Friday, August 09, 2013

It's Shark Week for Soul

PHILADELPHIA - In a rematch of last year's American Conference Championship, the Philadelphia Soul will head to Jacksonville to take on the Sharks in a matchup of the top seeds of the American Conference. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10.

"We're going to need our offensive line this week," explained Soul head coach Clint Dolezel. "Jacksonville has a tough pass rush, but our line has been great at keeping the pressure off Dan. We are going to need to give him time to make the plays to put points on the board. If we can protect him, I think we should be able to win and return to the ArenaBowl."

In last week's win, Soul QB Dan Raudabaugh became the franchise leader in career playoff passing touchdowns (23) and passing yards (1,056). The Miami of Ohio alum went 24-of-34 passing for 325 yards and six touchdowns in the 59-55 first round win. During the regular season, he finished in the AFL's top five in passing efficiency (122.4), passing yards per attempt (8.2), completion percentage (68.1), passing yards (4,699) and passing touchdowns (96).

The Soul receiving core is led by MVP candidate and Offensive Player of the Year candidate, Tiger Jones. Jones became the first player in AFL history with three 2,000-yard receiving seasons after he finished with 150 receptions, 2,121 yards and 37 touchdowns. The ground game is led by MVP candidate, Offensive Player of the Year candidate, and the leading rusher in AFL history, Derrick Ross, who finished the season with a league-high 506 yards and 35 touchdowns.

The leading receiver against the Predators was Andrae Thurman, who finished with 12 catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Thurman finished with over 1,000 yards receiving in the regular season for the second consecutive year.

While the defense gave up 55 points and 312 yards of total offense to Orlando, they came up with two huge stops in the final two drives of the game: a turnover on downs and a sack that caused a fumble in the closing seconds. During the regular season, Clint Dolezel's defense was No. 1 in points allowed per game (46.6), based on their final seven games that they gave up more than 50 points just once.

The Jacksonville Sharks won 12 games in the regular season based on having the best rushing attack in the AFL (37.0 yards per game), a strong secondary that allowed only 239.6 passing yards per game (No. 2), and a relentless pass rush (No. 1 in sacks). QB Bernard Morris is a duel threat that averages 183.0 yards passing and 20.4 rushing (No.4) per game. He had the third most rushing yards in the League and ranked No. 5 in yards per rush.

Jeron Harvey was one of only eight players to average over eight receptions per game and had 146 catches (No. 4) for 1,593 yards (No. 10) and 35 touchdowns (T-No. 9). Former Philadelphia Soul receiver, Jeff Hughley, had 889 receiving yards and 1,095 kick return yards in the regular season.

Jacksonville had three members of their secondary rank in the league's top 30 in tackles per game during the regular season (Belton, Smith and Robinson). Terrance Smith had 12 interceptions while the rest of team combined for ten. The 2013 South Division Champions had 45 sacks collectively, and was the only team in League to have three members in the top ten in sacks (Turner, Robbins and Marcorelle). 

This will be the fifth time these teams have faced each other since the beginning of the 2012 regular season. Several factors stand out in this conference rivalry that has seen Philadelphia win three of the last four matchups. The offensive line of Philadelphia, who has allowed a league-low seven sacks, will have their hands full against a Sharks team that has 45 sacks. 

Both of these offenses have great rushing attacks, but Philadelphia has done a better job of stopping the run, ranking No. 3 in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. If the Soul can create big plays on offense against a tough Jacksonville secondary, they could advance to their second straight ArenaBowl.

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