is in the books, and the teams for the championship are set. Let's take a look at how we got here

Sharks at Soul
In many ways, I think that the Sharks/Soul can be summed up with this picture:

Now, if you can't tell, that's a nun. On a motorcycle. With pom-poms. Driven by a guy with a cowboy hat.

I'm sorry, but if that's how your team takes the field, you more than have home field advantage - you have all the advantages. Every one of them. You, in fact, have the right to brag, "We got this." And in that, Philly was set. The Sharks were never in this game. They had the first touchdown, but everything was downhill from there. Capz shanked the extra point waaaaay right, and something seemed wrong. The ensuing kickoff looked more like a botched squib-kick than a kickoff, and then it came out - he had a pulled MCL. That was it for the quarter. By the end of the half, they'd only have 12 points to Philly's 45.

Look, I can recap the play-by-play, but it would just make everyone - including the Soul - sad. By the end of the game, they were trying to not score 100 points. These stats speak for everything: Three picks, three forced and recovered fumbles, a turnover on downs. The Philly defense barely let the Sharks on the field. Standing out on defense was our own LaRico Stevenson, who did a little bit of everything, including seven tackles and a pick six (Have I mentioned that I miss him?)

On offense, it was the Larry Brackens show. Coming into this game, he had about twenty catches on the season. By the end, he had almost half that many touchdowns. He recorded a team record 8 - a record formerly held by Captain Morgan with six last year against us.

Also interesting was the fact that Scaccia - whom I assumed would be weak compared to Capz - was practically flawless on the night, including on a field goal, which Philly rarely does. Someone was obviously practicing in the off/on season.

I don't know if it was that the Soul is really that much better than the Sharks, if Jacksonville was out of gas, or if they were just having an off night. Whatever it was, the Soul practically had a bye week to get to the championship.

Blaze at Rattlers

This was, perhaps, the best game I watched all season. This was the tie-breaker for this season between these two teams, and the team who wanted to win needed to make a statement, and the Ratts certainly did that. First drive, they scored on the back of old, reliable Odie Armstrong, rumbling in for the score, 40 yards out. On the Blaze's first possession, the Ratts snagged a quick pick six. After the Blaze got on the board, the Ratts had to settle for a field goal - a drive that would haunt them in the second half.

They were back in it on their next drive, and then their defense came up big by sacking Grady for a safety. Undeterred, the Blaze pulled off a picture-perfect onside kick to mitigate the damage. The swing came at the end of the half when they got a pick and the offense took the field. Now, the refs say that Ed Ta'amu had possession on a short pass from Grady for the score, but I have my doubts. Regardless, this put the Blaze up by two. Remember that FG? Yeah, that gave them 3 instead of 7, putting the Ratts in this position.

Most of the remainder of the game would see the Ratts unable to get back those two points and constantly pass the Blaze and then fall back again as touchdowns were exchanged. This would go on all half, setting up the old Arena axiom of, "He who has it last, has it best."

In the waning seconds of the game, the Blaze held the ball near paydirt, with a 69-67 lead. The Ratts defense came up big by holding them to 4th down and then picking Grady in the end zone with but 35 seconds left. A steady drive brought them down to their end zone with only 16 left. Davila passed to Purify and took the lead. Those two points that haunted them all game? They decided to make a statement and get them back with a successful conversion. The nine seconds left just weren't enough for the Blaze, and the Ratts won, 75-69.

Arena Bowl XXV

So, what can we expect late Friday night? A coin flip. After that, everything is just conjecture and wishful thinking. In my opinion, there are few problems with how professional football playoffs work (don't get me started on college), but one of them is separate trees for each conference. The way this works out, only the best two teams of their conference go to the championship, not necessarily the best two teams in the league. Look at it this way - what if the Soul had a bad night, and the Sharks advanced to rematch with the Ratts? Would that be the best two teams? Hell no. You only needed to watch last week's game to know that.

However, this year, the best two teams in the league are meeting for the big game. The Soul are there by virtue of just rolling over everything in their path. They had a misstep in their first game of the season, but from there established a path of destruction through the American Conference that couldn't be stopped. A great quarterback with a corps of receivers so deep that they once put a backup in who was barely over five foot and still dominated. Tiger Jones even got picked up by the Eagles, and the Soul moved through that loss with barely a hiccup.

The Rattlers, on the other hand, rose to the top through a Darwinian battle for supremacy that saw a conference battle - not just a division one - for seeding that went down to the last week of the season. Nick Davila and crew held some gas in the tank in the unimportant games and put the pedal down when they needed to. A number of this crew went to the big game last year, and they obviously had the drive to go again. They don't have the stand-out, NFL bait that the Soul does, but they have a solid, reliable offense that works well together to get results and a defense to be reckoned with.

Friday night is going to be brutal. Can the Rattlers bring home a win like the days of old and banish last year's heartbreaking loss, or will they ever be the bride's maid? Do the Soul, in fact, "got this," or will hubris finally catch up with them? The truth is, I don't know.

My gut says that the Soul is going to pull this out, as I've been saying for months (but I'll be rooting for the Ratts.) They are a more explosive team, their offense is deadly and their defense is frightening. The Rattlers have a powerful team in their own right, and I can't underestimate the "been there, done that" factor, but I just think that the Soul has more weapons in their arsenal. The big factor is going to be nerves. Dirty Dan has been fairly unflappable this season, but Championships - especially on the road - get in people's heads their first time out. Also, I just can't shake the feeling that they've been swaggering to broadly for the last six weeks or so (See: The Patriot's "19-0.")

Plus, they don't get to bring the nuns and motorcycles to New Orleans.

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