9th Man Nation

WEEK 7 GAME PREVIEW – EMPIRE VS VALOR

Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations

ALBANY, NY – The Empire return home to the Times Union Center for the first of a four-game home stretch to take on the Washington Valor in Week 7 on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the Times Union Center.  The Empire will look to win their fourth consecutive game as they face a struggling Valor team who have yet to win a game this season.  The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and on Alt 105.7 fm.

“We have really started to hit our stride and we won’t look back now,” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire.  “We can’t wait to get back home and play in front of our fans again.  The team is continuing to make progress and gel.  There is still a long season ahead of us but having four home games in a row will get momentum behind us and give us a huge advantage in the long run.”

The Valor came to Albany in Week 4 and were routed by the Empire thanks to its stout defensive unit that limited Washington to a mere 23 points. The two teams squared off the following week as the Empire traveled to the Nation’s Capital and came home with an 11-point victory.  Succeeding the Empire’s back-to-back wins over the Valor, Albany traveled to Philadelphia and won their third consecutive game as the Empire snapped the Soul’s 20-game home winning streak.  The team will look to continue its momentum and push their win streak to four games with Washington back in town.

The first matchup to look out for is between Washington quarterback Shane Austin and the Empire defensive backfield.  Though he was assigned to the Valor roster prior to the first meeting with the Empire, Austin made his first appearance of the season a week ago in a one-point heartbreaking loss to the first place Baltimore Brigade.  The Valor’s star quarterback, Nick Davila, went down early in the year with a season ending injury, leaving backup Warren Smith to face the physical Empire defense in both previous matchups.  This will be the first time Albany has seen Austin this season.  Austin poses as a dual threat quarterback due to his accuracy in the pocket and mobility on the ground.  In his debut a week ago, Austin had 228 yards and four touchdowns through the air and another 28 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

The key to victory in this matchup is for jack linebacker Terence Moore to serve as a spy on Austin throughout the game.  Moore has proven himself to be one of the most versatile linebackers in the league and finds himself fourth in the AFL in total tackles.  Last week against the Soul, Moore had 6.5 tackles and an interception.  In the Arena Football League, the jack linebacker cannot leave the box unless he is covering a route across the middle of the field or the quarterback pump fakes or scrambles.  Look for the Empire backfield to disguise coverages forcing Austin out of the pocket leaving him nowhere to go but right into Moore.  The Empire defense has shown throughout the past three games that they can shutdown receivers, so if they can contain Austin on the ground, it will make it that much harder for the Valor offense to get any momentum going.

The next matchup to look out for is between receivers Joe Hills and Malachi Jones against the Valor defensive backfield.  Last week against Philadelphia, Hills and Jones received the lion’s share of targets for the Empire receiving unit combing for 16 catches for 135 yards and three receiving touchdowns.  Jones also punched in a score on a short run.  These two have clearly been the one-two punch for Grady to throw to and have been a nightmare for opposing defenses to try and cover since Hills came to the Empire in Week 2.  Through the first two matchups against the Valor, Hills and Jones have combined for 11 total touchdowns looking seemingly unstoppable.  Hills comes into the game having caught a touchdown pass in his last 85 consecutive games.  The Valor defensive backfield that forced two interceptions a week ago will have their hands full with the Empire’s dynamic duo.  If they are somehow able to contain even just one of the two, don’t be surprised to see Empire rookie receiver Jordan Williams sneak in a few targets.  Mainly used as a kick returner thus far, Williams saw action as the third receiver last week against the Soul where he caught his first ever touchdown pass from 25 yards out.  They say that the best defense is a good offense and that might be the only way that the Valor can keep pace with the Empire without being able to stop all the weapons in the Albany receiving corps.

The last matchup to look out for is between the Empire’s stalwart defensive front against the Valor’s offensive line.  Since a sack-less first game, the Empire have combined for nine sacks over the past four games.  This defensive line has been a terror to opposing quarterbacks as they not only hit home for sacks, but also force fumbles.  Led by defensive end Joe Sykes, who has an impressive four forced fumbles on the season, the Empire defensive line has a total of six forced fumbles as a unit.  In the first two matchups against the Valor, the Empire defensive line broke through for five total sacks.  Look for Washington to mix in quick throws on two-step drop backs from Austin to get rid of the ball before the Empire defensive line takes him down behind the line of scrimmage.

The key to victory in this matchup is in the Empire defensive backfield.  Recognizing that Washington will look to get the ball out quickly, Albany’s cornerbacks need to press coverage and be alert for short routes.  Luckily for the Empire, they saw a heavy dose of quick and short passes from Philadelphia just a week ago.  If Washington resorts to quick throws, the Empire defensive line will be content to be less aggressive and hold back a bit to try to bat down some of Austin’s throws over the middle.  Expect this approach in the early downs against the Valor to force long third and fourth downs.  If the Empire defense can force long third and fourth down situations, it will limit the Valor playbook and make Washington throw the ball downfield more often.  These downfield throws will give the Empire defensive line more time to get to the quarterback and either cause a sack or force errant throws that could result in turnovers.

Tickets for the remaining Empire home games are still available at TheAlbanyEmpire.com.  Ticket packages include:  pro-rated season tickets, family four packs, group and corporate outing experiences, birthday party packages, Bud Light Party Zone tickets, Pioneer Bank Field Zone tickets, Pepsi Family Zone tickets and single game tickets. For additional information, please call 518-533-2200.

Albany Empire 2018 Inaugural Season Presented By CDPHP.