One game into the new era of Pittsburgh Power football and we’re going to start a whole new era of Pittsburgh Power football.
Power management saw enough of head coach Derek Stingley in the season opening 63-53 loss to Cleveland to decide it was finally time to go in a new direction. Entering the fray is the 2012 AFL Coach of the Year Ron James who becomes the third head coach in Power history.
His first test will be a big one as the San Jose SaberCats (2-0) come into town riding high after destroying the Philadelphia Soul last week 70-33. Easily regarded as one of the top two teams in the league, San Jose boasts a stifling defense (33.5 points per game) and a high flying offense regardless of who is starting at quarterback.
Nathan Stanley made his AFL debut last week while filling in for the injured Russ Michna and Stanley responded with a strong 18 for 28 effort with 249 yards and seven total touchdowns (six passing, one rushing). It remains to be seen who will start for the SaberCats this week but both should be able to take advantage of all the weapons San Jose has on offense.
“Big Play” Reggie Gray, who has been named second-team all-arena the last three straight seasons, has once again established himself as a dominating presence in the AFL. So far in 2014 he has 11 catches for 179 yards and a league-leading seven touchdowns. Rod Harper lines up opposite of Gray and he has added 18 catches for 182 yards and four touchdowns of his own. Former Power wide receiver Jason Willis has helped round out the SaberCats’ offense with seven catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
The Power (0-1) offense has already gotten off to a much better start this season. After averaging just over 40 points a game last year, they put up 53 in a losing effort last week. The team has to avoid the killer turnover that has plagued them for years and play a complete game in order to compete this week.
They have the talent to do so, headlined by quarterback Tommy Grady. Grady had a solid debut for the Power in the opener, completing 24 of 37 passes for 235 yards and five touchdowns but he did have two critical interceptions.
Grady’s favorite target in the opener was Prechae Rodriguez with eight catches for 94 yards and three touchdowns (all in the first half). Grady and Rodriguez tied a franchise record for longest touchdown pass (47 yards) on their first connection of the season so let’s hope this is a sign of good things. Shaun Kauleinamoku also had a strong debut with nine catches for 88 yards and a score. Look for Aaron LeSue (Six catches, 49 yards, one touchdown) to get more involved with the Power offense this week. Also keep an eye on recently acquired center Antonio Narcisse who looks to solidify the pass protection in the middle for the Power.
Both secondaries feature a lot of playmakers. San Jose’s Clevan Thomas and Pittsburgh’s Virgil Gray tied for the league lead in interceptions last season with 15 so both know how to make a play. San Jose also has David Hyland (7 interceptions in 2013), Huey Whittaker (6 interceptions in 2013) and Ken Fontenette who can make you pay for any errant throws.
The aforementioned Gray had an interception last week for Pittsburgh and the Power defense is going to have to force a few turnovers to take San Jose off their game. Sergio Gilliam was that playmaker against San Jose last season when he had a pick-sex in the Power’s upset bid of the SaberCats on the road. Pittsburgh will need their pass rush to disrupt the SaberCats quarterback early and often. Anthony Hoke showed some great pressure (1 sack, multiple hurries) in limited action last week and I think the Power defense could benefit by giving him more playing time.
Keep an eye on both kickers in this matchup. San Jose’s Nich Pertuit has only missed one extra point so far and Pittsburgh’s Julian Rauch was perfect in his first outing. Special teams could very well be the difference in this game.
While it might be the biggest cliché in sports, this game will likely come down to who wins the turnover battle. There are playmakers all over the field in this game which should hopefully make for a very entertaining Arena Football game.
Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Power Facebook/A. Ferguson Photography.