Georgia at New Orleans
Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
This game has an air of increased importance because both of these teams have playoff aspirations, but both are playing in the superior National Conference in which the path to the playoffs is much tougher than it is in the less competitive American Conference. Georgia has a potentially-explosive pass offense that can put up a lot of points versus any defense when it is clicking. However, New Orleans has the most opportunistic, big-play defense in the AFL and it can create turnovers in bunches. Neither team is without flaws, but both play hard and they know what's at stake. If and when Georgia and New Orleans get to the playoffs, they will be a tough out, and this game will be a good barometer of where they are.
When Georgia Has The Ball
QB Chris Greisen is running the third-ranked pass offense in the league right now. His trio of receivers -- Tiger Jones, Troy Bergeron and Carl Morris -- have combined for 55 touchdowns, and Greisen does an excellent job of spreading the field and finding a matchup he can exploit. The Force also have an excellent pass-blocking offensive line that has only given up three sacks in 11 games. This pass offense seems to throw a lot of quick, timing routes and Greisen gets the ball out quickly, which makes it difficult for the pass-rush to get to him.
New Orleans has the third-best pass defense in the league and it has recorded a whopping 23 interceptions. What makes the VooDoo secondary even more special is the fact that the pass-rush is not great and they lack a dominating sack artist. Greisen will likely have time to throw, which is usually a recipe for success in this league, but versus a deep and talented New Orleans secondary he must read the defense and make smart throws. This will be an intriguing chess match between Greisen and the VooDoo secondary.
When New Orleans Has The Ball
The VooDoo have had two weeks to prepare for Georgia but they don't enter this game with the same offensive swagger that we saw earlier in the season. QB Danny Wimprine is still playing well, but we are not seeing the consistent explosiveness that we are used to. Most of New Orleans' wins can be attributed to its big-play defense. The VooDoo do not have a big name or go-to guy on offense, but they are steady and they make enough plays to stay in the game.
Georgia does not have a great secondary and the Force have the No. 13 pass defense in the AFL, but their pass rush up front features a trio of experienced veterans. Ernest Allen, Jermaine Smith and R-Kal Truluck are cagey old guys who know every move in the book. If they can pressure Wimprine, they will protect a secondary that could be vulnerable in man-to-man matchups.
New Orleans must take care of the football on offense because it does not have the explosiveness to get into a high-scoring shootout. Wimprine will have matchups that he likes, and if his offensive line protects him well, he can have a big day versus the Force secondary. If Wimprine plays a clean and smart game, they will be in it. But if he makes bad decisions or turns the ball over, it could spell trouble. Composure will be a big key.
Georgia Keys To Success
1. Spread the ball around on offense: Greisen and the Force offense are really starting to gel. Jones is having a breakout year, Morris has gone from a complimentary receiver to a go-to guy and Bergeron remains the glue that holds it together.
2. Early success and remain confident: The Force have played two great games in a row -- coming from behind to upset Philadelphia and then upsetting New York on the road. They are a veteran and resilient group, but playing in New Orleans on MNF is going to be difficult for the Force. They need early success to take some of the air out of the VooDoo.
3. Get the triplets going: The Force veteran trio on the defensive line of Allen, Smith and Truluck must put pressure on a VooDoo offense that can make plays when it has time to throw. If the trio can put pressure on Wimprine, it will help a secondary that doesn't match up real well with the VooDoo receivers.
New Orleans Keys To Success
1. Be aggressive in coverage: The VooDoo have the most prolific secondary in the league. They play a gambling style that can change up looks and confuse quarterbacks. They trust their pass-rush up front and they do an excellent job of reading the quarterback's eyes and jumping routes. They have three guys who can match up in man-to-man or zone. Greisen is a smart player and the VooDoo must try to confuse him.
2. Get the offense going: In recent weeks, Wimprine and the VooDoo passing game have really cooled off. They have scored only 76 points in their past two games, losses to Tampa Bay and Georgia. First and foremost, he must get solid pass protection versus a smart and tenacious Force defensive front. New Orleans cannot rely on its defense to carry it every week and Georgia's offense is capable of a big scoring night. The VooDoo cannot win this game if they don't score 50.
3. Do not give Georgia QB Chris Greisen a free pass: The Force offense is really starting to come around and Greisen has developed a new group of receivers who are very productive. If he has time, he can find a matchup that he likes. The VooDoo must find a way to hurry Greisen and make him uncomfortable -- but that will be easier said than done.
1. Georgia's offensive line vs. New Orleans' defensive line: This is strength versus strength. The Force offensive line has given up only three sacks in 11 games, which is amazing pass-protection, but the VooDoo defensive line is relentless in pressure. During this game they need to hurry Greisen, even if they struggle to get sacks, because that will allow their secondary to take over, jump routes and make some game-changing plays.
2. Georgia's wide receiver trio vs. New Orleans' defensive back trio: Lin J-Shell is a tackling machine, Calvin Spears already has eight interceptions and Keon Raymond has four. Most secondaries can't go three deep against quality receivers, but this group can.
3. Georgia QB Chris Greisen vs. New Orleans' secondary: This is another strength-versus-strength matchup. Greisen is a master at spreading the ball around and exploiting weaknesses in the secondary, but a lot of his success is a result of an offensive line that gives him quality time to let his receivers separate. The VooDoo defensive backs are ultimate ball hawks and they aren't afraid to jump routes or take chances. Greisen will need to play a smart game.
This looks like a very attractive game that features Georgia's exciting offense versus New Orleans' prolific, big-play defense. Both teams have solid playoff aspirations, but nothing can be taken for granted in the East. New Orleans has cooled off in its past two games with subpar offensive performances but the VooDoo have had two weeks to prepare for Georgia, and facing them at home on MNF in front of a big home crowd should get them ready to play. Georgia is hot with three quality wins in a row -- over New Orleans, Philadelphia and New York. Georgia's re-tooled pass offense is really starting to take shape, and it is a very dangerous team that is oblivious to pressure. Georgia mighty steal this game by forcing the VooDoo to match them score-for-score, which is something the VooDoo might not be capable of doing.
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.