Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pittsburgh Power @ Orlando Predators Preview

Friday July 1st, 2011 - 8:00 PM
Amway Center - Orlando, FL.
TV: NFL Network
Radio: 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh) 740 AM The Game (Orlando)

All eyes in the AFL world will be on the Amway Center as the Pittsburgh Power (8-6) travel into "The Jungle" to take on the Orlando Predators (8-6).

Pittsburgh is fresh off a thrilling 39-38 game they won with no time left on the clock.  A loss to Milwaukee could have put a serious hindrance on the Power's hopes of claiming a division title.

Orlando is riding a three game losing streak and lost last week at home to division rival Georgia 64-34. 

Orlando brings an offense ranked 2nd in yardage, and 9th in scoring into the matchup.  Quarterback Nick Hill is a dual threat weapon which makes him hard to contain.  Cover the passing lanes down field he’ll take off and burn you on the ground.  Focus too much on his scrambling, and he’ll kill you downfield.  He's posted 4117 yards passing, 86 TD's, 16 Interceptions, a 117.0 QB Rating, and is also the league's second leading rusher with 326 yards and 9 TD's.

Orlando also boasts a passing attack with three receivers all over 1000 yards. 

Antoine “TT” Tolliver is a 2008 First Team All Arena receiver and former Ironman WR/DB.  The 10th year WR is having one of his best years and currently sits only 6 TD’s behind his career best of 31.  This year he has 98 catches for 1279 yards and 25 TD’s.  Bobby Sippio, a seven year AFL veteran, has 83 catches for 1012 yards and 25 TD’s. He is a 2007 First Team All Arena Wide receiver.  Robert Quiroga, a 5 year AFL veteran, has 94 catches for 1168 yards and 17 TD’s. 

The Power offense has sputtered the last two weeks with Bernard Morris out of the lineup.  They only scored 41 points against the worst scoring defense in the league (Utah Blaze), and put up 38 points at home against Milwaukee.  It still has not been announced whether Morris will play in this one.  Power fans should hope he can go as Pittsburgh is 5-2 with him as a starter.
Pittsburgh has two dynamic receivers in Mike "Joystick" Washington and Jason Willis.  Washington has 90 catches for 1061 yards and 21 TD's, and Willis has added 85 catches for 940 yards and 15 TD's.  Where things get iffy is the third wide receiver position.  Lonnell DeWalt has been huge in goal line situations, grabbing some of the biggest highlight catches for the Power this year, Jerome Mathis is hurt again and on injured reserve, so the Power will go with DJ Hall to round out the receiving corps.

Look for Pittsburgh to try and change things up a bit and run Josh Rue a bit inside to soften up the Predators front line.

On defense, the Predators secondary boasts three of the top 10 leaders in interceptions in the AFL.  It is very tough to pass on this defense without making mistakes.
Rayshawn Kizer has 13 interceptions (2nd in the league), 82.5 total tackles (leads the team), and 2 Touchdowns.  This is his second year in the league and he already has 25 interceptions in his career.  A complete ball hawk, and whoever he covers for Pittsburgh is going to have a hard time producing.  He’s also blocked 12 passes and forced two fumbles.  A complete beast on defense, and a strong defensive player of the year candidate.
They also have seven year AFL vet Marlon Moye-Moore with 7 interceptions, 1 TD,  60.5 tackles (2nd on team) and five year AFL vet Travis Coleman with 8 Interceptions and 59 tackles.

The Power defense finally stepped up last week, although it was against the worst offense in the league.  Josh Lay had a huge pick six, and had a second interception nullified by penalty.  DeWalt not only caught two touchdowns, but added an interception and had a fumble return for a touchdown wiped out by a questionable call on the field.  Most importantly Terrance Carter forced a Gino Guidugli fumble with 22 seconds left in the game to give the Power their last chance to win.
Pittsburgh's secondary has been under fire over the last month and they will need every trick in the book to try and contain the strong trio of receivers Orlando has on their roster.
The keys to the game will be:

- How will the experience of Orlando play against the young Power?
- Can the Power secondary matchup with the Predators ferocious passing attack?
- Can the Power contain the league’s second leading rusher?
- Can the Power offense do anything against the Predators secondary? 
- Does Pittsburgh have enough healthy bodies to field a team?

Even though Orlando is slumping, I still think they match up incredibly well against the Power’s weaknesses and this one being in Orlando in the jungle is going to be too much for Pittsburgh to overcome.

