Friday, July 08, 2011

Soul try to halt slide vs. East-leading Cleveland

The Philadelphia Soul (5-11) will be fighting for revenge against the Eastern Division-leading Cleveland Gladiators (9-6) on Friday, July 8 at the Wells Fargo Center.  Coverage of the game begins at 8 p.m. (ET) on the NFL Network.

The last meeting between the rivals took place on May 21 in Cleveland, where the close contest was blown open after a controversial ‘out of the box’ penalty on Soul linebacker Brandon Perkins which negated a fourth-down stop by Philadelphia.  The Gladiators capitalized with a rushing touchdown and safety on the following kickoff, which set up the Cleveland offense for another score.  After a fourth quarter marred by six player ejections, three per team, the Soul came out on the losing end by a score of 59-41.

“We respect everyone we play, plus they are fighting for a division title, so they won’t take this game lightly,” said Soul head coach Mike Hohensee.  “Obviously everyone is disappointed with our record, but we have played very well at times and have some good, young players who have stepped up and made huge improvements in their games.  They want to end on as positive a note as possible.”

The Soul have now lost four consecutive games with the most recent defeat taking place last week in Dallas, where the turnover bug again got the best of Philadelphia as they fell 58-41.  The Gladiators have won three-of-four games and are in the midst of facing all three Eastern Division opponents in consecutive weeks.  Last week in Milwaukee the Gladiators overcame a fourth-quarter surge by the Mustangs to prevail with a 62-58 victory.

Soul quarterback Ryan Vena’s 354 yards and five touchdowns were overshadowed by his three interceptions and three sacks against the Vigilantes.  Vena will be looking to repeat his performance from two weeks ago, where he recorded five total touchdowns without committing a turnover.  Soul receivers Syvelle Newton, Keith Stokes, and Larry Brackins will look to step up in the absence of Offensive Player of the Year candidate Donovan Morgan.

Gladiators quarterback Kurt Rocco and wide receiver Robert Redd hope to mirror their performances from the earlier season meeting against the Soul.  Rocco completed 18 passes for 233 yards and seven touchdowns while Redd hauled in eight catches for 113 yards and four touchdowns.  The Gladiators’ receiving corps is the only group in the League where the receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns stat categories are led by three different wideouts.

Two members of the Soul secondary that will be in charge of slowing down the Gladiators receiving trio is All-Rookie Team candidate Kent Richardson and six-year veteran Mike Brown.  Richardson leads the Soul with 58 total tackles and eight pass break ups while Brown leads with seven interceptions, grabbing three in the previous two games.  Philadelphia will need Brown to remain hot as the Gladiators are just 2-6 in games where Rocco throws at least one interception.

The Cleveland defensive front is led by Tim Cheatwood’s 10.5 sacks, which rank No. 2 in the League.  The Gladiators also rely heavily on Levy Brown and his team-leading 106 total tackles and 10 pass break ups from his position in the secondary.  Vena will have to be constantly aware of both players in order to maintain ball security throughout the contest.

Neither team has been provided with a constant spark on special teams, yet both kick returners have the ability to alter a game.  Redd has returned 35 kicks for 622 yards, yet posted a season high of 135 yards on five returns against Philadelphia in May.  Soul kick returner Keith Stokes has returned 57 kicks for 1,036 yards while relying on his speed and agility to get into the end zone twice this season.

The Soul will need to dictate the style of play and avoid a defensive battle.  With Philadelphia out of the 2011 playoff picture, they hope to begin a similar fate for the Gladiators by sending them back to Cleveland with a loss.

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