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Coming off a huge upset of top-seeded Chicago, the Rampage go into San Jose with tremendous confidence and a ton of momentum. They have won four games in a row, including two playoff games, and have the hottest offense in the league. Now they face the veteran SaberCats who are used to playing in this environment. They are battle tested and tough to beat at home. We will see two exciting offenses with excellent QB play and two aggressive defenses that will really come after the QB. This looks like a high scoring game that comes down to which defense can make a stop. One thing is for sure, though -- the Rampage will not be intimidated.
2. Playmakers must make plays: The Rampage have really developed some quality players on both sides of the ball and they will have their hands full versus a San Jose squad that is loaded with productive guys. WRs Kenny Higgins and Cole Magner must have a big game. Both are smart guys who understand this offense and they may have to adjust their routes more than usual. On defense, DB Ahmad Hawkins must play a great centerfield versus a deep SaberCats receiving corps. He needs to jump some routes and make a big play or two.
3. Solid red zone offense and defense: Not only did the Rampage almost completely turn over this roster in the last year, but they have also almost totally rebuilt their offensive and defensive lines during the 2008 season. They gave up a lot of sacks early and struggled to make stops on the defensive side. They were especially ineffective in the red zone. However, that has all changed in the last month. Using different personnel groupings, they made four stops against Chicago and now against San Jose, the Rampage must capitalize in the red zone on both sides of the ball.
2. Play to your strength: The SaberCats have the best pass rush in the league with 30 regular season sacks and the Rampage are near the bottom in pass protection, having given up 29 sacks despite having a mobile QB who can escape from pressure. If the San Jose pressure starts to get to MacPherson, expect the Rampage to shorten the passing game with dump offs, screens, and quick slants to negate the rush. Grand Rapids needs its O-line to play well. If San Jose can apply pressure, it is a tremendous advantage.
3. Donít lose this game on special teams: If Grand Rapids has an edge in any area itís probably in the kicking game. They have a terrific returner in Chris Martin, an excellent kicker in Brian Gowins and good cover teams. The Rampage are second in the league with 1,946 yards on returns and seven TDs, while San Jose is last with 2,068 return yards allowed. However, they have the best kicker in the league, A.J. Haglund. The SaberCats must contain Martin and not let the Rampage score in the kicking game.
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.