The Voice Says....Orlando 70, Pittsburgh 54

Other Previews
John Buffone -

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

About time we have something to cheer for!

It's been 14 years since meaningful baseball was being played this late in the season by the Pittsburgh Pirates.   In fact it took 10 years to set the attendance record the Pirates drew this past weekend against the Boston Red Sox.

I've been a Pirate fan my entire life, and yet for more than half of it, it's been a losing cause.  I was a year out of high school when they last had a chance at the playoffs in 1997, and even that was a losing season. 

It's a shame that a game I loved so much has fallen a bit by the wayside in terms of my priorities.  I haven't given up hope that the Buccos will return to glory someday, but almost two decades of losing is very hard for even the most diehard to stomach.

That's what makes this season so fun for us Pirates fans, even if they are still barely above the mythical .500 mark.  It's a dramatic change of pace to listen to the local sports talk shows and not hear the usual Pirates dread stories and the typical focus on the future stars instead of the current ones.

I think what makes this even more special is the fact the Pirates are doing this without Pedro Alvarez, who has spent the season either slumping or on the DL.  Clint Hurdle has to be commended for bringing a belief to this team that they can win.  After several years of John Russell sitting like a statue on the bench, Hurdle's fire and passion are a welcome change and he should get some serious consideration for Manager of the Year if the Pirates do manage to finish above .500 this year.

Now comes the tricky part.  Playing the role of buyer at the trade deadline.  It's clear the team needs offensive help but who is out there and, most importantly, what will it take to get them.

I hope Neal Huntington doesn't trade away guys like Paul Maholm and Joel Hanrahan at the deadline unless it brings players the team can build around immediately for the rest of the year.  The team needs a catcher, a shortstop, a first baseman, and a right fielder.  Even getting just one or two could make the world of difference to a pitching staff that has been doing an amazing job so far.

The bottom line though is that for the first time in my adult life, we have meaningful baseball to cheer for and I hope this continues the rest of the summer.  It also proves that if you put a winning team on the field, they WILL come out to support the team at PNC Park.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mustangs Put Down Just before Crossing The Finish Line.

The Pittsburgh Power (8-6) stunned the Milwaukee Mustangs (4-10) on a touchdown throw from Chris Wallace to Lonell DeWalt with no time left on the clock.  Paul Edinger made an extra point to provide the final margin of 39-38.

The game appeared to be over when Wallace lost a fumbled snap with 28 seconds left, but Terrance Carter forced a fumble and got the ball right back for Pittsburgh.  Wallace made the most of the second chance to send the Power faithful home with a win.

The low scoring game was marred by penalties, turnovers, and more questionable AFL officiating, which has become a recurring theme this season.  Pittsburgh had a drive stall when Jason Willis lost the ball well after he was down, and the officials awarded the ball to Milwaukee.  Coach Siegfried mentioned after the game how he tells his players never to let go of the ball to make sure the refs can't blow the call.

Overall the Power defense came to play inspired football after last week's 81-40 beatdown at the hands of the Utah Blaze.  Josh Lay had a huge interception return for a touchdown and had a second interception nullified by penalty.  Lonnell DeWalt made a big time interception in a goal line stand.  He also had an apparent fumble recovery/touchdown return overturned and ruled an incomplete pass.  Replays seemed to show the ball travelled backwards.

The biggest momentum shift for the Power defense came in the fourth quarter.  Facing a 38-32 deficit, the defense blocked what would have likely been a game sealing field goal by Garrett Lindholm.   "Our guys never quit and that blocked field goal was the play of the game for us," said Siegfried.

Paul Edinger continued his recent struggles, going three for six on extra points but, most importantly, did convert the final attempt.

The win was extremely important for Pittsburgh as Cleveland crushed San Jose 82-21.  The Power remain tied with the Gladiators for first place as they head towards their July 15th showdown in Cleveland.   

Pittsburgh travels to Orlando next week to take on the Predators. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Milwaukee Mustangs @ Pittsburgh Power Preview

Saturday June 25th - 7:30 PM EST - Consol Energy Center
TV: CW19 (Pittsburgh), AFL Live App on
Radio: 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh),  540 AM ESPN (Milwaukee)

The Pittsburgh Power (7-6) will host their divisional rivals, the Milwaukee Mustangs (4-9) in a game Pittsburgh needs to win to rebuild momentum.  After a four game winning streak lifted the Power into first place in the Eastern Division, a two game losing streak has put that position in peril.

