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The single biggest turnaround in the AFL this season has come from the New York Dragons. The Dragons went 1-4 to begin the season, with starting quarterback Aaron Garcia languishing on the sidelines in street clothes. Since Garcia returned to health, the Dragons have reeled off four straight wins and covers. But it’s been much more than Garcia – the Dragons defense has keyed their turnaround, holding each of their last five opponents to 47 points or less, the best ‘D’ in the league during that span.
Dragons head coach Weylan Harding: “The guys are getting a sense of themselves and their potential. All of the guys are starting to believe in each other and believe in what we have here. That’s the product of their hard work. The scariest thing is that we can still be so much better. They have a world of potential.” Quarterback Aaron Garcia: “The guys have really stepped up and done a great job… In football terms, every game is important. We’re chasing two teams in our division that are undefeated. We have to keep fighting and keep pushing to get up to the top.”
The Tampa Bay Storm snapped their five game losing streak with an impressive win on the road in the Jungle at Orlando last week. After going an AFL record 21 quarters (more than five full games) without forcing a single turnover, the Storm recovered three fumbles and picked off two Predators passes. Watch out for the Storm down the stretch. Last year, Tampa Bay started 1-6, but reeled off eight victories in their final nine games of the regular season (7-2 ATS) to make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay head coach Tim Marcum gave me my favorite quote of the year, following the win. The Storm had been in control of the game, but the Predators scored a touchdown with under three minutes to go to cut the deficit to seven. Then, they recovered an onside kick, giving them a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Marcum: “I was thinking, ‘Well, here we go again.’ It’s kind of like wiping your butt with a bicycle tire. The stuff just keeps coming around. Except this time we made a change. We made a play.” Kind of like wiping your butt with a bicycle tire – thanks for the laugh, Tim!
The Utah Blaze dropped to 0-9 with a loss at New Orleans (1-7-1 ATS) but embattled head coach Danny White hasn’t lost his cool. White: “That’s what we have to try to do now, is keep the morale up, keep the chemistry going with rally caps and whatever we have to do to keep from going out on the field expecting something bad to happen.”
Blaze defensive back Damon Mason, an 11-year veteran said he has been amazed at how the even-keeled the coaching staff has remained while suffering loss after loss. Mason played for volatile Orlando coach Jay Gruden for six years and said the atmosphere in Salt Lake City has been entirely different. “You imagine the things you would hear from a guy like Jay Gruden with (winless) team. So, I commend Coach White and the way he has handled things. He comes in with a smile every day. . . You talk about being a pro. . . He’s not walking around telling guys they are going to be fired. That’s a good thing.”
Last year, the San Jose Sabercats were mediocre at best through the first half of the season, just 3-3 after six games. Then, the Sabercats got hot, reeling off ten straight wins to close out the regular season and three wins in the playoffs to win the Arena Bowl title. The Sabercats spent the first seven weeks of this season looking mediocre at best, just 3-4 SU, 2-5 ATS, losing twice on one of the strongest home fields in the league. But if the last two weeks are any indication, Darren Arbet’s squad looks poised for another second half turnaround.
The Sabercats scored a season high 70 points against LA this past weekend, their highest point total of the year, and the first game all season where they didn’t commit a single turnover. But it’s the San Jose defense that has opposing teams running scared right now. Two weeks ago, San Jose recovered three fumbles, notched two sacks and got an interception while holding Utah to a season low 212 yards and 40 points. The ‘D’ was every bit as good this past weekend, forcing five turnovers against LA in their 28 point victory over the Avengers.
The most disappointing team in the AFL this year has to be the Georgia Force , a squad that went 14-2 last year and made it to the National Conference championship game. At 3-5, off back-2-back losses, head coach Doug Plank is searching for answers. “We’re just not playing very well right now… The turnover ratio is not in our favor. Our scoring is down, and what’s really hurting us right now is our kick coverage. … The lack of consistency in our receiving corps and defensive backs are hurting our production right now…. This one (loss to Arizona) could not be blamed on offense, defense or special teams. Every aspect of our team contributed to this loss.”
Georgia has had numerous injuries to their receiving corps and their secondary since the start of the season. Star receiver Troy Bergeron did not play at Arizona due to his deep thigh bruise, and defensive back Willie Gary also was out with a thigh injury. Both are question marks for Saturday night’s home game against New Orleans. Plank: “It’s been kind of musical chairs back there (in the secondary). We want to get three guys back there and try to simplify things – eliminate the thought process and let those guys go out and play…. We haven’t really seen a healthy Troy Bergeron this season. We almost plan on not having him [Saturday]. That way, we won’t be disappointed.”
Last, but not least, don’t ever be fooled by AFL passing yardage statistics – it’s an irrelevant stat in this league. I use QB rating and touchdowns per ‘meaningful’ possessions as a much better indicator of offensive capabilities. The numbers don’t lie. Four AFL quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards last week: Joe Germaine (Utah), Chris Greisen (Georgia), John Dutton (Colorado) and D Bryant (Kansas City). Those four teams went 0-4 SU, 0-4 ATS….