Better Know A SaberCat – QB Mark Grieb

July 27, 2008

In the end, Arena Football always comes down to quarterback play. And over the last decade, the best in the league has been San Jose’s Mark Grieb. But this year, the league’s most consistent quarterback has been remarkably inconsistent. Whether its age, the new jack linebacker rules, injuries to his receivers, his 21 interceptions in the regular season and playoffs are the most of his career. He’s gone through stretches of absolutely locked in play, games completing over 80%, and the defense has been good enough most of the year to make up for said inconsistencies. But against Philadelphia today, will he be locked in enough, without his safety valve in James Roe?

To make matters more difficult, while dealing with a top 3 secondary, he’s going to have to use a brand new receiver in Samora Goodson for at the very least spot receiving duty. Of all the ArenaBowls the SaberCats have played in, the Soul has the toughest defense of the four opponents. This very well could be a defensive struggle, one in which the quarterback who makes the fewest mistakes will be holding the Foster Trophy tonight. Grieb was near perfect in Arena Bowl XXI, and almost as impressive in ArenaBowl XVIII, with 12 touchdowns and 0 picks in the two games. He may need just as impressive a performance to hang a 4th banner in San Jose.

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Better Know A SaberCat – K A.J. Haglund

July 25, 2008

Kicker of the Year in 2008. Smaller than me, yet has 31.5 tackles in 2 years. He set a league record for field goal percentage this year, though he definitely kicked a lot more field goals that the SaberCats wish were extra points. Incidentally, one of his four misses this year was a last second attempt against the Soul that would have given the SaberCats the win. He’s missed 3 PAT’s in the playoffs but has hit both field goal attempts. In a game as close as many anticipate for this ArenaBowl, even with the miss against the Soul earlier this year, coach Darren Arbet will probably not hesitate to put Haglund on the field with a chance to win or tie with a field goal. On kickoffs, with the closed off rectangular endzones and Haglund’s propensity to put the football in the slack net, San Jose gains a clear advantage in the special teams game. The best way to make Philadelphia struggle is to force them to start from inside their own 5, and keep the ball away from the exceptional Mike Brown. The more touchbacks, the better. Without a doubt, the diminutive kicker will be involved in some of the most critical plays in the game.


Better Know A SaberCat – DB Clevan Thomas

July 25, 2008

Essentially the first player in the AFL to take on the motion receiver right at the line of scrimmage nearly every down, Clevan Thomas plays a high-risk, high-reward brand of defense that has netted him 50 interceptions in less than 100 regular season games. Despite being undersized and not being quite as quick since an ACL injury in 2004, he’s been able to disrupt the timing of the league’s best offenses.

He will usually start matched up against the motion man, but in combination with Omarr Smith, where Thomas will jam the motion receiver, and if the receiver gets by, Thomas takes the flanker and lets Smith take the motion man. It’s a risky play where if the alignment is two receivers to one side and one to the other, the middle is relatively open and its up to Marquis Floyd and Jason Geathers to help out.

In the first matchup this year versus Philadelphia, San Jose dominated the first half by hitting Chris Jackson and Larry Brackins at the line and forcing D’Orazio’s timing to be off, allowing Marquis Floyd to swoop in for interceptions. In the second half hesitation motion and weak hitting allowed Jackson and Brackins to run roughshod over the HP Pavilion turf. The key to the game will most likely be whether the San Jose secondary of the first half of that game and the last six weeks shows up, or the secondary of the first half of the year and the second half of that game shows up. Clevan’s play was key in getting 7 stops against a high powered Grand Rapids offense, and the triumverate of Thomas, Floyd, and Smith seems to be peaking at the right time.


ArenaBowl XXII Preview

July 19, 2008

Here’s an ArenaBowl XXII preview, broken down by position. Philadelphia opened at 3.5 point favorite. Admittedly, I’ll probably be a bit biased, being a 12-year fan of the SaberCats.

Quarterback: Even

Matt D’Orazio has kept turnovers low and taken advantage of his two big receivers all season long, and may be the top free agent pick up in AFL history, stepping in for Tony Graziani after an MCL injury. Mark Grieb started out the season with 14 INT’s in his first 10 games, but finished the season with 50 TD’s against 4 picks in the last 6 games. Both come in with championship experience, D’Orazio winning one ring with Chicago and Grieb winning three, and playing in the ’04 and ’07 games. D’Orazio had the better season but struggled against New York, which utilizes a physical secondary similar to that of the SaberCats.

