Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
Fresh off a bye week, the Empire remain in first place with a one and a half game lead in the standings. Prior to the week off, Albany fell to the Philadelphia Soul, 54-43, on the road at the Wells Fargo Center. The Empire jumped out to a good start with a score and a forced turnover but could not maintain the momentum as the Soul gained the lead and never looked back. Albany will travel to Columbus this weekend to face 1-9 Destroyers team whom the Empire handled in both matchups so far this season. Kickoff will be at 3 p.m. in the Nationwide Arena on Saturday, July 14 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Q105.7 FM.
The first matchup to lookout for is the Empire’s defensive front against the Columbus offensive line. Through 10 games, the Empire have 10 sacks on the season, five of which came in the two games against the Destroyers. Conversely, the Columbus offensive line has had a tough time protecting quarterback, Grant Russell, as the unit has surrendered 25 sacks this season. Pressure on the quarterback is paramount as it can lead to turnovers and swing momentum early. So far on the season, Russell has thrown a League-most 14 interceptions on the year, correlating directly to his offensive line play.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is to well, get to Russell. In the prior two games against the Destroyers, Russell has seen a lot of Empire defensive end, Joe Sykes. Sykes has tallied 3.5 sacks against the Destroyers this season and is a big reason why the Empire defense has been able to stifle the Columbus offense this year. The League’s all-time career sack leader already has 5.5 sacks on the season and will be hungry to improve on his season and career totals against a young and inexperienced offensive front. The Albany backfield has totaled four interceptions against the Destroyers in two games, another number that the team can certainly add onto if Sykes and company are able to pressure Russell and force errant throws.
The next matchup to come into play is on special teams. For Columbus, the kickoff return game has been a bright spot for the one-win team. Rookie receiver, Fabian Guerra, has had a nice season returning kicks off the net, bringing three to the house for quick touchdowns in the team’s 10 games. Guerra’s three touchdowns on kickoff returns and his 664 return yards both top the League proving to be one of the Destroyers’ biggest threats. Guerra brought one back for a score against the Empire in Week 4 and is a threat to shift momentum at any point in the game. After the rookie is done setting the team up with good field position, he will continue to be a weapon for the Destroyers, as he leads the team in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
The key to a victory in this matchup is to devise ways to contain Guerra on kick returns. Whether it’s onside kicks, pooch kicks, or well-placed balls off the net, Albany must be on the same page when defending against kick returns as Guerra is a threat to bring any one back for a score. Through 10 games, Guerra also leads the League with over five kick returns per game, giving him extra opportunities to be a positive factor for his team on special teams. The Albany offense leads the League with 499 total points scored and can put up points in a hurry. Why is this important? Because after every Empire score, Guerra will get a chance to return a kick. Albany must limit him on kickoff returns so that the defense can get the ball back into the hands of the offense to help the team pull away.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is to force the Columbus offense into late down situations. On the season, the Destroyers are in dead last with a 39.3 conversion percentage on third downs. As a result, Columbus leads the League in fourth down attempts and is only fourth in the League in fourth down conversion percentage. If Albany can stop the Destroyers on early downs, then it will put the 1-9 team into pressure situations where they will be forced to convert. As proven through the first 10 games, the Destroyers convert at a low rate in late downs, giving the edge to the Empire defense and increasing the odds of turning the ball back over to the League’s highest scoring offense.
Fans can secure season 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.