It's rivalry week once again for Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Two sports towns that don't like each other much.
Both teams are looking for a win to stay in the middle of the wild card hunt in the American Conference. The Gladiators are sitting in second place in the Eastern division with a record of 3-3 and Pittsburgh is a game behind them but sitting in fourth place at 2-4.
Neither offense has had much luck scoring this season. Cleveland enters the game ranked 13th in the league at 49 PPG, while Pittsburgh ranks 15th at 47.7 PPG. What they both do well is stop the other team on defense. The Gladiators are second in scoring defense (48.2 PPG) and have the league's best yardage defense (255.5 YPG). Pittsburgh is 9th in scoring defense (55.5 PPG) and just behind Cleveland in total defense (256.8 YPG).
Quarterback play is the first place to look when trying to see who has the edge. Cleveland features a 12 year AFL veteran in John Dutton. He's thrown for 1695 yards (7th in league), 36 TD's (7th), and completed 65.6% (6th) of his passes this year.
Pittsburgh will counter with recently signed Bryan Randall, the 2010 IFL MVP who played for the Allen Wranglers and Lehigh Valley Steelhawks this year in the IFL. Randall will be the 5th quarterback listed atop the depth chart this year for Pittsburgh through 7 games, hardly the kind of consistency you want from the position. Randall is 6'1" and played college ball at Virginia Tech. He's more of a stay at home passer, but will scramble when he has to.
Cleveland's receiving corps is fairly deep. Dominick Goodman leads the way with 68 receptions (1st in AFL), 658 yards (6th) and 15 TD's (6th). He is the reigning Russell Offensive Player of the Week in the AFL. They also have Robert Redd who ranks amongst the league leaders as well. He's caught 53 passes (6th), 560 yards (12th) and 11 TD's (11th).
They also have Thyron Lewis who is having a solid season, and expect to see Maurice "Moe" Williams be active for this game. Williams was rumored to have drawn strong interest from the Power this offseason, but no offer was ever made.
The Power receiving corps continues to play strong overall, as all three leading receivers are putting up almost identical stats. Randy Hymes seems to be emerging as the top receiver in the bunch, but the Power spread the ball around so well it's hard to predict who will be Randall's favorite target. P.J. "Superman" Berry continues in his quest to repeat as JLS Ironman of the Year. He's won the weekly award three straight times heading into this game.
Defensively, Chris LeFlore is having a strong season for the Power. He's already tied the franchise record of five interceptions, set by Josh Lay last season, and looks to break it this week against the Gladiators. Jarrett Sanderson joined the team last week and ended up leading the team in tackles against the VooDoo.
The Gladiators have several standouts to watch as well. Levy Brown leads the team in tackles and has three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Derrick Boyd is second on the team in tackles and has two interceptions, and fellow DB Joe Phinisee has also added three interceptions. Up front look for Drew Berube (5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles) and Tim Cheatwood (2 sacks and an interception) to make life miserable for the Power.
Keys to the game for Cleveland
- Limit turnovers. If Cleveland holds onto the ball, they should be able to outscore the Power offense.
- Create havoc for Bryan Randall. This is the rookie's first start in the AFL so you want to make it as uncomfortable for him as possible.
- Take the crowd out of the game early. Pittsburgh fans were loud for last year's Gladiators game, and don't like Cleveland at all. If the Gladiators get up early in this one it'll be huge for them.
Keys for Pittsburgh
- Keep it simple for Randall. Don't ask the rookie to do too much early on. Turnovers would kill his confidence and take the crowd out of the game.
- Get the ball to your playmakers. I loved the trick play last week with P.J. Berry throwing a TD pass to Randy Hymes. Keep up the creative playcalling.
- Finish drives! Pittsburgh should have won the game last week but their inability to finish drives cost them once again. You cannot rely on field goal kicking in this league, and the fact Collin Wagner missed all three attempts against the VooDoo shows you why.
Pittsburgh needs a win in the worst way, but I just don't like this matchup. Cleveland has been inconsistent at times this year but they are still the only team to have beaten the Philadelphia Soul this year, and that was on the road. I expect this game to be lower scoring like last year's game in Pittsburgh but I think Cleveland is slightly better right now.