04/02/2014 7:55 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks (1-1) will make a trip out to the desert this weekend, taking on the Arizona Rattlers (2-0) in Week 4 of the Arena Football League season on Saturday, April 5. Kickoff from US Airways Center in Phoenix is set for 9:00 p.m., and the game will air live on AM 600 WBOB, as well as online via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
The Sharks head into this week’s game fresh off a dominating 63-22 victory over the San Antonio Talons in last Saturday’s home opener. In that game, Jacksonville started fast and never looked back, racing to a 26-0 lead in the second quarter. The Jacksonville defense clamped down throughout the game, forcing nine stops while only allowing two Talon offensive touchdowns.
But this week, the Sharks will face one of their toughest tasks of their regular season slate, taking on the two-time defending champion Rattlers on Arizona’s home turf. Though more than two full seasons have passed, this will be the Sharks’ first trip to the Snake Pit since August 12, 2011, when Jacksonville topped Arizona to capture the ArenaBowl XXIV championship.
Needless to say, much has changed for both teams since that title game tilt. But several key figures in that championship team remain as part of the Sharks’ veteran core. Defensive back Micheaux Robinson, wide receiver Jeron Harvey, defensive back Terrance Smith, Mac linebacker Aaron Robbins and defensive lineman Justin Parrish – along with now-Defensive Backs Coach Bill Alford – all suited up for Jacksonville the last time the Sharks played in this arena.
Since falling to Jacksonville in that title game, Arizona has captured back-to-back ArenaBowls thanks in part to a consistently excellent offense. Under the direction of Head Coach Kevin Guy and quarterback Nick Davila, Arizona has averaged at least 62 points per game in each of the last two seasons. The Sharks got a taste of the production in 2013, falling to Arizona by a 58-48 count on Sea Best Field. The Rattlers have scored 62 and 68 points, respectively, in their two games this season, and will certainly test a Jacksonville defense that has held each of its opponents under 50.
While the Rattlers will assuredly have some offensive success, the Sharks’ offensive attack has the potential to match Arizona stride for stride. Stepping into a consistent starting role this season, quarterback R.J. Archer has put up impressive numbers through the Sharks’ first two games. Heading into this week’s action, Archer currently leads the League in both completion percentage (70.5) and pass efficiency (133.1), ranking just ahead of Davila in both categories.
One of the biggest factors in Archer’s success is his talented trio of receivers. The Shark offense features a balanced attack, as Jeron Harvey, London Crawford and Mardy Gilyard have each caught at least 12 passes and scored at least four offensive touchdowns through Jacksonville’s first two games. Having three weapons on the field at all time will be crucial, as Arizona’s talented secondary features three players – Arkeith Brown, Vic Hall and Jeremy Kellem - who have earned All-Arena honors in their careers.
Another key piece to Jacksonville’s offensive attack is rookie fullback Jared McGriff-Culver, who pounded the rock for 43 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries against San Antonio. McGriff-Culver is currently second in the League with 65 rushing yards and has found the end zone in each of his first two arena football games. Utilizing McGriff-Culver as a change of pace could make the Sharks’ aerial assault that much more effective.
On the other side of the ball, the Jacksonville defense is a veteran group with the ability and experience to go toe-to-toe with the Rattlers’ offense. The Sharks’ defense is full of veterans, as Xavier Brewer is the lone rookie to have logged a start to this point in the season. While Jacksonville did generally hold the Orlando Predators in check in Week 1, this unit turned it up to another level against the Talons. The Sharks’ front four generated a consistent pass rush that helped the team’s secondary hold San Antonio quarterbacks Mitch Mustain to just nine completions in 29 attempts.
To this point in the season, Jacksonville’s defense is holding opposing quarterbacks to a miniscule 60.6 pass efficiency rating, easily the best in the league. But again, this week that defense will meet its toughest challenge yet. Davila’s AFL credentials are beyond reproach, and the southpaw has a lethal trio of his own to work with. Maurice Purify, Tysson Poots and Rod Windsor will challenge the Sharks’ secondary on every snap. In particular, Poots has emerged this season as a major downfield threat, averaging 16 yards per reception to go along with five touchdown receptions.
Finally, in order to emerge with a win on Saturday, the Sharks’ will need to execute in all three phases of the game. Jacksonville has allowed a kickoff return touchdown in each of the first two games of 2014, and can ill afford to do so against an already-potent Rattler attack. In addition, Jacksonville will need to focus on better overall execution of the kicking operation, as a point or two either way could prove significant in the flow of this game.
After meeting the Rattlers, the Sharks will return to Jacksonville to prepare for the team’s next home game against the Tampa Bay Storm on Friday, April 11. The “Pirate Night” contest kicks off at 8:00 p.m. on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Tickets for this and all future Sharks home games may be purchased by calling the Sharks Ticket Office at 904-621-0700.
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are members 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. Season Tickets for the 2014 season are now available, two tickets as low as $169. To reserve your season tickets or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. 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 season. The AFL schedule then culminates with the ArenaBowl Championship game live on ESPN.