07/30/2015 7:56 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks will travel to face the Orlando Predators on Saturday, August 1, in a game with major implications in the South Division race. Kickoff from Orlando’s Amway Center is set for 7:00 p.m., as the game will be available to stream live via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
Jacksonville (9-7) has clinched a spot in the 2015 postseason, and remains in control of their own destiny in the South Division race. Entering this week’s matchup, the Sharks sit just one game behind Orlando (10-6) in the division standings, and the winner of Saturday’s game will secure the head-to-head tiebreaker between these two squads. The Sharks and Predators are guaranteed to face each other in the opening round of the playoffs, as neither team can rise higher than the No. 2 seed or fall lower than the No. 3 seed.
These two teams split a pair of meetings earlier in the season, as both of those matchups were played on Sea Best Field. One of the major differences in those two games was the play of Jacksonville’s defense. In the Sharks’ 55-54 loss to the Predators in Week 2, the Sharks only recorded a defensive stop when Orlando got the ball back with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. The Predators’ other nine offensive possessions resulted in eight touchdowns and the end of the game.
But when the Predators returned to the Shark Tank in Week 11, a much different story unfolded. In their 66-51 win over the Predators, the Sharks forced a turnover on downs, recovered two fumbles, snared an interception and recorded a safety. Those five stops proved critical in helping Jacksonville erase what was an eight-point third quarter deficit.
A key figure in the defensive effort in the last matchup between these two teams was Joe Sykes, who forced a pair of fumbles on his two sacks of Predator quarterback Bernard Morris. Sykes has now set new single-season AFL records in both sacks (17.0) and forced fumbles (10) this season. and will look to impact the game in a similar fashion this time around. In last Saturday’s 63-16 rout of the Tampa Bay Storm, Sykes was a constant presence in the backfield, helping the Sharks rack up seven defensive stops.
On offense, the Sharks and Predators have amassed remarkably similar numbers this season, as the Predators rank fourth in the League with an average of 56.2 points per game, while the Sharks are fifth with an average of 55.3. Orlando quarterbacks have thrown for 86 touchdowns this season while the Sharks have totaled 87, and both teams have rushed for exactly 33 scores in 16 games. In terms of the running game, the disparity lies in the way these two teams have amassed those totals.
The Predators feature the league’s top rushing attack in terms of yardage, as Orlando has racked up nearly 40 yards per contest. Orlando features three players who have rushed for at least 100 yards this season, as Morris (273), fullback Michael Simons (140) and wide receiver Brandon Thompkins (133) have all crossed the century mark.
On the flip side, the Sharks possess the single most dominant rusher in AFL history, as Derrick Ross has lived up to that billing during his first season in Jacksonville. With 566 rushing yards to his name this season, Ross has more than double the total of any other player in the League, and has more yards than the Predators’ top three rushers combined. Ross enters this week fresh off one of his most productive games of the season, as he scored three touchdowns and broke off a 43-yard run to set up another score. The effectiveness of Orlando’s versatility and Ross’ power could be a determining factor in this week’s game.
Ross is far from the only aspect of the Sharks’ offense that is firing on all cylinders in recent games. After losing a fumble on the goal line on the opening drive of the their Week 17 win over Philadelphia, the Sharks then scored a touchdown on each of their next 19 possessions before running out the clock at the end of the win over the Storm. Tommy Grady has been able to effectively distribute the ball, as Tiger Jones, Joe Hills and London Crawford have all caught at least one touchdown in each of the last two games.
A major factor in the success of the Sharks’ offense is the play of the team’s offensive line. Grady has been sacked just once in the last five games, and Jacksonville has yielded a total of just seven sacks this season, the lowest figure among the AFL’s 12 teams. Though the Predators did bring Grady down once in the last matchup between these teams, Orlando’s defense ranks in the bottom third of the League with a total of just 15 sacks. If the Sharks can keep the Predator front four at bay, Grady and the offense should have a good chance to continue their efficient play.
Finally, it is worth noting that Orlando has recently gone through transition at the quarterback position. After a stint on injured reserve, Randy Hippeard has returned to the lineup, starting each of the last three games. While Morris may not be the primary signal-caller in this week’s matchup, he is still capable of affecting the game, as he entered in specialty situations and racked up four rushing touchdowns in the first meeting between these teams. The Sharks will need to be wary of Morris’ playmaking ability should he enter the contest.
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are a member of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Shark Nation Memberships for the 2016 season are now available, starting as low as $99. To reserve your membership or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700 and speak to a Membership Activation Specialist. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.
About the AFL
Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire 2015 season. The AFL schedule culminates with ArenaBowl XXVIII Saturday, August 29, 2015 on ESPN.