Editor's Note: This analysis is one in a series as Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton looks at the key matchups in ArenaBowl XXII.
Philadelphia Pass Offense vs. San Jose Pass Defense
This is strength versus strength. Philadelphia has the league's most explosive offense, the top-rated passing team (127.7 passing rating) and a 70.6 percent completion rate with 104 TD passes for the regular season. But they'll face one of the most aggressive defenses in the league in San Jose and the SaberCats have a terrific secondary with three outstanding playmakers. This matchup could be the key to this game
Philadelphia has two big-time receivers it depends on and while most AFL teams want to have three guys at that position that they can count on, the Soul have something other teams don't have -- Chris Jackson. Jackson is the best offensive player of the year in the league and piled up 1,719 yards and 49 TDs during the regular season. His chemistry with QB Matt D'Orazio is terrific. Jackson is a smart player with excellent hands and the ability to separate versus tight coverage. The complementary receiver is Larry Brackins (1,395 yards with 29 TDs) and he is a great red zone threat. He is a big player with good speed and he is a tough matchup because he's so physical. The third receiver is Bret Holmes, who has modest stats, but excellent deep speed.
This pass offense has some unique wrinkles. Two of their offensive linemen, Phil Bogle (6 TD catches) and Martin Bibla (1 TD), along with big fullback Wes Ours (5 TD catches) are all underrated outlet receivers and that puts a lot of pressure on defensive matchups. The Soul receivers are also excellent blockers, especially Brackins, and they seem to take pride in it. They are very effective on quick hitches and bubble screens, where one receiver catches it and the other one comes across to block. The Soul can adjust to any style of pass defense and although they are very good on the deep ball, they might be even better at the underneath routes, where they simply let the receiver catch it and then concentrate on yards after catch. They do a great job on curl routes and the receivers find open spots in the defense and then turn and come back to the ball. This pass offense is smart and sophisticated and does not make mistakes. Defensively, if you have a small letdown or mental lapse, the Soul will make you pay for it.
The San Jose pass defense is terrific and will really challenge the explosive Philadelphia pass offense. It is very physical, plays with aggressiveness and has a nasty style of play. The SaberCats will get their share of penalties because of it, but that seems to be an acceptable trade-off for their ability to intimidate offenses. They can play any style of coverage, although they seem to prefer tight press schemes. They also like to show press and then drop off into zones, which can really confuse QBs and the SaberCats are excellent at disguising their looks.
The DB trio of Omarr Smith (114 tackles and three interceptions) Clevan Thomas (84 tackles, nine interceptions) and Marquis Floyd (79 tackles, 10 interceptions) is terrific and they are great ballhawks. Nobody is better at reading and jumping routes. They routinely ruin opposing offenses' timing because of their ability to jam the receivers off the line even versus motion. Thomas is the key guy in the middle and he always seems to be around the football. These guys have been together a long time, know each other well and are practically interchangeable. This is a defense that led the AFL in takeaways with 45 and can make good offenses look bad. Not only did they have 22 interceptions during the regular season but they also recorded 23 fumble recoveries. They are also helped by a terrific pass rush that produced a league-high 30 sacks. However, this may be one of those rare cases where the secondary may actually make the pass rush look better. Usually it's the other way around. This is the marquee matchup in this game and it will likely determine the winner.
ADVANTAGE -- Even
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.