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These are unlikely playoff teams, but both played well down the stretch and anything can happen in the postseason. Utah looks like a dangerous playoff team despite its mediocre record because of a terrific offense. It's the lack of defensive stops that is usually the Blaze's Achilles heel. Colorado puts up good offensive numbers and has some defensive playmakers, but something still seems to be missing. The Crush just don't seem to show consistency from week to week. Utah would like to make this a wide-open, offensive-oriented game because it is better equipped to put up big numbers. But this game could come down to which defense steps up and makes a couple of key stops. The Blaze seem to have a lot of momentum right now and playing at home gives them an added boost of confidence. It will be fun to watch their offense.
2. Don't get into an early hole: Utah is very explosive and capable of putting up points in bunches. They are the No. 3 scoring offense in the AFL with 124 TDs, while Colorado is ranked 10th in scoring defense. In a tough road environment, the Crush cannot afford to get behind early and let Utah's confidence grow. If they can stay close until halftime and slow this game down a little bit, they have a chance to steal it in the second half. The Crush must create a positive tone early in the game, but it won't be easy.
3. More explosive offensive plays: This is a tough offense to get a handle on because John Dutton is having a career year with a league-leading 681 passing attempts and 94 TDs, yet the Crush pass offense is ranked just 14th. Dutton has also thrown 17 interceptions. They just don't seem able to convert key possessions on a weekly basis. They score well versus the weaker teams, but when the Crush play an elite defense they seem to struggle and this is a team that cannot waste offensive possessions. They are also thin at WR because of injuries, but Dutton needs some big passing plays to match Utah's explosive offense.
2. Make some plays in the secondary: Utah's defensive backs just don't make a lot of game-changing defensive plays and are not a group of ballhawks (just eight INTs). The Blaze also tend to give up a lot of big play (16th in scoring defense) and do not match up well versus elite pass offenses. Colorado only has two healthy quality receivers -- Ben Nelson and Willie McQuinnie -- and that should allow the Blaze to change up their coverages and take a few more chances than they usually do. They need to keep Dutton off-balance.
3. Set an offensive tone early: Utah is a hot team right now and enter the playoffs with confidence, especially at home. A perfect scenario for the Blaze would be to have big first quarter and force the Crush into playing catch-up football. That would also keep the crowd in the game, but a slow start would give Colorado unexpected confidence.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.