05/21/2015 7:51 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks return to the playing field this Saturday, May 23, as the team travels to face the New Orleans VooDoo. Kickoff from Smoothie King Center in New Orleans is set for 8:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be streamed live via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app for mobile devices.
Jacksonville (3-5) heads into this week’s action with a chance to capture a third consecutive win, as the team defeated the Cleveland Gladiators and the Philadelphia Soul over the last two weeks. Thanks to those back-to-back victories, Jacksonville currently sits just one game behind the first-place Orlando Predators in the South Division race.
This is the second of three scheduled meetings between Jacksonville and New Orleans (2-6). The Sharks opened the 2015 season on the road against the VooDoo, falling by a 51-50 count after allowing a touchdown in the final minutes. Dating back to last season, the Sharks have lost each of their last two games against the VooDoo by just a single point.
Moving past their slow start to the season, the Sharks have won three of their last four games, and one key to that recent success has been the offense’s ability to protect the football. Jacksonville has turned it over just once in its three victories – and that one lost fumble came when the team had a 39-point lead over Las Vegas in the fourth quarter. On the flip side, the Jacksonville defense has forced a total of nine turnovers in the last two weeks, recording four interceptions and recovering five fumbles between the victories over the Gladiators and Soul.
Beyond the turnovers, the Sharks’ defense found the recipe for more consistent play on an every-down basis. Against the Soul last Saturday night, Joe Sykes’ first-down sack keyed a turnover on downs on Philadelphia’s second drive of the game, allowing the Sharks to take an early lead. Then, nursing a 55-47 lead in the final minute, Jacksonville clamped down again, forcing another turnover on downs to seal the game.
Since the teams’ first meeting, New Orleans has undergone a change at quarterback, as starter Adam Kennedy is currently on injured reserve. Kennedy had started each of the VooDoo’s last three matchup against the Sharks, but now Brian Reader has stepped into that role under center. Seeing significant action each of the past three games, Reader has protected the ball well, throwing 13 touchdown passes against one interception. But Reader has only completed 51.4 percent of his passes, and the Sharks will look to prevent him from finding a consistent rhythm
This week, the Sharks will look to generate a consistent pass rush against a New Orleans offensive line that has allowed 17 sacks, tied for second-most among all Arena Football League teams. It is worth noting that the first matchup with the VooDoo was the only game in which Sykes has recorded a sack this season. Leading the League with 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks, Sykes has spearheaded the Sharks’ pass rush this season and will aim to so do again this week.
Against Philadelphia last Saturday, five different Sharks found the end zone. Grady hit all three of his starting receivers for scores, Derrick Ross found the end zone from six yards out, and Moqut Ruffins rolled out for a screen as an eligible tight end and turned it into a 12-yard touchdown. The more potential options a team has, the more dangerous they can be, especially when attacking New Orleans’ talented secondary.
The VooDoo’s defensive backfield is perhaps their biggest strength, as the New Orleans secondary is led by former Shark Tracy Belton. Traded from Orlando to New Orleans just before the start of the season, Belton has adjusted to his new team just fine, as he leads the VooDoo with 37.5 total tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions. New Orleans also benefits from the experience of Rayshaun Kizer, who did not play in the first matchup between these teams as he had just been traded from the Arizona Rattlers. Belton, Kizer and their teammates will attempt to slow down the Sharks’ talented group of receivers.
Finally, Jacksonville may have an opportunity to make a big play on special teams. New Orleans enters this week allowing 21.3 yards per kickoff return, and the VooDoo has yielded three return touchdowns this season. For the Sharks, LaRoche Jackson is coming off perhaps his best game as a returner this season, as he brought back five kickoffs for 91 yards against the Soul. Even if the Sharks are unable to break out for a touchdown, there could be an opportunity to give the offense good field position on a consistent basis.
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.