06/26/2014 7:35 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks will return to Sea Best Field this week, hosting the Pittsburgh Power on Saturday, June 28. Kickoff from Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m., as the two teams are geared up for a game that will be showcased nationwide on CBS Sports Network.
Jacksonville (5-8) heads into this week in much the same situation as a week ago, seeking a win to gain ground in both the South Division and American Conference wild card races. With five games remaining, Jacksonville trails the division-leading Orlando Predators and No. 4 seed Tampa Bay Storm by two-and-a-half games.
The Sharks have captured two wins in three games since returning from their second bye week of the season, most recently throttling the New Orleans VooDoo to the tune of a 54-13 victory last Saturday night. In that game, Jacksonville’s defense racked up nine sacks and allowed just one touchdown, as the team will look to carry that performance forward into this week.
Jacksonville is a perfect 4-0 all-time against Pittsburgh (11-3), winning each of those games by at least two scores. But this year’s edition of the Power is an entirely different beast, as Pittsburgh has reversed its franchise’s fortunes with a series of offseason additions. That transformation centers around head coach Ron James, who replaced Derek Stingley after the first game of this season, and quarterback Tommy Grady, the 2012 AFL MVP who headed to Pittsburgh after spending several seasons playing under James with the Utah Blaze.
Along with James and Grady, the team added a pair of former Blaze receivers in Aaron Lesue and Shaun Kauleinamoku, later adding veteran Prechae Rodriguez in a trade with the Orlando Predators. Though Lesue is now on injured reserve, this revamped offense has helped Pittsburgh enter this week riding an eight-game winning streak, as the Power rank third in the League with an average of 55.7 points per game.
But Pittsburgh’s transformation carried over to the defensive side as well. Veterans like Jake Killeen (6.5 sacks), James Bryant (4.0 sacks) and the currently injured Virgil Gray (eight interceptions) have helped build a stifling defensive unit which trails only the San Jose SaberCats in allowing just 42.6 points per game. All together, Pittsburgh its outscoring its opposition by an average of just over 13 points per contest, a recipe that has resulted in the first playoff berth in franchise history.
In attacking Pittsburgh’s talented defense, the Sharks will look for the continued development of chemistry between quarterback R.J. Archer and Jacksonville’s re-tooled receiving corps. That group received another injection of talent last week, as Maurice Dupree made his AFL debut alongside Jomo Wilson and Maurice Williams.
Despite the transition at receiver, Archer and the Sharks have been able to protect the football well this season. Jacksonville has turned the ball over just 19 times in 2014, the second-lowest total in the League. With that said, the Power have racked up a league-leading total of 42 takeaways - including 30 interceptions – during the 2014 campaign.
Jacksonville could look to fullback Jared McGriff-Culver to keep Pittsburgh’s defense off balance. McGriff-Culver was a force in the red zone a week ago, notching three rushing touchdowns against the VooDoo. In all, the rookie has totaled four scores since coming back from a mid-season injury, and his return to form gives the Sharks’ attack another dimension.
On the other side of the ball, the Sharks hope that the team’s front four can carry some of last week’s dominant performance into this one. Though Mac linebacker Aaron Robbins and defensive ends Justin Parrish and Jerry Turner all got on the sack sheet last week, the recent story up front has been the work of nose guard James McClinton, who has made a remarkable impact in the five games since he was acquired in a trade with the Iowa Barnstormers.
Lining up closer to the quarterback than any other defensive player, McClinton has provided immediate pressure with at least one sack in each of the last three games. If McClinton can continue to win one-on-one matchups, he will be able to disrupt Grady’s rhythm and create opportunities for his fellow pass rushers.
Saturday’s game also marks the Sharks’ annual “Halloween in June” theme night. Fans may purchase tickets for this and all future Sharks home games 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 2015 season are now available, two tickets for as low as $99. To purchase 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.