05/08/2015 9:31 AM
JACKSONVILLE - The Jacksonville Sharks return to the road this weekend, as the team travels to face the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday, May 9. Kickoff from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is set for 7:00 p.m. ET, as the game will be streamed live online via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app for mobile devices.
This is the first of two meetings between the Sharks and Gladiators this season, as Cleveland (4-2) will make its way to Sea Best Field on June 27. Jacksonville (1-5) holds a 6-1 edge in the all-time series, but the Sharks last beat the Gladiators during the 2013 season. Cleveland won last year’s lone matchup in dominant fashion en route to a 17-1 overall record, the best in the league.
While the Gladiators have already lost more games in 2015 than they did in the entire 2014 regular season, Cleveland is still off to a strong start. At 4-2, the Gladiators enter this week having won two consecutive games, most recently beating the Orlando Predators in overtime on the road last Saturday night. To this point in the season, Cleveland’s two losses have come at the hands of the three-time defending champion Arizona Rattlers and the still-undefeated Philadelphia Soul.
On the flip side, the Sharks are looking to rebound after they were unable to follow their first win of the season with another strong performance. Last Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Storm seized control of the game with three touchdowns in the final 2:02 of the first half, and the Sharks could not recover in the second half, ultimately falling by a lopsided 63-28 score.
In order to get back in the win column, the Sharks must protect the football. Last week, two first-half interceptions prevented Jacksonville from building a multi-score lead, and Tampa Bay recovered a “bar ball” kickoff for a touchdown in order to take its first lead of the game with a minute left in the first half. In all, the Sharks turned the ball over four times in that game while forcing just one takeaway on defense.
The Jacksonville defense will aim to start this week’s game in much the same way as they did last week, forcing a turnover on downs and gathering an interception on Tampa Bay’s first two possessions. A major factor in that early start was the continued dominant play of Joe Sykes, who recorded two tackles for loss and a sack in last week’s game. Sykes has now notched at least one sack in each of the last five games, and remains atop the AFL leaderboard in tackles for loss (10.0) and sacks (6.0).
On the other side, veteran quarterback Shane Austin is off to another strong start after leading his team to an ArenaBowl berth a season ago. In a remarkable coincidence considering the various factors that affect each football game, Austin and Jacksonville quarterback Tommy Grady have thrown and completed the exact same number of passes through six games. Each signal caller is 142-for-220 this season, as the two players are tied for fourth in the league with a completion rate of 64.5 percent. With that said, Austin has thrown 37 touchdown passes to Grady’s 31, and those six extra scores are a factor in the Gladiators having three more wins to this point in the campaign.
In addition to the extra passing touchdowns, Cleveland has benefitted much more from big plays on defense and special teams so far this season. As a team, the Gladiators have returned four interceptions for touchdowns and recovered a fumble for a score. By comparison, the Sharks have yet to register a non-offensive touchdown, while Jacksonville has allowed two kickoff return touchdowns, a pick-six and a net recovery. In a back-and-forth sport where every possession is critical, a defensive or special teams score can change a game in a heartbeat.
In the trenches, this week’s game is a battle of strength versus strength on both sides. When Jacksonville has the ball, its offensive line will need to contain a pass rush that has four players with at least two sacks this season, as Willie McGinnis leads the way with three. The Jacksonville pass-protection unit has performed well to this point, yielding just four sacks, the third-lowest total in the AFL. One of the two teams to allow fewer sacks than the Sharks is Cleveland, as Austin has benefitted from a strong offensive line and been taken down just three times.
After Saturday’s game, the Sharks will return home to face the Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, May 16. Kickoff for Military Appreciation Night is set for 7:00 on Sea Best Field.
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 as low as $99. 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 2015 season. The AFL schedule culminates with ArenaBowl XXVIII Saturday, August 29, 2015 on ESPN.