Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
Returning home for the first time in a month, the Empire moved to 6-0 on the season after defeating the Washington Valor, 58-48, at the Times Union Center last Saturday afternoon. Albany had a hot first half, getting ahead early and was able to fend off the Valor comeback in the fourth quarter. Next up, the Empire stays home for the first and only 2019 regular season matchup against the Baltimore Brigade. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Times Union Center on Saturday, June 8 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Alt 105.7 FM. The Empire have declared a ‘Code Orange’ for this weekend’s game and ask that all fans wear orange to support the team against the Brigade.
The first matchup to come into play is between the Brigade’s wide receiver unit against the Empire’s defensive backfield. Baltimore quarterback, Shane Boyd, likes to spread the ball around to all of his weapons, making the Brigade offense difficult to stop at times. Of Boyd’s 25 passing touchdowns on the season, 21 of them are split between the team’s top three receivers. Leading the way in touchdown receptions is Joe Hills with nine. Hills spent all of 2018 with the Empire and led the League in touchdown receptions a year ago. The veteran receiver carries an active streak and League record of 98 consecutive games with a touchdown reception; a streak that Albany will look to end. Receiver Milton Williams leads the Brigade unit with 405 receiving yards while Brandon Collins tops the team with 34 receptions. All three receivers average over 10 yards per catch so far on the season, picking up big chunks of yards on a consistent basis.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is to get pressure on Boyd so he has less time to locate his targets. Through six games, Boyd has only been sacked three times and has thrown a League-low three interceptions. Albany must find a way to force Boyd to make a mistake so that Tommy Grady and the Empire offense can get extra possessions and pull away. So far on the season, Albany leads the League with eight sacks, six interceptions, and six fumble recoveries proving that the defense is more than up to the task against Boyd. The Empire forced four turnovers on downs a week ago in a win over the Valor giving the Albany offense great field position all night long as the League’s most potent offense put up a team season high of 58 points. If the Albany defense is able to make Boyd uncomfortable in the pocket, he is bound to make mistakes and turn the ball over. It is also important for the crowd to be loud when the Brigade are on offense to disrupt their communication.
The next matchup to lookout for is between the Empire’s high-powered offense against the Brigade’s second-ranked scoring defense. Baltimore’s defense has been a bright spot for the team this season, allowing just 230 points through six games, only 13 more points allowed than Albany. The Empire offense has lit up the scoreboard all season, including scoring at least 54 points in each of the last four games. Led by Grady at Quarterback, the offense has looked unstoppable and can score on any given play. Grady currently tops the League in touchdown passes (35) and completion percentage (71.1) and has many weapons of his own to spread the ball around to. On the flip side, the Brigade defense has been turnover-hungry all season long, leading the League with nine forced fumbles, and tying Albany with six interceptions. Defensive back, Joe Powell, leads the League with three interceptions while former Empire defensive lineman, Darryl Cato-Bishop, leads the team with two sacks. Baltimore’s defense will certainly be Albany’s toughest task to date, but the Empire might still have too many weapons for the Brigade to contain.
The key to victory in this matchup is for Albany to continue to spread the ball around and keep the Brigade defense guessing. Grady’s top target, Malachi Jones, has picked up where he left off a season ago, leading the League in receptions (52), receiving yards (759) and receiving touchdowns (13) and has yet to be stopped by an opposing defense. Right behind Jones is Quentin Sims, who has 12 touchdown receptions of his own, good for second in the League. The dynamic duo combined for 13 catches for 213 yards and six touchdowns last weekend against the Valor and looked uncoverable all night long. Baltimore can’t afford to just focus on those two receivers though. DJ Stephens has 22 catches for 287 yards and four touchdowns of his own so far this season and has burned by opposing defensive backs all year. Collin Taylor and Mykel Benson are also threats to score on any play, making stopping the Empire offense nearly impossible.
The final matchup and key to victory may seem weird for the indoor game, but Albany cannot forget about the Brigade rushing attack. So far on the season, Baltimore has scored seven times on the ground, six of which are credited to fullback Rory Nixon. Nixon may only have 16 attempts on the season with an average of 1.4 yards per carry, but his six touchdowns illustrate that he is a force down near the goal line. Hills is certainly an attractive target to the Brigade when they are in the red zone, but don’t be surprised to see Boyd hand the ball off to Nixon to use his big frame to plow ahead for six. Baltimore’s offense has plenty of options who can punch the ball into the end zone which will make the Brigade offense that much tougher to stop when they are knocking on the door. Albany must keep a strong defensive front to limit Nixon in the red zone. Passing is much more difficult the closer the offense is to the end zone due to less room to throw to receivers, making Nixon a viable option on the ground. If the Empire are able to keep Nixon out of the end zone, it will bode well in forcing mistakes when Baltimore is on the verge of scoring.
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.