Monday, April 28, 2008

Soul faces Dallas in Broad Street Brawl

Dallas Desperados (7-0) @ Philadelphia Soul (8-0)

The History

By Ray Bentley -- It’s a battle of undefeated teams and is being billed as the “Broad Street Brawl.” Arguably the biggest regular season game in AFL history is set for this coming Monday night as the Dallas Desperados visit the Philadelphia Soul on Russell Athletic ESPN Arena Football Monday at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN2 and The game will also be shown in HD.

This will be the ninth meeting between these two clubs with Dallas holding a five to three advantage in the series. The Desperados swept Philly last year on their way to a 15-1 record. Philly swept Dallas the year before. This is the first of two meetings between the division rivals as they meet again in Dallas in Week 15.

The Stakes

This is not a title game or even a playoff battle, but nonetheless this is a huge ballgame. Never have two teams gone this far into an AFL season undefeated and played each other. The winner will take over sole possession of the top spot in the Eastern Division and the National Conference. They will also have the inside track to home-field advantage come playoff time.

This is a dream matchup for the AFL. Both teams were expected to be good this year, but nobody thought they would be undefeated this far into the season, especially after both lost their starting QBs for four games. There is still some doubt regarding Tony Graziani’s playing status which adds to the intrigue.

The Players

There has been a question of who the Philly QB will be the past two weeks and this week is no different. Unless Graziani improves dramatically prior to kickoff, Matt D'Orazio will get the start. I don’t know how this can be considered bad news, unless you are a Dallas fan. D’Orazio adds the threat of a mobile, running QB. He will also hold the ball a little longer waiting for receivers to break free. This gives the defense more things to worry about. Not that defending Graziani is a picnic. It doesn’t matter who is taking the snaps, the Soul lead the AFL at 66 points per game.

The Soul has a group of receivers who could make any QB look good. Chris Jackson (72-915-29TDs) runs the best routes in the game and is the best at avoiding the press in high motion. He has helped Larry Brackins (58-818-16TDs) raise his game a few notches. Brackins may be the best “X” (aligns on the line of scrimmage to the wide side) receiver in the AFL according to head coach Bret Munsey. It’s hard to argue that after watching him play. One man seldom gets Brackins to the ground. Darius Watts (27-281-3TDs) is also very talented as a third receiver.

Dallas has a similarly explosive set of pass catchers. Marcus Nash (49-582-15TDs) still has all the gears and is a smart playmaker. Will Pettis (46-534-14TDs) has the ability to take over games. He plays with power and intensity. Third receiver, Anthony Armstrong (39-515-6TDs) is getting better every week.

I don’t know how you can go any farther in an analysis without bringing in Dallas QB Clint Dolezel. The long, tall Texan is the best the game has seen over time. He will likely pass Andy Kelly as the AFL’s all-time passing yardage leader. He is closing in on 900 TD passes (884) which is more than anyone in the history of football, including backyard games. These numbers are the product of a fierce competitive nature and brilliant football mind. Not to mention he can make all of the throws.

They say defense wins championships, which means both of these teams have a chance. Dallas has the top defense in the AFL allowing only 42.7 points per game. They bring Colston Weatherington off the edge and collapse the pocket with Winfield Garnett. Duke Pettijohn is relentless and plays like a wild dog. Bobby Perry is a budding star at Jack. The secondary is anchored by veteran Jermaine Jones, who will match up on Chris Jackson much of the time. Johnnie Harris knows how to play the front side corner and is doing so at a high level. Will Pettis will also play some defense and probably cover Jackson in the red zone.

The Philadelphia defense has made key plays all year. They are fifth in the league allowing 50 points per game but their play has been exceptionally timely. They are second in the AFL at a +10 margin in the turnover department. They also get after the passer with Bryan Save and Gabe Nyenhuis.

Eddie Moten is a fixture in the heart of the Soul defense. He has had big games against Dolezel, intercepting him six times in his career. Mike Brown has been a playmaker coming up with four interceptions from the boundary corner and Brian Mance is playing very well at the field corner. Anthony Dunn has been outstanding at Mac Linebacker and was another of the shrewd off-season acquisitions by the Soul.

The kickers will be important in this one. The kicking game is always magnified in the big games. Philadelphia is one of the best special teams units in the game, leading the league in returns and coverage. Kicker Conner Hughes has proven reliable. Dallas is always a threat to bring it all the way back with Will Pettis on the nets. Kicker Remy Hamilton has picked up his game and is the all-time field goal leader for a reason.

These teams are mirror images in a lot of ways. They both have two proven veteran QBs, both head coaches call the defense, both have excellent offensive lines, both have a top-shelf edge rusher, both have physical playmakers at WR, both have productive Jack and intense Mack Linebackers. Both have excellent Nose guards.

And both are undefeated.

The Game

Very seldom do regular season games merit naming such as “The Broad Street Brawl”. But then you don’t often have undefeated teams having a showdown this late in the year. Regardless, this is a big one! It’s going to be a lot of fun. You have, without question, the best two teams in the league going at it on Monday Night. It don’t get much better than this.

This game should live up to the hype just because of the talent that will be on the field. D’Orazio is playing better than ever and Dolezel is healthier after coming off the bye week. You have arguably four of the top 10 receivers in the league in Jackson, Brackins, Pettis and Nash. Weatherington and Nyenhuis are two of the best edge rushers in the game. Pettijohn and Dunn are beasts. There will be great one-on-one matchups across the board.

This will be a well-coached football game. Both Will McClay of Dallas and Philly’s Bret Munsey are very adept at AFL strategy. They both manage the game and make effective adjustments, but more importantly, their teams will be prepared.

A key to this game will be the Desperados’ ability to defend Chris Jackson. They will try to give him different looks and hope to find a way to slow him down. If they do take Jackson away then Brackins must respond with a big game. Dallas will matchup from time to time putting Jones on Jackson and Harris on Brackins. That should be fun to watch.

Two years ago Philly swept the series with Dallas as the Desperados went 13-3. This is where the rivalry went to the next level. A big reason Philly won both games was the play of Eddie Moten. He picked Dolezel off two times in the first meeting and they got into a war of words. Obviously, Moten can get under Dolezel’s skin. Will he do so on Monday?

I expect a high scoring game although I think Dallas will try to slow it down at some point and eat up the clock. But big-time players make big-time plays in big games. Or so I heard. The team that runs the ball better and performs in the red zone will take this one and remain undefeated.

No comments: