This might be a good time for a trip to The Big Easy, though not much is coming easy for the Power right now. After getting embarrassed by a winless Tulsa team, not even an extra week of prep could prevent another home game from slipping away, this time against of the most prolific offenses in the Arena Football League. Fortunately, they got a little help, as Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland all went down last weekend, cushioning any possible fall by the Power in the American Conference East Division standings. The Power has adjusted its roster as it continues trying to avoid the injury bug, and they'll be facing another struggling team Thursday that has done some personnel shuffling recently. But in order to whistle past the venue known as "The Graveyard" with a win, the Power must get up for a short week and match the confidence of an opponent that will likely play with a lot of it after pulling a big upset in Week 6. Here's a quick look at their Week 7 contest:
PITTSBURGH POWER (2-3) VS. NEW ORLEANS VOODOO (1-4)
KICKOFF: 8:05 PM, New Orleans Arena
TV/RADIO: AFL Live at ArenaFootball.com; 93.7 The Fan (Troy Clardy on play-by-play, Darnell Dinkins on color)
LAST WEEK: The Power are coming off their second consecutive home loss in Week 6, a 65-40 defeat at the hands of head coach Chris Siegfried's old team, the Jacksonville Sharks, who were the No. 3 team in the AFL Coaches' Poll. The loss left in Pittsburgh in second place in the East Division of the American Conference behind Cleveland. Speaking of Cleveland, the VooDoo are coming off their first win of 2011, a 34-33 upset victory over the host Gladiators in Week 6. It left Arizona as the only unbeaten team in the AFL, and it gave New Orleans its first win since an 83-61 triumph over the Columbus Destroyers on May 30, 2008.
MEET THE QUARTERBACKS:
Anthony Morelli, Pittsburgh: For what was essentially a third-string signal-caller making his first ever Arena League start, the Penn Hills and Penn State product looked comfortable and managed last week's game pretty well. He was decisive with the ball, made good throws, and matched AFL career passing leader Aaron Garcia blow for blow with five touchdown passes. Morelli finished 20-of-36 (55.6%) for 290 yards and no interceptions, and also ran once for 28 yards. Through one-plus games, Morelli is 31-of-53 (58.5%) for 404 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception, good for a 103.0 passer rating, while scrambling twice for 39 yards.
Danny Wimprine, New Orleans: He was the last starting QB the franchise had before it went down with the original AFL, and he's back leading the second incarnation of the VooDoo. Last week in Cleveland Wimprine went 22-of-36 (61.1%) for 200 yards and three touchdowns and one pick, and, aided by some stifling defense, hit James Jordan in the end zone to tie the game 33-33 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, which led to Jonathan Ruffin's decisive extra point. He also ran three times for 15 yards and a score. Through five games Wimprine has gone 89-of-156 (57.1%), 1,017 yards, 16 TD's, and nine INT's, good for a passer rating of 78.4, while scrambling ten times for 42 yards.
*For the VooDoo, which sit at the bottom of the American Conference's South Division entering Week 7, success has been historically tough to come by. The franchise entered the original AFL in 2004 and made the playoffs on its maiden voyage, but has not done so since. They temporarily ceased operations in 2006 due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and after the old AFL folded following the 2008 season, the franchise was reborn when the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings of the now-defunct AF2 joined the new AFL and relocated after last season. The man chosen to lead the "new" VooDoo was Derek Stingley, who played as a defensive specialist in the AFL from 1996 to 2004, and has experience as a coach and coordinator in AF2. He was Bossier-Shreveport's defensive coordinator before getting promoted.
*Defensively Stingley's presence has clearly been felt. After a slow start the VooDoo have moved up to the middle of the league in passing yardage allowed (1,268), their 251 points allowed (50.2 per game) also rank ninth in the 18-team Arena League, and their 83 rush yards allowed are the second-fewest in the AFL entering Week 7. Offensively, however, he seems to have his work cut out. New Orleans ranks 15th in the AFL with 1,070 total passing yards, and the VooDoo's 176 points are the fewest in the league through five games. Their top receiver is P.J. Berry, who has caught 44 balls for 459 yards and six TD's. Berry is also their special teams ace, currently ranking a close second in the AFL with 542 kick return yards.
*One of the things Chris Siegfried talked about after last week's loss to Jacksonville was the number of plays his team left out on the field. Jason Willis had an excellent night in Week 6, leading the team with 100 yards receiving and a touchdown on eight catches, but he dropped a ball during a pivotal four-and-out drive in the second quarter. New quarterback/receiver Xavier Lee, who caught Morelli's first TD toss, dropped a fourth down pass in the end zone. Defensive back Carlos Campbell, who registered seven tackles and a forced fumble, dropped a potential momentum-shifting interception with his team trailing 45-34, and the Sharks scored on the very next play to keep the game out of reach. A big key for the Power in this latest road test will be how well they can finish drives--on both sides of the ball. With 243 points allowed (48.6 per game) the Power's defense has slipped to seventh in the AFL in that category, and they rank a modest 10th in the league in offensive passing yards (1,103).
*Two x-factors for these teams could be the running game, and the battle of field position. Fullback Jason Schule (injured) ranks among the top ten in the AFL with 72 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns, and New Orleans' 149 team rushing yards rank fifth in the league. His counterpart, Joshua Rue, has run for 40 yards on 19 carries, and his seven rush TD's rank fifth in the AFL, while his nine total touchdowns lead the Power through five games. We've already mentioned P.J. Barry's heroics, and the Power had a pretty solid return game as well, until Eddie Robinson was placed on injured reserve (along with defensive lineman Tyrrell Herbert) earlier this week. Nevertheless, Jerome Mathis has picked up the slack with 238 return yards on 11 attempts, an average of 21.6 per kick. Lonnell Dewalt, who returned to the lineup in Week 6, could contribute too, and he could be a factor offensively Thursday night after making four catches for 84 yards and two amazing scores, earning him Cutter Catch of the Game and Spaulding Highlight of the Game honors.
By Matt Popchock
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