Pittsburgh's offense fell apart in Utah in an 81-40 beatdown.  Backup Kevin McCabe was forced to start in place of the injured Bernard Morris, and after two lost fumbles on three drives, his night was over.  Chris Wallace came in and struggled to complete 50% of his passes.  He did have four touchdowns and no interceptions, but he left way too many plays on the field.  He'll have to maximize his opportunity to start this week against a stingy Milwaukee defense that leads the league in yardage defense and ranks sixth in scoring defense.

Whoever starts at quarterback has to get the receivers involved early on and develop a consistent rhythm.  Jerome Mathis has been Pittsburgh's best receiver the last two weeks, but the Power are going to want to get more out of Mike "Joystick" Washington and Jason "Whatyoutalkingbout' Willis.  The Power running game was a big factor in the first meeting of the year with Milwaukee, and the offense could use Josh Rue to change things up a bit to keep Milwaukee guessing.

Pittsburgh's defense has to improve on their performances of the last two weeks.  Carlos Campbell's injuries have finally forced him to the injured reserve list and the Power have brought in former Woodland Hills and Pitt defensive back William Ferguson.   In addition to his signing, they need other players on defense to step up their games.   This secondary only has 10 interceptions on the year, and needs to start making more plays down the playoff stretch.

Milwaukee's starting quarterback R.J. Archer leads the league's worst offense into this divisional showdown.  Archer's 80.81 QB rating is one of the worst for an AFL starter.  Milwaukee cannot rely on him to win games alone.  The Mustangs best offensive weapon, Mykell Benson, will be sitting this one out, and the status of their leading receiver Damian Harrell is also up in the air.  Even facing a weak Power secondary, the Mustangs don't have enough firepower to fully take advantage of this.

The Mustangs defense might take a hit if the rumors of leading defensive back Andre Jones leaving for the CFL are true.  Jones is third in the AFL with 11 interceptions, including a 54 yard return for a touchdown in the first meeting. 

It won’t be clear sailing however as they still have a potent defensive back in Kelvin Rodgers.  He has 6 interceptions on the year, three for touchdowns and he is the Mustangs leading tackler this year.   He has great height for a DB (6’1”) and presents tough matchup problems for whichever receiver he is covering.  If he draws Mike Washington, he’ll have almost six inches of height advantage. 

Linebacker Marcus Everett is third on the team in tackles and has also added three interceptions.  Look for him to help out in pass coverage this week, especially if Pittsburgh tries to pass it to lineman slash tight end Nick Zeck.

Overall, the Mustangs work well as a team on defense, mostly because of their ability to slow down the pace of play on the other side of the ball.  They limit your amount of opportunities, so that makes it very important to score when you can. 

The key to this game will be how well the Power develop a rhythm on offense.  Even at half strength, the Power offense should still be able to score enough points to outpace the Mustang offense. 

The Voice Says....Pittsburgh 49, Milwaukee 42

For more previews of the game I recommend the following links:

John Buffone -
Matt Popchock - 93.7 The Fan
Jerry DiPaola - Tribune-Review
Craig Meyer - Post-Gazette

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lost In A Fire: Utah Blaze 81, Pittsburgh Power 40

If you were a Pittsburgh Power fan, you had to feel confident about your team's chances to score points going up against the worst scoring defense in the AFL. Unfortunately the odds of success took a dramatic turn downwards when starting quarterback Bernard Morris was sidelined before the game with a sore shoulder.

The first offensive play of the game saw Khreem Smith break through the line and hit Kevin McCabe, causing the ball to jar loose. Utah was in business and scored quickly to take a 7-0 lead. Power fans may have remembered Lonnell DeWalt intercepting the first pass of the game last week, only to see Tampa Bay rally to win. I'll admit I was thinking along those lines, but how wrong was I?

Two drives later, McCabe fumbled deep in Power territory and Utah recovered to go up 21-6. The short leash was yanked and Pittsburgh was on to their 4th quarterback of the season, newly signed Chris Wallace.

Tommy Grady had his way with a Power secondary that has been beyond atrocious in three out of the last four weeks. He was the second quarterback to throw for 10 touchdowns on Pittsburgh in the last month, and almost assuredly will be named National Guard MVP of the Week for his efforts.

