Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
Winners of back to back games, the Empire sit comfortably in first place with a three-game lead in the standings. The team’s most recent victory came last Saturday night at the Times Union Center as the Empire defeated the Atlantic City Blackjacks, 63-61, in a shootout. Albany will travel to Philadelphia this weekend to face 5-4 Soul team whom the Empire defeated at the Wells Fargo Center back in Week 3. An Empire victory would secure the top seed in the playoffs with three weeks still to go in the regular season. Kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, June 29 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Alt 105.7 FM.
The first matchup to come into play is Albany’s red zone defense against the Soul’s red zone offense. So far on the season, the Empire defense ranks near the top of the League in just about every defensive stat category. Points are already hard enough to come by and the Empire’s red zone defense has been a key factor in the team’s last two victories. As an offense gets closer to pay dirt, the field shrinks, giving the team less room to play with. This proves advantageous to the defense as they have less ground to cover. If the Empire red zone defense can remain stout, this is an area of the field where they could potentially force a stop or two and swing momentum in Albany’s favor. The red zone defense played a huge role in the team’s monumental comeback over the Valor two weeks ago and has proven to be a confident fall back if the special teams unit is unable to recover an onside kick attempt.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is to stand tall when the defense has their backs against the wall. This may be common sense as you never want to allow easy points but scoring in the Arena Football League is much more difficult the closer an offense gets to the end zone since there is less field. The Empire red zone defense has done a great job all year long, forcing mistakes and turnovers on downs. The Soul offense has a lot of weapons to utilize when they get close, which could be a challenge for the Empire. Their first big weapon is on the ground with their fullback Adrian Ferns. Currently, Ferns ranks second in the League with nine rushing touchdowns. When the Soul are in close, expect Ferns to get a few carries as the big fullback is more than capable of plowing through a defensive front for six. Philadelphia has relied on Ferns in the red zone all season long as all nine of his rushing touchdowns have come from within three yards of the goal line. Another red zone threat for the Soul is receiver Lonnie Outlaw. Outlaw is simply a big target for quarterback Dan Raudabaugh to locate. Standing in at 6’7, Outlaw has nine touchdown grabs on the season and is a tough cover when the Soul are in close.
The next matchup to lookout for is between the Empire’s defensive backs against the Soul’s receivers. In the Week 3 victory over the Soul, two of the Philadelphia receivers posted three touchdowns each. The team’s leading receiver, Darius Prince was held in check yardage-wise, but hauled in eight catches for 44 yards on the night. Outlaw went off on the Empire backfield, reeling in nine catches for 191 yards in what was a career game for the tall wideout. Albany’s defensive backfield has been subpar in the last two victories, surrendering 55 and 61 points, respectively. The unit must find a way to slow down the Soul receivers and not let the Philadelphia offense keep pace with Tommy Grady and Company.
The key to victory in this matchup is for Albany to devise a way to throw off Raudabaugh so that he does not have the time to locate his targets. The most tenured quarterback in the League, Raudabaugh has enough experience that allows him to keep his composure, go through his reads, and find his targets under pressure. The QB currently ranks tied for second in the League with 41 passing touchdowns and third in the League with 2,076 passing yards. In the Week 3 victory over the Soul, Albany was able to turn Raudabaugh over once, forcing an interception late in the game. The quarterback still had six touchdowns in the nine-point loss to the Empire, proving that just a single stop is all the Albany offense needs to pull away. In that game, Grady threw just three incompletions as the offense was nearly perfect. A late special teams touchdown also helped, as the Empire capped off their first road trip of the year with a win.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is to take care of the football. This goes without saying that you never want to turn the ball over, but it proves especially true when you are facing a veteran Soul unit that will capitalize on turnovers. On the season, the Philadelphia defense has forced 12 interceptions, a League-high. Prior to last weekend’s win over the Blackjacks, Grady entered the weekend having thrown two interceptions in consecutive games. Opposing defenses are starting to adapt and are continuously looking for ways to slow down the League’s top-two receivers; Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims. Grady must be cognizant of the Soul’s coverages and make good decisions with the football to keep the ball out of the hands of Philadelphia’s ball hawking defensive backs. Ranking just two points behind Washington for the second-most scored points in the League, the Soul boast an offense that can keep pace on the scoreboard with the Empire, especially if they are given extra opportunities for their offense to be on the field.
Fans can secure tickets for the Albany Empire by calling 518-533-2200, by going to TheAlbanyEmpire.com, or by stopping by the Empire office located in the Times Union Center. A limited number of great seats are still available! Want to bring your organization to a game, fundraise, or perform on the field? Group experiences are now on sale. Call 518-533-2200 for additional information.
Albany Empire 2019 Season Presented By CDPHP.