Another game, another game that could determine who makes the playoffs. With San Diego in the thick of the West’s playoff race, this game could be more important than the rest.
Arizona has had its share of highs and lows this season. After starting 2-0, they lost three in a row before finally picking up their third win of the season against the leagues best team. It was a tight game that the Hotshots might have lost if not for a couple of convenient mental mistakes by the Orlando Apollos. John Wolford and the Arizona offensive line played at a high level against the Apollos, and while Wolford’s pure stats weren’t all that impressive (162 yards and one touchdown) he was accurate on 70% of his throws and only pressured five total times. Constant pressure has been a problem for the Hotshots, and to see them protect and give Wolford time has been huge for this team.
San Diego has been as up and down as any team in this league, going 2-1 in the first three weeks and 1-2 in the last three. But their last three have all been close games, decided by three points or less. San Diego’s potent rushing attack has disappeared, causing whoever is at quarterback (currently Bercovici) to have to air it out for a chance to win football games. To play a consistently winning brand of football, Bercovici and the others have to be able to keep the ball out of the opponent’s hands. But San Diego hasn’t, and it has cost them games. If San Diego can never get their running game going again, it could spell trouble for the Fleet.
The Fleet has a tough one on their hands as they travel to Arizona for their game on Sunday. With both teams battling for that last playoff spot, this game has become of the utmost importance to both sides. These are the Three Keys to a San Diego victory and the Fleet moving ahead in the playoff race.
Keep John Wolford in the pocket
The Fleet had no problem getting pressure on whoever was playing quarterback for the Iron, totaling 39 pressures. But they also allowed the quarterback to leave the pocket 19 total times and had only four total sacks (two sacks on Luis Perez, who played most of the game). Wolford is a lot more mobile than Perez and has shown the ability to make plays outside of the pocket. If the Fleet cannot keep to former Wake Forest quarterback in the pocket, Wolford could have a career day and a Hotshots win.
San Diego has thrown an interception in every single game they have played, and two turnovers in five of their six games, with the only set of one turnover against the Salt Lake Stallions. Turning the ball over consistently not only stops your team from scoring but consistently gives the opponent a shorter field and nearly automatic points. If San Diego wants to win more then two games in a row, they will have to turn the ball over less. Especially against an opportunistic Arizona team that almost came back from down 26 after their defense forced a few turnovers.
Convert Third Downs
Over the entire season, the Fleet has converted 36% of their third downs. In their most recent loss against the Iron, they converted two of their 12 third-down attempts, good for 17%. That is their lowest percentage of the season and highlights a troubling trend. When San Diego was able to score against the Iron, it was solely due to big plays through the air. The Fleet struggled to have long drives that kept the San Diego defense off the field. As a result, Birmingham was on the field for almost 13 more minutes then San Diego. A tired defense makes mistakes and gives up points, and the Fleet offense will have to do their best to keep that Arizona offense off the field. That will mean converting at least half of their third downs.