On the night the Pittsburgh offense lost five fumbles, and were stopped on downs several times as well. There wasn't much good to write about in this game except for how efficient Utah was in tearing the hearts out of the Power. At least the death was quick and painless. Pittsburgh did also do a good job containing a strong kickoff return unit that was one of the AFL's best coming into the game.

Over the past month, the Power defense has given up 250 points (75, 32, 62, 81) in their last four games. Take a look at how the last four opposing quarterbacks have done against Pittsburgh.

Dan Raudabaugh - 433 yards and 10 TD's.
Kurt Rocco - 261 yards and 4 TD's/1 Int.
Brian Zbydniewski - 372 yards and 8 TD's/1 Int.
Tommy Grady - 313 yards and 10 TD's.

On average, they've given up 8 TD's and almost 345 yards a game during this stretch, and that's with one dominating performance against Cleveland factored in. The results have been ugly.

I think above all else, too many players are hiding injuries and hurting the team, and the Power really need to look at bringing in some players that can bolster this weak area, because it's pretty clear what isn't working right now.

Pittsburgh did get a little bit of good news today when the Kansas City Command stunned the Cleveland Gladiators, so Pittsburgh does remain tied for first place in the Eastern Division. Pittsburgh heads home to host the Milwaukee Mustangs and really need to get things going in the right direction.  

I'm hesitant to call this game against Milwaukee a "must-win" game, but Pittsburgh desperately needs to get momentum going in the right direction.  They also need Bernard Morris back at quarterback.  They are 5-2 with Morris as a starter, 2-4 without him.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pittsburgh Power @ Utah Blaze LIVEBLOG - 8:30 PM EST

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pittsburgh Power @ Utah Blaze Preview

9 PM EST - EnergySolutions Arena - Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: AFL Live App on (If it actually works...)
Radio: 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), 1280 The Zone (Salt Lake City)
Live Blog here on "The Voice Says...." starting at 8:30 PM EST

The Pittsburgh Power (7-5) and Utah Blaze (5-7) will both be looking to avenge losses from last week as the two teams square off out in Utah.

Pittsburgh's secondary has to be having nightmares after their performance last week.  Tampa Bay's Brian Zbydniewski did a great job of spreading the ball around his offensive weapons. Amarri Jackson, Hank Edwards and Huey Whittaker all had multiple touchdowns and Whittaker was one yard short of having all three receivers go over 100 yards. 

If Tampa Bay's 16th ranked offense can put up those kinds of stats, what can we expect when Utah brings the league's number one passing offense onto the field?

Tommy Grady has thrust himself into the MVP discussion this year despite the fact he’s playing for a losing team.  His 6’7” height allows him to see the field well, and he makes good decisions.  He’s 4th in the league in QB efficiency.  His 3625 yards rank him third in the AFL, and he’s pacing the league with 85 TD’s vs. only 10 interceptions.  He had a solid game last week against Tulsa, throwing for 344 yards and 7 TD’s, but he had two costly interceptions.  He’s definitely looking forward to this week’s match against a Power secondary that’s struggled to stop teams through the air.  With Royce Adams leaving Pittsburgh, this situation isn’t going to improve any time soon.

Opposite of Grady, Bernard Morris dropped to 5-2 as a starter on the year despite throwing for 335 yards and seven touchdowns.  We didn't see much of Morris running the ball, and that formula has to change if Pittsburgh wants to get back to winning football.  Morris did throw a costly interception late in the game, and missed Lonnell DeWalt on two separate 4th down conversions that could have flipped the final score Pittsburgh's way. 

Morris was under constant pressure from Cliff Dukes and Jermaine Smith last week, and he'll be facing a potent pass rush in Khreem Smith (7 sacks), Mike Lewis (6 sacks, 5 forced fumbles) and Caesar Rayford (6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles).  Khreem Smith will be making his second start against Pittsburgh this year after being traded to Utah from Spokane.  He had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the earlier meeting, so hopefully the Power offensive line has learned how to block him this time around.

Utah is missing leading receiver Aaron Boone (96 receptions, 1059 yards, and 26 TD’s) and leading rusher Ben Stallings (10 TD's) but that doesn't mean they aren't without options for Tommy Grady.

