New York at Colorado
Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
Neither one of these teams has played well lately and neither looks like a championship contender, but both are nevertheless fighting to get into the postseason. Both, however, are coming off disappointing losses and struggling to gain any momentum.
It should be entertaining to watch New York QB Aaron Garcia challenge Colorado's secondary, which is led by DB Rashad Floyd. QB John Dutton and the Colorado offense struggle when they face aggressive, gambling defenses like the Dragons', and while these teams may not be elite there are some very entertaining matchups in this game.
When New York has the ball
This is an offense that has explosive capabilities, but that hasn't been the case in recent weeks. One would think an offense led by Garcia would score a lot of points but, surprisingly, the Dragons rank 16th in the AFL in scoring with 81 TDs. Part of the problem is a re-shuffled offensive line, which struggles to remain consistent in pass protection.
Colorado has two defensive players New York must account for in Floyd and DE Aaron McConnell. Both are playmakers and can turn a game around. However, the depth of the rest of the Crush defense is not very impressive and Garcia should be able to find matchups he likes. He has two go-to receivers, Jason Willis and Chris Anthony, and Floyd can't cover them both. If the Dragons play a smart offensive game and limit mistakes they will move the ball easily versus a Colorado defense that just doesn't create enough big plays or turnovers. Look for Garcia to spread the ball around and avoid challenging Floyd in the middle of the field. If his offensive line has a good day Garcia will put up solid numbers.
When Colorado has the ball
This offense seems to lack explosiveness and there is a lack of a big-play element even though the Crush have a quality No. 1 receiver in Ben Nelson. The passing game doesn't have much of an identity and there is no flow to the unit. Colorado's receivers try to win with speed and athleticism, but when they face a physical secondary like New York's they tend to struggle. Dutton runs a timing-and-rhythm offense and when is his receivers struggle to get open his limited mobility and ability to make plays with his feet lead to coverage sacks and throws forced into tight windows. Dutton has been sacked only five times, but that likely has more to do with getting the ball out quickly than good pass blocking up front.
The Dragons have a very aggressive group of defensive backs who will challenge the Crush receivers with press techniques and tight man-to-man coverages. Colorado's receivers must avoid the jam or push off from tight coverages. New York also has an excellent pass rush led by DL Henry Taylor, and when the rush is working the secondary is able to gamble a little bit more. The Dragons may try to take Nelson out of the game and force Dutton to look to his complimentary receivers, matchups that favor New York.
New York Keys To Success
1. Pass-rush pressure: Statistically this looks like a strength-versus-strength matchup. New York has registered 17 sacks and Colorado's offensive line has given up only five, even while protecting a quarterback who lacks mobility. Dutton will likely go to a short, rhythm passing game, but the Crush must account for Taylor (8.5 sacks) on every snap because good pressure will benefit the Colorado secondary.
2. Re-discover the explosive offense: The usually-solid New York pass offense seems to have stalled over the last two weeks, which has resulted in back-to-back losses. Garcia must spread the ball around to Willis and Anthony, who have combined for 43 touchdown receptions, and he must stay away from Floyd.
3. Take Nelson out of the game: He is the go-to guy in the Crush passing game, and while complimentary receivers Willie Quinnie and Brad Pyatt are solid they are not as explosive as Nelson. Dutton looks for Nelson when he needs a big play. New York defensive backs Levy Brown and Billy Parker should be able to match up well versus Colorado's receivers and force Dutton to go to his second and third options.
Colorado keys To success
1. Do not force bad throws: Dutton faces a defense that has recorded 20 interceptions and Colorado does not have a deep receiving corps after Nelson. The Dragons' secondary has good depth and matches up well, and they will take some chances jumping some routes and trying to read Dutton's eyes. He must not telegraph his throws, and if a play isn't there he must should throw the ball away. That is easier said than done, however.
2. Win with speed on offense: Colorado's receivers win their individual battles with speed and quickness, but they are not an overly physical group and they could be vulnerable to jamming or press techniques. They must either avoid the jam or show the ability to push off and separate from tight coverage. If they don't get open Dutton's lack of mobility will lead to coverage sacks.
3. Create turnovers: If New York's offensive line can handle McConnell, the Dragons can negate Colorado's pass rush. When the guys up front don't create pressure good quarterbacks like Garcia are often able to pick apart a secondary that has only one explosive playmaker. The Crush must make Garcia uncomfortable, which will hopefully lead to a couple of big plays and defensive stops.
1. Nelson vs. New York's secondary: Nelson is the go-to guy for the Crush and he has a nice rapport with Dutton, but he faces a New York secondary that will be very aggressive, pushing him around and trying to disrupt his timing. Nelson must either avoid contact or push off to separate, and he must be ready for a physical game.
2. New York WR Jason Willis vs. Colorado DB Rashad Floyd: Willis is the go-to guy in New York's passing game with 23 TDs, but Floyd is one of the best ball hawks this league has ever seen. He can sit in the middle and play the ball or be physical and lock on in man-to-man schemes. Willis has decent size, but he lacks the experience of Floyd and he will really have to work hard to separate and get open.
3. Colorado offensive line vs. New York DE Henry Taylor: Taylor is an elite edge rusher and beats a lot of offensive linemen with first-step quickness, but he also has excellent counter moves. Colorado does a good job of protecting Dutton but the Crush does not have an offensive lineman who can match up athletically with Taylor.
This is pretty much a must-win situation for both teams. New York has better offensive explosiveness and the potential to put up a lot of points behind Garcia. The Dragons feed off a very aggressive defense that features a quality pass rush up front with a gambling secondary behind it. That does not bode well for a Colorado offense that struggles with consistency on third and fourth down. It's hard to get a handle on this game because neither team has a lot of momentum, and although New York seems to have more explosive playmakers winning in Colorado is not an easy task. This is a little bit of a character game and it will be interesting to see which team is up to the challenge.
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.