It’s always fun to debate who the best team in a league is. For the longest time in the Arena Football League, the point has hardly been debateable as the Arizona Rattlers have rattled off two straight league championships and have begun their quest for a three-peat with four straight victories.
The next team in their way is the upstart Pittsburgh Power who are riding high after two blowout victories in a row and three overall to establish themselves as one of the early playoff contenders in the American Conference. Pittsburgh comes in ranking at or near the top of all major defensive categories, most notably on the scoreboard (35.2 PPG, best in the league) where it counts most.
Many fans around the AFL have been slow to give the Power much credit but it has been hard to ignore after they’ve decimated their last two opponents. Granted those opponents might not be the best the AFL has to offer but you can only play the teams on your schedule. Pittsburgh did what they were supposed to in those games, dominate.
Now we have a showdown between the top offense in the league against the best defense, an undefeated powerhouse against the up and coming force. Now is the time for the Power to show what they are made of.
Arizona’s offense funnels through one of the league’s greatest passers in Nick Davila who once again is off to a great start. He’s thrown for 29 touchdowns, only three interceptions, and completed 67.2% of his passes so far this year. He’s also done this against four of the toughest teams in the league in Spokane, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and San Jose. He protects the ball well and doesn’t make many mistakes which makes him a perfect weapon for an AFL offense. Davila is a battle tested quarterback who knows how to win the big game.
The Rattlers receiving corps is once again amongst the league’s best. Former rookie of the year and first team all-arena wide receiver is tearing it up with 32 catches for 412 yards and 12 touchdowns. They also feature another former first team all-arena receiver in Rod Windsor (21 catches, 228 yards, seven touchdowns) and Tysson Poots has also proven to be a dynamic threat alongside both of these receivers. Rookie fullback Alex Singleton has rushed for 44 yards and five touchdowns and should also be a factor in this game.
Offensively Pittsburgh’s Tommy Grady is coming off a game in which he only completed 16 of 37 passes (43.2%) and threw three interceptions but quite a few passes were dropped by his receivers including a deflection that led to one of the three interceptions. The receivers will have to be at the top of their game if Pittsburgh is going to win this game.
Aaron LeSue has played extremely well (33 receptions, 322 yards, six touchdowns) since becoming the primary focus of the offense with Prechae Rodriguez injured. LeSue is a former first team all-arena talent so this is nothing new. Shaun Kauleinamoku has shown much better hands than what we saw against New Orleans and I have a hunch he is primed for a breakout game this week. Tyrone Goard and James Shaw both have a pair of touchdown receptions on the season and newly acquired receiver Rodney Wright, a 7 year AFL veteran, could also play a role this week.
Arizona’s defense has not had a lot of takeaways so far this year, with only four interceptions and three fumbles, but they still have a lot of playmakers to keep an eye out for. Safety Vic Hall, the former Chicago Rush standout, leads the way with two interceptions. He’s a former defensive player of the year and first team all-arena defensive back. Defensive back Arkeith Brown is still looking for his first interception of the season but has 18 in his first two seasons of AFL play. Seven year AFL veteran Marquis Floyd will also present matchup problems for the Power offense.
Pittsburgh’s defenser has played takeaway with great regularity, lead by former Arizona Rattler Virgil Gray, who has six interceptions so far this season and has recorded a pick in his last eight straight games. His fellow defensive backs Brandon Freeman and Sergio Gilliam both have two interceptions on the season. Keep an eye on defensive lineman Anthony Hoke who leads the team with 2.5 sacks and had a fantastic pick-six last week to earn the Cutter’s Catch Of The Week. Jack linebacker Arvell Nelson has also been all over the field making plays and is coming into his own this year.
This has all the makings of a classic arena football showdown and should be a very exciting game. It’s time to see what the Power are made of.
Photo Courtesy of Pittsburgh Power Facebook