Ernie Pierce is a 6’4” receiver out of Kansas State who has 886 yards and 17 TD’s so far on the season.  He had a big game last week against Tulsa with 10 catches for 124 yards and 3 scores.  Justin Ore has quickly made his presence felt this year in just two games.  He has 17 catches for 229 yards and 4 TD’s in place of Aaron Boone.  Last week he led Utah in receiving with 13 catches for 199 yards and 3 TD’s.  Aaron LeSue will be coming off IR this week and he has 29 catches for 324 yards and 13 TD’s, so look for him to also play a factor in this one.

Pittsburgh enjoyed the breakout game of Jerome Mathis last week who ended up with 199 yards and three touchdowns in addition to the 138 yards and a score he contributed on special teams.  For his efforts he was rewarded with the JLS Ironman of the Week award.  He is the second Power player to receive a league award this year.  Mike "Joystick" Washington bounced back with a 105 yard, two touchdown performance.  Look for Mathis, Washington, Jason Willis and Lonnell DeWalt to feast on a porous Blaze secondary that is the worst scoring defense in the league.
Utah also has one of the best kickoff return units in the league.  Two returners are over 700 yards in returns each and they've returned 6 kickoffs for scores as a group.  Pittsburgh is really going to have their hands full trying to keep Utah from taking it to the house.  Utah's kickers have been awful in the extra point department and the team went out to sign former Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman. 

Looking at this matchup on paper, it looks a lot like how the Pittsburgh/Dallas game lined up, when Pittsburgh won a 76-75 thriller.  Pittsburgh is going to need their offense to perform at that level. 

The Power needs to generate more pass rush than what they mustered up against the Tampa Bay Storm, and that actually needs to start with the secondary.  If the Power Secondary can actually cover their receivers for more than a second, maybe Purvis and company up front can get some pressure going.  Unfortunately we’ve seen this story time and time again this year when the Power played elite quarterbacks.  Jacksonville’s Aaron Garcia shredded them, and the defense was unable to get a stop.  Georgia’s Brett Elliott and Maurice Purify made them look silly, and Dan Raudabaugh threw for over 400 yards in that shootout 3 weeks ago.

This has all the markings of a good old fashioned AFL

My heart is telling me Pittsburgh can win another shootout like they did in Dallas, but my brain is telling me that this Blaze offense is going to destroy a depleted Power secondary.

THE VOICE SAYS....Utah 70, Pittsburgh 63

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tampa Bay Storm Causes Disruption In Pitsburgh Power Grid

The Pittsburgh Power (7-5) took a four game winning streak on the road against a desperate Tampa Bay Storm (5-7) team. 

The game started ominously for Tampa Bay as their first drive began with a Lonnell DeWalt interception of Brian Zbydniewski.  Pittsburgh would capitalize off the turnover when Bernard Morris found Mike "Joystick" Washington for a 20 yard touchdown pass. 

It didn't take long to establish that the Pittsburgh secondary was going to have a tough time matching up with Tampa Bay in this one.  With Royce Adams out of the lineup, Zybdniewski feasted on a porous Power secondary to the tune of 372 yards and eight touchdowns.  Amarri Jackson had 11 catches for 158 yards and three touchdowns.  Hank Edwards finished with seven catches for 111 yards and two scores.   Huey Whittaker had a quiet day by his lofty standards but still ended up with five catches for 96 yards and three touchdowns. 

Both teams made a lot of mistakes in the game.  Pittsburgh was flagged nine times for 110 yards worth of penalties, many of them on kickoff returns which cost the Power valuable field position.  They also had errant passes derail two goal line drives and end in turnovers on down.  Tampa Bay was also flagged nine times for 90 yards.   Tampa Bay's Kyle Chilton missed three extra points and had another one blocked by Terrance Taylor. 

Bernard Morris had a strong day throwing for 335 yards and seen touchdowns, but he had a costly interception in the second half.  He also lost a fumble deep in his own territory when Jermaine Smith blew right past Nick Zeck and hit Morris from the blindside.  Zeck also fumbled the ball after a five yard grab in the second half. 

The standout on offense was Jerome Mathis who had his first breakout game of the 2011 season.  He led all receivers with 12 catches for 195 yards and three touchdowns and he added 138 return yards and a touchdown.  His touchdown return was the first in Power franchise history.  He should draw serious consideration for Player of the Week.   Washington would continue his strong season with 11 catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns.

