The first round went to the Cleveland Gladiators, but now it’s time for round two and the Pittsburgh Power are hoping to land some haymakers in their quest to win the Eastern Division.
Both teams squared off in the season opener and it was Cleveland (5-0) that stormed back from a 45-28 deficit to stun the Power (3-2) in front of their home crowd. It also cost coach Derek Stingley his job.
Since then the Power have gone on a 3-1 roll with their only loss coming to the league’s other undefeated team.
Cleveland is relying on one of the league’s stingiest defenses (41.2 PPG allowed) to continue their hot streak. Defensive back Marrio Norman has been a standout star for the Gladiators this year with five interceptions and a touchdown while anchoring a strong secondary. Dominic Jones is third on the team in tackles and has 11 pass breakups. Watch for Jones as the Gladiators kick returner as well. Former Power defensive lineman Willie McGinnis has 3.5 sacks.
Offensively, Cleveland hasn’t lit up the scoreboard (49. PPG) but that’s primarily because they haven’t had to. Both of their quaterbacks have seen action this year and it was Chris Dieker who started last time against the Power. He earned Week 1 MVP for his effort of nine total touchdowns and if he gets the starting nod this week Pittsburgh will have to prepare well to stop him in the ground game. Shane Austin has also won two weekly MVP awards in the young season so Pittsburgh could have their hands full regardless of which signal caller stats.
Pittsburgh is coming off a narrow loss to the other undefeated team in the league and is feeling pretty confident on offense. Tommy Grady (9 passing touchdowns) and Aaron LeSue (six receiving touchdowns) both set franchise single game records in their respective categories and should once again prove to be the popular combination for the Power offense. The three turnovers by Grady were the big difference in game one so he’ll need to play a cleaner game this time around. It’s imperative that Shaun Kauleinamoku, Rodney Wright and James Shaw continue to make plays opposite of LeSue to keep the offense from being too predictable. They did a really good job against Arizona so the ability is definitely there.
Pittsburgh’s defense was unable to generate any stops last week against a powerhouse Arizona team but Cleveland’s offense should be a bit easier to contain. Considering both teams like to play a little defense, this could be a bit lower scoring than your usual arena football game. A higher scoring shootout would likely favor the Power though.
Overall this has the makings of a great showdown and it’s nice to see both of these teams amongst the league’s best after matching 4-14 seasons a year ago. A strong rivalry with meaning between these two franchises would mean a lot to the AFL.
Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Power Facebook/Jeffrey Gamza