Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pittsburgh Power @ Iowa Barnstormers Preview

The disappointment express that is the Pittsburgh Power season continues to rumble down the tracks towards the end of the season.

The Power now sit at 3-11 on the season, and will try to end what is essentially an 8-game losing streak against the Iowa Barnstormers (5-9) Saturday night.  Pittsburgh's only win in the last two months came via forfeit from the Cleveland Gladiators.  

Iowa is experiencing their own disappointment this year.  They may have contended in the American conference, but with the strong play of teams in San Jose, San Antonio, Arizona, Chicago and Spokane, they have no chance of making the playoffs this year.  It's a shame because they possess some solid talent on their squad.

The two teams squared off earlier in the year in Pittsburgh, with the Barnstormers coming away with a 55-42 victory.  The major plays in the Iowa victory were two net recovery touchdowns by linebacker John Mohring and two interceptions by Jason Simpson.

Quarterback J.J. Raterink, in his third season, ranks amongst the AFL's best in passing.  He's thrown for 3919 yards, 73 TD's and 10 INT's this year, plus scrambled for 90 yards and 7 scores on the ground.    

His favorite target, Jesse Schmidt, is tops in the AFl in rfeceptions and receiving yards, and ranks second in touchdowns.  The only game this year in which he failed to score was that earlier meeting against Pittsburgh, so perhaps the Power have his number.

Pittsburgh quarterback Bryan Randall continues to have moments of greatness this year, but he's also had his share of struggles.  The turnovers have come down in recent weeks, but the offense has stalled out a few more times than one would like.  This might be attributed to the transition from Chris Siegfried's offense, over to Mike Tomczak via Derek Stingley.  

The Power activated wide receiver A.J. Jackson for last weeks game against Philly and he responded with a pair of touchdowns.  He could be another strong weapon for the Power offense to go along with Oderick Turner, Mike Washington and P.J. Berry.  His emergence could signal a reduction in playing time for Randy Hymes.  

Chris LeFlore hauled in his 8th interception of the season last week and remains one of the few bright spots on defense for the Power in 2012.  Conversely, Bryan Williams still has zero interceptions this year, and ranks behind P.J. Berry (one interception) in that department.

The Barnstormers have a pair of dangerous defensive backs in Simpson and Cameron McGlenn, both of whom have six interceptions.

Neither team generates a lot of pressure via their defensive line, so both quarterbacks should have time to make their reads.  

Overall as we look back at that first game for a blueprint for what to expect, I think a few bad bounces on kickoffs gave the Barnstormers the edge, although four interceptions by Andrico Hines didn't help the cause.  I like Randall a lot better than Hines, and I think the Power have better depth at WR overall than just Schmidt and Marco Thomas (112 catches, 1241 yards, 15 TD's).

If Randall and company can continue their recent play with fewer turnovers I think they stand an excellent chance of bringing home a victory from Des Moines.  

THE VOICE SAYS....Pittsburgh 58, Iowa 52

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pittsburgh Power win by forfeit, Fans lose again

The Pittsburgh Power losing streak may have officially ended last night, but the losing streak for the fans continues this year.  It's not just limited to the Power, but also the fan bases in Orlando and Cleveland and threatens to continue growing league wide.

In week one, the fans of not just Pittsburgh and Orlando, but the entire league had to watch a game with primarily replacement players take the field in the showcase "Arena Football Friday" broadcast on the NFL Network.  Pittsburgh won the game 40-28 but in the context of the season they lost.  Due to the labor dispute, Kyle Rowley and Taylor Rowan were not asked to rejoin the team.  You can blame the league, blame the Power or blame Rowley for all of this but in the end the fans are the ones who lose.

Last night the AFLPU called a strike for one franchise for just long enough to cause the Gladiators, who are in the midst of a fierce battle for a playoff spot, to just basically give a game away.   Fans lined up outside the Quicken Loans arena were not notified until 7:45 that the game was not going to be played. Those fans stuck outside included a group of Power fans who had made a bus trip from the Steel City to cheer on their team.

The strike ended officially at midnight so the players could return to their housing, which is a perk of their employment.   Officially the Gladiators lost this game via forfeit, but again, the ones that truly lost were the fans.

I continue to struggle to see what kind of leverage the union gains by forcing one of their possible playoff teams to take a dive in front of their own fans.  If you want to make a statement, you get the players on all of your teams to take a stand and strike.

The problem is I don't think the players are all on board with what AFLPU Ivan Soto is doing.  Over half the Power crossed the picket line in Orlando.  The strike ended shortly after the game.   Even last night there were reports that Gladiator quarterback John Dutton and wide receiver Robert Redd were prepared to cross.

These mini strikes have done nothing but screw with the fans of these three franchises (Pittsburgh twice now).   All they are, in my opinion, are terrorist strikes.  Hit and run attacks that only hurt those directly involved at ground zero so to speak.  These shenanigans caused the NFL Network to cancel their broadcast of the Philadelphia/Milwaukee game to a national audience.  That game finished with a last second 69-62 victory by Philly, a game that would have gone a long way to marketing this game to a larger fanbase.

If the AFLPU thinks these stunts are giving them leverage they are sorely mistaken.  The NFL Network pays the league for the right to broadcast these games.  This was a change from the previous two years when the league had to pay the network money to broadcast.  If that reverts to last year's policy, that is less money the league has to pay their players.

