San Diego Fleet (3-4) at Salt Lake Stallions (2-5)
Saturday, March 30, 2019- 5:00 PM PST
Rice-Eccles Stadium- Salt Lake City, Utah
When on the losing end of a game, San Diego has typically kept it a close game. But this didn’t happen against the Arizona Hotshots as San Diego lost big, falling to 3-4 on the season and out of second place in the west.
The race for the playoffs isn’t over for San Diego though. If they win the next three games, the Fleet will have an excellent chance of sealing the second playoff spot in the Western Division.
But first, they will have to face off against a stout Salt Lake Stallion’s team that has struggled to win close games. The San Diego Fleet will travel to Salt Lake City, Utah and play the 2-5 Salt Lake Stallions in a rematch of the 27-25 thriller that occurred during Week Five.
San Diego has placed two players who lead the Fleet in different yardage categories on Injured Reserve this week.
Dontez Ford, who currently leads the team in receiving yards, injured his ankle in Week Six and was inactive during Week Seven before being placed on Injured Reserve. The Fleet re-signed former Colorado receiver Shay Fields before Week Seven in response to his injury, and look for Francis Owusu to take some of Ford’s snaps at the ‘X’ receiver position
Ja’Quan Gardner currently leads San Diego in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this week due to a shoulder injury that took him out early in the game against the Arizona Hotshots in Week Seven. As a result of this injury, the Fleet have also re-signed former Rutgers running back Paul James. James had just one carry during his previous stint with San Diego, and I expect him to play more of a special teams role. Look for Bishop Sankey and Terrell Watson to take some of the playing time left over after Gardner’s injury.
Turnovers and Touchdowns
San Diego has had an up and down past couple of weeks defending the pass. After getting three interceptions against the Stallions in Week Five, San Diego has allowed five touchdown passes over the past two weeks. Over the past three weeks, San Diego has allowed six touchdown passes. But they have also intercepted six passes over that same period.
This inconsistency has been a problem. San Diego has an elite pass rush, but unless the Fleet can get consistent coverage, teams will pick apart San Diego. Including those six touchdowns, the Fleet has given up 975 passing yards over three games. A great pass rush means nothing if the quarterback always has somewhere to throw the football.
What is offensive consistency?
San Diego has lost the time of possession battle in six of their seven games and has had less first downs than their opponent in each of their last four games. This is an example of how much the Fleet rely on the big play to create offense. Without big plays, the San Diego offense often grows stagnant and is unable to develop long scoring drives. The three most extended drives over the past three weeks consisted of 11 plays and 12 plays twice. San Diego didn’t score on any of these drives. San Diego has also had only nine of the past 40 trips last longer than seven plays.
This inability to drive the football down the field consistently has led to a team dependent on big plays and non-offensive scores. San Diego has to figure out how to have more nine to ten play drives that help them keep the opposing offense off the field.
A Possible Quarterback Battle?
Last time these two quarterbacks dueled it out, they combined for 684 total passing yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions, and 91 passing attempts. This was mostly because neither team could run the football, so both teams had to rely on their air attack to move the football. Bercovici completed 22 of his 43 passes for 304 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Josh Woodrum followed suit, completing an AAF Record 31 of his 48 passes for 380 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.
Woodrum has been unable to replicate yardage numbers from that Week Five matchup, but he did better with turnovers and was still above 200 yards passing in each of his next two games. Bercovici was able to keep his yardage and attempts around the same number, but he became more inefficient. He threw four interceptions and four touchdowns in the next two weeks to go along with 300+ yards in each game.
Both run defenses are still good, so expect both teams to go to the air early and often. This could become another quarterback duel. Could we see the first 400+ yard quarterback performance?
Who to watch?
It looks like Bishop Sankey, the former Washington Husky running back, will see his role expand against the Stallions after the Gardner injury. He led San Diego in rushing yards against the Hotshots with 54 on 12 carries, his highest number in both categories all season.
After being injured for the first four weeks of the season, he saw his first action against the Stallions in Week Five, where the former Tennessee Titan totaled 11 of the Fleet’s 31 total rushing yards. Expect Sankey to spend a good amount of time with the ball in his hands as Watson and Sankey most likely split snaps against the Stallions.
If you are looking for a specific matchup to watch during this game, watch whenever Fleet left tackle Terri Poole is matched up against Stallions defensive end Karter Schult. These two dueled it out during their last matchup, with Schult getting one sack that game.
Since the previous matchup was pretty even, San Diego might trust Poole to handle Schult by himself. This a matchup that could determine the flow of the game as Schult is an important cog in the Stallions vaunted rush defense as well.
I expect this game to be as close as the first matchup since both of these two teams are very similar in style and production. It may not be as exciting or as high scoring as the last matchup, but it could come down to a field goal again. San Diego will probably jump out to an early lead and hold it for the rest of the game, winning by a field goal against the Stallions. With a final score of 18-15, San Diego will move to 4-4, and Salt Lake will move to 2-6.