Pittsburgh will have to try and rebound next week on the road. They will faceoff against one of the top offenses in the AFL as they travel to Salt Lake City to play the Utah Blaze.  As a result of the loss, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are once again tied for the Eastern Division lead at 7-5.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pittsburgh Power @ Tampa Bay Storm LIVEBLOG

Live Blog Starts at 7 PM EST

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pittsburgh Power @ Tampa Bay Storm Preview

Saturday June 11th, 2011 - 7:30 PM
St. Pete Times Forum
TV:  BHSN (Tampa Bay), AFL Live App on
Radio: 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), WHNZ 1250 AM (Tampa Bay)

Live Blog starts here at 7 PM on "The Voice Says...."

The Pittsburgh Power (7-4) head down to Tampa Bay to face off against the franchise that once called Pittsburgh home. 

The Tampa Bay Storm (4-7) began AFL play as the Pittsburgh Gladiators, making it to the Arena Bowl twice in the three years they spent in Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans they were not able to secure an Arena Bowl championship while based in the Steel City.  The Storm have won five championships in their history, but their pursuit of number six may have to wait another year.  Tampa Bay is currently in 4th place in the Southern Division, and 2 1/2 games back of the Georgia Force in the wild card hunt. 

Tampa Bay has gone through a few quarterbacks this season and current starter Brian Zbydniewski is 2-3 as the starter.  He's thrown for 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his five appearances so he's been turnover prone.  He also lacks mobility so look for that to make him an easier target for the Power pass rush.

Pittsburgh's Bernard Morris brings a different skillset to the quarterback position in this matchup.  His mobility places him amongst the league's leading rushers and he will need that mobility to evade the AFL's league leader in sacks, Cliff Dukes.  Morris has done a great job of avoiding turnovers in the last two games. 

Tampa Bay has a nice group of tall receivers who have enjoyed some success this year in the AFL.  Huey Whittaker is a 5 year AFL vet with several all arena awards for his past service.  He's posted 1125 yards and 21 touchdowns this year placing him amongst the elite in the AFL this year.  They also have Hank Edwards (708 yards/13 TD), and Amarri Jackson (691 yards/14 TD) who ae having strong seasons.  This receiving corps is very similar to the one the Power defense contained last week in their showdown with the Cleveland Gladiators.  If the Power secondary can play at the level they did last week, Tampa Bay should have a hard time scoring on offense.

Pittsburgh's receivers have been hit or miss at times this year.  Coming off two very strong games in which he scored nine total touchdowns, Mike "Joystick" Washington failed to sniff the end zone against Cleveland.  He'll look to get back on track but will have a tough matchup in Michael Hawthorne who has four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns this season.  Opposite of Washington, Jason "Whatyoutalkingbout" Willis took advantage of the coverage on Washington to grab 5 catches for 105 yards and 2 scores last week.  These two receivers make it difficult for secondaries to know who will get the ball on any given play.  The Power still need someone to grab ahold of the third receiver position.  Lonnell DeWalt plays both offense and defense, so that makes it tough for him to be a huge part of the offense.  Look for former NFL all-pro returner Jerome Mathis to continue to get some looks.

The Power defensive line has been generating a ton of pressure during this four game winning streak and will be licking their chops as they face a Storm offense that does not bother running the ball.  Zbydniewski will be a nice stationary target for Anthony Degrate, Neil Purvis and newly acquired Terrance Taylor.  Look for them to create havoc in the backfield often in this one.

Special teams should also have a huge impact on this game.  Paul Edinger has been one of the more reliable kickers in the league this year hitting on 86% of his attempts.  Conversely Kyle Chilton is only hitting at a 72% rate, and is 0-for-5 on onsides kick attempts, so Tampa Bay might be holding their breath everytime he lines up to kick it.

The Storm are next to last in turnover margin (-9) this year and are ranked dead last in penalty yardage.  This is a team that shoots themselves in the foot often.

While I like the Storm receiving corps overall, I'm not convinced the quarterback is accurate enough to take full advantage of their capabilities, and the Power defense has a clear advantage in this matchup. 

Look for the Power offense to jump on top of the Storm early and watch the Power defense play lights out football to carry Pittsburgh to another win.

THE VOICE SAYS:  Pittsburgh 56, Tampa Bay 40 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pittsburgh 35, Refs 19, Gladiators 13

If there's a football game taking place between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, it's usually a safe bet the team wearing Black and Gold is going to come out with the win. 