Attendance is down league wide as fans are starting to stay away from this pissing contest.  Look at it logically, why would fans pay money for games they don't know for sure will take place.  Season ticket renewal applications went out to fans across the league this week.  How many are having second (or third or fourth) thoughts about coming back next year?  This is the "Year Of The Fan" according to the AFL, but the fans are the ones who are losing out in this mess.

I may cover the Power for TribLive Radio, but I've been a fan of the arena/indoor football game for over six years now.  It's a fun game when they actually step on the field and play the game.  I'm one of the fans watching this unfold and it angers the hell out of me.  

Soto admits his proposal will cost the league over $15 million dollars over the 2012 and 2013 season.  That's a lot of money considering the league was bankrupt just a few season ago.  Sound out of touch to you?  Speaking of out of touch. I've heard from several sources that the players are unaware of the offers that have been proposed by the league.  Somehow the message is not getting to the membership from union head Ivan Soto.

Soto constantly bashes the league in his tweets and says the league isn't negotiating in good faith.  The league counters with the fact that the union has not budged one bit from their offer around the time of the season opener.

There's no way to know for sure what is going on due to all the misdirection happening publicly.  Here's a novel idea.  Honor the agreement you made BEFORE the season and stop hurting arena football.  After the season sit down and hammer out these differences.  There have to be concessions on both sides, there always are during a negotiation.

I'm hopeful an agreement can be reached but regardless of how this all ultimately ends, the ones who end up losing are the fans.  I repeat...the ones who are the losers in all of this are the fans.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pittsburgh Power at Arizona Rattlers Preview

It's time to start over for the Pittsburgh Power.  While they can't erase their 2-8 start to the season, they did make a change at head coach.  Chris Siegfried is gone and will be replaced by interim head coach Derek Stingley.   Stingley is a former AFL standout and does have some head coaching experience in the league, having gone 2-12 last year for the New Orleans VooDoo.

The Power have also brought in Mike Tomczak to be the new offensive coordinator.   The move is a curious one, as Tomczak has zero experience with the indoor game.  The thought behind the move is that Tomczak, as a former pro quarterback, will help develop the Power quarterbacks.  It is a quarterback driven league after all.

I'm not sure the Power could have drawn a harder test for this new configuration of coaches than having to go and face the 8-3 Arizona Rattlers on the road.   The Rattlers boast the top scoring offense in the league at 67.1 PPG

Arizona features reigning league MVP Nick Davila who is having another fantastic season.  He's currently third in the league with 3323 yards, 3rd in completion percentage (68.1%), 2nd in touchdowns (77), and 1st in QB rating (127.0).  He's also thrown just 10 interceptions through 11 games, which is very good by arena standards.

The Rattlers also have standout receiver Maurice Purify, the reigning Aaron's Rookie of the Year and a 2011 second team all arena WR.  The 6'3" Nebraska product is 2nd in the league in yards (1411) and 2nd in receiving TD's (38).  He's been nearly impossible to cover in his two AFL seasons.

Keep an eye on Rattlers WR Kerry Reed as well. He's also got great size (6'2") and ability as well as a big school pedigree from Michigan State.  He's got 53 receptions for 823 yards and 19 TD's this year for the Rattlers.

Arizona fullback Odie Armstrong currently ranks 2nd in rushing yards (162) and 3rd in rushing TD's (11).  At 5'11" 260 pounds he's not the usual giant fullback that most teams choose to employ.  He has elusive running ability and can make you pay if you don't focus on containing him.  

Pittsburgh has announced that Bryan Randall will take the reigns as quarterback again this week, despite being benched in the loss to Kansas City two weeks ago.  Randall is quietly putting up some very good stats for the Power.  In his four games as a starter, Randall is 96 for 139 (69.1%) for 1083 yards, 20 TD's and 4 interceptions.  His biggest problem has been fumbles.  If he can learn to control the ball better while scrambling he has the ability to become a big time AFL quarterback.

The Power love to spread the ball around to their talented receivers.   P.J. Berry, the reigning JLS Ironman of the Year, is once again leading the league in all-purpose yardage. He has 1269 yards in returns and 2 TD's, to go with 741 yards receiving and 9 TD's.  

Mike "The Joystick" Washington has 64 receptions for 862 yards and 20 TD's (12th in the AFL) and Oderick Turner has been strong since returning from injury a few weeks ago.  He has 309 yards receiving and 4 TD's in just a few games of action this year.

The Power also signed A.J. Jackson this week, a 6'4" receiver out of California (Pa.) University.  If activated, he could bring a whole new dimension to the Power offense.  He's got great playmaking ability but the knock on him in the past has been his focus.

Defensively the Rattlers might give up big chunks of passing yardage, but they are also good at forcing turnovers.  The Rattlers have recorded 14 interceptions this year.  Randall will need to stay very aware of where Arkeith Brown (5 INT), Marquis Floyd (3 INT), and Virgil Gray (2 INT) are.  The Rattlers also force a lot of fumbles, which is bad news for the fumble-prone Power.

Pittsburgh's only chance of winning this game is to rely on their passing defense,which is tops in the league.  If the Power can somehow hold the Rattlers in check and minimize their own mistakes, we might have a game on our hands.  Prior history tells us otherwise.

Too much is going against Pittsburgh in this one for me to have much faith in them pulling out a victory.  I think Arizona has a huge edge at quarterback, they have the homefield advantage, and they also have more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.  It's one thing to have the top yardage defense in the league, it's another to have the better defense at forcing turnovers.

Don't expect a miracle....

THE VOICE SAYS....Arizona 65, Pittsburgh 48