Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
After a dominating performance on the road against the Columbus Destroyers, the Empire clinched the top seed in the 2019 playoffs with one game to go in the regular season. Albany controlled the game on both sides of the ball, spoiling the Destroyers’ final home game of the season with a score of 49-18 in what was the largest margin of victory in Empire history. The Empire return home this weekend to face a 7-4 Philadelphia Soul whom the Empire have split wins with in the two games so far this season. Though Albany may have already locked up the top seed in the playoffs, the Soul will be fighting to remain in the number two spot. This weekend’s game, presented by Pioneer Bank, will be at 7 p.m. in the Times Union Center on Saturday, July 20 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Q105.7 FM.
The first matchup to lookout for is the Empire’s offensive line against the Soul’s defensive front. Through the first 11 games of the season, Albany has allowed a League-low one sack. That sack came against the Soul in a Week 10 matchup. Philadelphia has logged 11 sacks through their first 11 games, good for second most in the AFL. The Soul have been the only team to break through the Empire offensive line and put pressure on quarterback, Tommy Grady. If the defensive line is able to get to Grady and keep him under duress, it might rush the reigning MVP into making errant throws.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is to protect Grady. Easier said than done, right? As mentioned, the Soul are the lone team to take Grady down this year, proving that though it is not easy, it is doable. Albany’s offensive line has been stout all season long and is a key reason to the team scoring more points than anyone else. Defensive lineman, Sean Daniels, leads the Soul with three sacks on the season, and is the only player to get to Grady in 2019. Despite only getting the one sack, Daniels and the rest of the defensive line was able to breakthrough and pressure Grady a few times in the game, and as a result, Grady threw two interceptions in the loss. The Empire offensive line must be a wall all game long and give Grady time to locate his targets with the hopes of lighting up the scoreboard in front of a home crowd for the first time in nearly a month.
The next matchup to come into play is between the Empire’s receiving unit against the Soul’s defensive backs. Albany’s receivers have posted some incredible numbers this season, boasting the League’s top two leaders in touchdown receptions. Quentin Sims and Malachi Jones have combined for 51 receiving touchdowns and have scored at a high rate all season. Jones also tops the League in receiving yards, having a whopping 443 yards more than the next closest receiver. Covering any of the Empire’s receivers has been a daunting task for any opposing defense and no one really seems to know how to stop them. The Soul defense has proven to be up for the challenge, leading the League with 16 interceptions on the year including two in the Week 10 matchup against the Empire.
The key to a victory in this matchup is to devise ways to throw off the experienced defensive backs of the Soul. Defensive back, James Romain, leads the League with eight picks through the team’s 11 games, including one against Grady in the last matchup. His teammate, Dwayne Hollis, is tied for third overall with five interceptions of his own. The duo has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks all year long, locking down opposing wide receivers and closing throwing windows fast. Albany’s receivers are a different beast that the Soul have to deal with compared to any other team. Despite the loss a few weeks ago to the Soul, Jones had himself a game, reeling in 11 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns. It does not matter who the Empire receiving unit stacks up against, they will produce. If the Soul are not able to turn the Empire over, this could turn into a shootout and Albany simply has too much firepower to compete with if the game is back and forth.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is for the defense to win on early downs when the Soul offense is on the field. On the season, both the Soul and the Empire rank near the bottom of the League in third and fourth down attempts. That’s because both teams have the ability to move the ball and score at a rapid pace, and as a result, they sit top two in the standings. Albany must find a way to slow down the Soul offense and force them into the unfamiliar territory of late downs. With the Empire returning home for the first time in almost a month, the loud environment might rattle the Soul offense and throw off communication, forcing incomplete passes and turnovers.
Tickets for the July 27 playoff game are on sale now 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.