Offensive Line: Even

The Soul allowed 19 sacks to San Jose’s 16, but had far more continuity throughout the year. San Jose C Dan Loney has struggled with snapping the ball recently and has seen those struggles continue into the playoffs. Phil Bogle of the Soul and Gene Frederic/Julius Gant of the SaberCats have proven themselves able as tight ends and pass blockers.

Wide Receivers: Edge to Philly

San Jose will be hurt immensely by the loss of all-time receiving leader James Roe, but was only mildly fazed by the loss in defeating Grand Rapids in the Conference Championships. Cleannord Saintil and Rodney Wright have taken the lead and have kept the WR core afloat. Jason Geathers has stepped in for Roe while continuing to play the Jack Linebacker spot on defense. Chris Jackson and Larry Brackins of Philly are the best 1-2 punch in the league and will be difficult to stop for the relatively small San Jose secondary. However, these two did struggle in the week 7 meeting in San Jose. However, Jackson is the league’s best receiver and it will take a fantastic mix of coverages to stop him.

Fullback: Edge to Philly

Brian Johnson of the SaberCats won 2nd team All Arena honors but struggled all year to run the ball especially in late game situations, and has since lost the carrying duties to Rodney Wright and Jason Geathers. He is still a superb pass blocker, and pretty much the only one on the San Jose roster. Wes Ours and Clifton Smith have been incredibly difficult to stop, Ours out of the standard formations and Smith out of a QB-less shotgun formation. Ours is also surprisingly adept at catching swing passes. The combination of Ours and Smith give the Soul a distinct advantage in the backfield.

Defensive Line: Slight Edge to San Jose

San Jose led the league in sacks with 30 to the Soul’s 24. Both have a combination of depth and strength at the lines, with seemingly the only edge at this position going to San Jose for having 4 defensive linemen, McIntyre, Williams, Jones, and Harper capable of providing the rush. With all healthy, San Jose will be capable of generating heat on D’Orazio all game. Bryan Save and Gabe Nyenhuis man the ends for Philadelphia, but match up against San Jose’s guards who have played very well of late.

Linebackers: Slight Edge San Jose

Steve Watson had an unheard of 9.0 sacks from the Mack position and Jason Geathers did not lose a step playing both ways, WR/JLB, pick-sixing a pass against Grand Rapids in addition to his 3 offensive TD’s. While Philadelphia has a number of above average performers playing the two Linebacker spots, San Jose has two players who can take over the game from spots that don’t usually get much attention.

Defensive Backs: Slight Edge San Jose

Philadelphia doesn’t have as many problems to deal with as James Roe is out, and they get back Brian Mance. Both teams utilize shorter, more physical DB’s, but as of late, San Jose’s DB’s have all been playing well. After a subpar season, Omarr Smith tallied 3 INT’s, as well as a pick on a 2 point conversion against Grand Rapids, while Marquis Floyd and Clevan Thomas were All Arena performers this year. Eddie Moten and Mike Brown are great players in their own right, but San Jose’s DB’s have the championship experience and the strength advantages here.

Kicker: Edge to San Jose

There isn’t a better kicker in the league than San Jose’s A.J. Haglund. He kicks, recovers fumbles, and makes tackles. Connor Hughes is an above average kicker.

Kick Return: Slight edge to Philadelphia

Mike Brown has the big play capability, but over the season, Rodney Wright had the better average, and has more consistency. San Jose’s kick coverage gave up a TD to Chris Martin and the Rampage last week, but the closed rectangle endzones in New Orleans play to San Jose’s strengths.

So overall, San Jose has a defensive edge, Philly has an offensive edge, and the special teams game is pretty much even. In theory, this should be an instant classic a la ArenaBowl 18. I’m gonna be a homer here and err on the side of Grieb:

SaberCats 59

Soul 56

And hopefully I’m right and San Jose grabs its 4th title in 7 years. Sunday 7/27 at noon PST on ABC. Go to ArenaFan.com for some more great info on the game.