Instead of the Browns and Steelers, the teams were named the Gladiators and the Power.  With the winner taking over first place in the Eastern Division, a lot was on the line.

After posting their highest offensive output of the season (76 points) last week against Dallas, Pittsburgh was looking to keep rolling, but they ran into the second best scoring defense in the AFL.

The opening drive for Pittsburgh (7-4) was derailed when it was ruled, incorrectly I might add, that Lonnell DeWalt fumbled the ball.  Replays showed that DeWalt was lying on his back on the ground before the ball popped out, but the ball went over to Cleveland (6-5).

On the ensuing drive, Lineman Adam Tadisch caught an 11 yard pass and was absolutely crushed by Power linebacker Gary Butler, jarring the ball loose.  In spite of visual evidence that it was a fumble, the referees claimed he was down by contact and Cleveland's Kurt Rocco would find Robert Redd for a touchdown to put the Gladiators on top 6-0 after Matt Denny missed the extra point.

Pittsburgh would respond with a drive that saw Josh Rue barrel around the end for his third touchdown in the last two games, and this brought out the lovely Ruebird chants at Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh got a nice goal line stand to get the ball back for the offense and Bernard Morris hit Jason Willis for a 27 yard score to put the home team up 14-6. 

The next drive saw another fumble by Cleveland miraculously not get called.  Rocco would find Thyron Lewis for a 9 yard TD and more points that the Gladiators did not deserve.  A second missed point by Denny left the score 14-12.

The next drive saw Morris quickly find Jason Willis for a 40 yard touchdown bomb which electrified the Pittsburgh faithful and put Pittsburgh ahead 21-12.

In what was a recurring theme in the first half.  Cleveland quarterback Rocco tried scrambling away from pressure, was hit and lost the ball which was returned for what should have been a defensive touchdown, but once again the referees found a way to rule it Cleveland possession.   Rocco would eventually find Thyron Lewis for the second time in the game to push the score to 21-19 Pittsburgh. 

The Power's final shot at points stalled when Morris scrambled to avoid pressure but left the clock running.  Without any timeouts the Power could only walk off the field up by two points.

What should have been a first half shutout by Pittsburgh was a two point game.  Needless to say that made for a very nervous second half if you were a Pittsburgh fan.

Cleveland got the ball to start the second half and scored at the 11:55 mark when Rocco found Redd for his second touchdown pass of the game.  Matt Denny pulled off the hat trick by missing his third extra point of the game. 

Pittsburgh would score in under two minutes when Offensive lineman Mike Lucian lined up as a fullback and plunged in for a 1 yard score.  Pittsburgh regained the lead 28-25.

Both teams traded possessions as the defenses were starting to take over.  Cleveland would cap off their next drive when Rocco took it in himself from two yards out.  Denny would make the kick and the Gladiators were back on top 32-28.

Pittsburgh had one more quick scoring drive, as Morris found Lonnell DeWalt for 18 yards and a score.  The extra point would cap off the scoring as Pittsburgh took the lead 35-32.

Neither team was able to score in a wild 4th quarter that saw lots of back and forth action.  The final game saving play was an interception by Carlos Campbell in the end zone with 58 seconds left.  he read the pass so beautifully it looked like he had been in the huddle with the Gladiators. 

Bernard Morris broke containment and took off on a 40 yard run that put the ball deep in Cleveland territory.  Pittsburgh chose to run out the clock and take the victory. 

Gary Butler played like a man possessed, especially on a 7 play goal line stand aided by an illegal defense call.   His hit on Adam Tadisch was one of the most ferocious hits you will see in the AFL this year, and it's a shame he wasn't rewarded for the fumble he called.

I try not to dwell on officiating, but the refs in the AFL this year have been atrocious.  There are way too many penalties being called this year, and even worse is the obvious calls that are being missed. 

I hope the Power front office sends the visual evidence of all these blown calls to the league office and something really needs to be done about this disgrace.  With point differential being such a deciding factor in tiebreakers, Cleveland got 19 points they did not earn in this one, and hopefully that doesn't factor into play down the road.

The next game for the Power is June 11th down in Tampa Bay.  Cleveland will host the Georgia Force at 7 PM on the 11th in a game that has huge playoff implications for the American Conference.

