Courtesy: Albany Empire Media Relations
Suffering their first defeat of the season, the Empire remain in first place with a 6-1 record just over the midway point through 2019. Albany lost a heartbreaker to the second place Baltimore Brigade, falling by just one point, 42-41, at home last weekend. Next up, the Empire gets back on the road for the third and final regular season matchup against the Washington Valor. Albany has defeated the Valor twice already this season, both at home, and will look to begin a new win streak by completing the season sweep. Kickoff will be at 7:00 p.m. at the Capital One Arena on Saturday, June 15 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Alt 105.7 FM.
The first matchup to come into play is between Empire quarterback, Tommy Grady, against the Valor defensive backs. Through seven games on the season, Washington has allowed 301 points, just six fewer points than the Atlantic City Blackjacks and the Columbus Destroyers who sit in last place in the category. Albany has scored more points than anyone else in the League, posting 337 thus far, including a season-high 58 points against the Valor just two weeks ago. At the helm of the offense, Grady leads a unit that can score in the blink of an eye and put up points in a hurry. In 2019, the reigning MVP leads the League with 41 touchdown passes and sits just one yard shy of the League leader in passing yards. In two games against the Valor, Grady has had his way, combining for 12 passing touchdowns and 495 yards.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is well, for Grady to play like Grady. In both matchups against the Valor, the veteran quarterback completed passes to five different targets. If Grady is able to spread the ball around, the Valor defense will have no way to slow down the Albany offense. The Empire simply have too much firepower and Grady knows how to use all of his weapons to exploit any opponent. Fans can expect a barrage of touchdowns to multiple different receivers as Grady and company take shots at the end zone from any position on the field. Between Malachi Jones, Quentin Sims, Mykel Benson, Collin Taylor, even jack linebacker Terence Moore, there is just no way to stop this offense leaving the opposing offense with the tall task of trying to keep pace with Albany.
The next matchup to lookout for is in the trenches between the offensive and defensive lines of both the Empire and the Valor. On offense, Grady has hardly been touched all year allowing him to sit in a clean pocket and pick apart opposing defenses. In fact, Grady has yet to be sacked in 2019. That being said, Grady has been hurried occasionally. In last week’s loss to Baltimore, Grady was rushed and hit on his arm, forcing a soft throw that was eventually intercepted. On defense, Albany has racked up a League-high nine sacks already, half of which are credited to the 2018 Defensive Lineman of the Year and the League’s all-time career sack leader, Joe Sykes. This is clearly a recipe for success as Albany boasts the League’s best record and sits two games ahead in first place.
The key to victory in this matchup is for Albany to win in the trenches on both sides of the ball. That’s common sense, sure, but if either of Albany’s lines give up any ground, it makes it that much more difficult to win. As mentioned, Grady tops the League in many statistical categories, in large part to his offensive line play. Washington was able to get to Grady a handful of times between the two matchups but have yet to record a sack on the quarterback. If the Valor defensive front is able to hit home, it could cause a turnover as shown by Baltimore last weekend. Ryan Cave, Mo Ruffins, and Jordan Mudge must continue to be a stout wall for Grady all night long and give him time to locate his targets. Conversely, on defense the Empire are responsible for two of the four sacks recorded on Valor quarterback, Arvell Nelson, this season. Nelson brings a different dynamic to the quarterback position in Arena Football. Much like Cam Newton of the NFL, Nelson has a big frame and likes to run out of the pocket. The Empire defensive line must continue to get pressure on Nelson and keep him uncomfortable. Nelson has proven to be turnover prone, leading the League with seven interceptions through the first seven games. If Albany can continue to get pressure on Nelson, he might make a few errant throws, turning the ball back over to the League’s most potent offense.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is to win the second quarter and take a lead into halftime. So far on the season, Albany has outscored opponents by a whopping 59 total points in the second quarter. On the flip side, Washington has scored 12 fewer points than their opponents heading into halftime. Why is this important? Aside from the obvious point of needing to score more points to win, you have to look at Arena Football as a possession game where each team expects to score whenever they have the ball on offense. If the current season trends play out in this matchup and Albany piles on points in the second quarter, they could run away with this one early. This could be especially true if the Empire receive the kickoff to start the second half and are able to score with their first possession of the third quarter, giving Albany a massive momentum swing. In the first two matchups, Albany has outscored the Valor by a total of 37 points in the second quarter, the biggest point differential in any quarter of both games. If the Empire can continue their second quarter dominance and stretch the lead before halftime, expect Albany to come out of this one 3-0 against the Valor on the season.
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.