Friday, June 3, 2011

AFL Preview: Cleveland Gladiators @ Pittsburgh Power

June 4th, 2011
Consol Energy Center - Pittsburgh PA.
Radio: 93.7 The Fan (Pittsburgh), 850 AM (Cleveland)
TV: WPCW-19 (Pittsburgh), AFL Live App

The matchup every AFL fan in Pittsburgh and Cleveland has been waiting for is here.  It's all on the line this Saturday night as the Cleveland Gladiators (6-4) come into Pittsburgh to try and put an end to the Pittsburgh Power (6-4) and their three game winning streak.

Pittsburgh is flying high after a 76-75 shootout win on the road in Dallas.  After failing to break the 60 point barrier all season, Pittsburgh hit their stride offensively against the Vigilantes and easily posted their highest score of the year.  Pittsburgh is on a 3 game winning streak, coming from behind in all of them.  

Cleveland is 2-3 on the road this year and draw another tough road test in a hot Pittsburgh Power squad looking to get back on track defensively after a 76-75 shootout against Dallas.  After a 3-0 start, they’ve looked less than impressive winning only two out of their last 4 games and those two wins were against weak Philadelphia and Milwaukee squads.   Cleveland brings a 14th ranked scoring offense and 2nd ranked defense to Pittsburgh.  

At quarterback, the Gladiator's lost starter John Dutton in the opener, but Kurt Rocco has done a solid job filling in for him.  A tall QB that can see the field well plus he has some scrambling ability.  He has thrown for 1995 yards, 33 TD, 9 interceptions, and on the ground he's got 73 yards rushing and 7 TD's.

Pittsburgh counters with Bernard Morris who is 4-1 as a starter this year.  His only loss was in overtime against Philadelphia in the opener.  He is red hot having thrown for 280 yards and 7 TD's, plus 41 yards and a score on the ground against Dallas.

There are a lot of tall receivers for Cleveland, which could present some matchup problems for the Power secondary.  Lonnell DeWalt will counteract that though from the jack linebacker position.

Troy Bergeron is a former AFL Rookie of the Year (2005) and a 2nd team All arena receiver (2007). 
Has great size at 6’2” and is getting looks from several NFL teams.  He has 727 yards and 19 TD’s so far on the year.  The problem is that he's been invisible for the last three weeks, with 3 catches for 24 yards and a score in all three games combined.  He didn't even show up in the box score last week against Arizona.

Robert Redd had a huge game against a depleted Philly secondary 2 weeks ago, busting off 113 yards and four scores but otherwise he’s only served a complimentary role for Cleveland

Thyron Lewis was the Gladiators' best receiving threat against Arizona, catching 13 passes for 157 and 2 scores.  

Dominick Goodman has scored a touchdown in three straight games for Cleveland and should find the endzone at some point in this contest.

For Pittsburgh, Mike "Joystick" Washington has been shredding opposing secondaries, going off on Dallas for 180 yards and five total touchdowns.  This was after torching San Jose for 120 yards and four scores.  He has definitely emerged as the favorite target for Bernard Morris.  

Jason Willis is doing his part to stay in the mix at the top of the depth chart.  He's got six touchdowns over the last  three games, none bigger than the game winner against San Jose.  He's a guy the Power can count on in the clutch.

DJ Hall was placed on injured reserve, and the uncertainty at the third receiver position continues.  Jerome Mathis, a former all-pro kick returner could finally be healthy and get a chance at the role.  If not it would either be Lonnell DeWalt playing ironman football, or perhaps another free agent signing.

Josh Rue finally got back on the scoreboard this past week with two scores against the Vigilantes, and the Power should keep giving him the ball at the goal line.

I think the Power defense will have something to prove after giving up 75 points last week, and to be honest, I don’t think Rocco is better than some of the QB’s Pittsburgh has already faced this year.  Aaron Garcia, Brett Elliott, Mark Grieb, Kyle Rowley, Dan Raudabaugh are all better gunslingers. 

The biggest keys will be whether the Power defense can keep a low scoring Gladiators offense down where they belong, and whether Pittsburgh can keep up this surge against a strong Gladiator defense.
I do believe Pittsburgh's got the better offense, and I think the defenses are both solid, so that gives the edge overall to Pittsburgh. 

Even though Cleveland has only given up over 60 points just once this year, something tells me the Power defense and special teams are going to find a way to make plays for scores to blow open an otherwise competitive game.

THE VOICE SAYS....Pittsburgh 63, Cleveland 48