06/10/2015 2:15 PM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks head back out on the road this week, as the team travels to face the Tampa Bay Storm on Friday, June 12. Kickoff from Tampa’s Amalie Arena is set for 7:00 ET, as the game will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN2.
Jacksonville (6-5) enters this week on a five-game winning streak, which has helped the team overcome a 1-5 star to the season and overtake the Orlando Predators for first place in the South Division. The Sharks currently hold first place based on the second tiebreaker of point differential in head-to-head games. But this week, Jacksonville faces a Tampa Bay (4-6) team that handed the Sharks their last loss.
On May 2, the Sharks fell to the Storm by a 63-28 count in Tampa. In that game, the final minutes of the first half proved costly, as Jacksonville surrendered 21 consecutive points before halftime. That run gave Tampa Bay a 28-14 lead at the break, and Jacksonville was unable to make up ground in the second half. Since that loss, however, the Sharks have had significantly more success around the halftime break.
In four of the last five weeks, the Sharks have come up with both the last score before halftime and the first score of the third quarter. In last Saturday’s win against Orlando, that third-quarter score pulled the team within one point, setting the stage for Jacksonville to take the lead for good later in the period. The nature of arena football is such that controlling the halftime swing can prove pivotal in securing a victory, and the Sharks will look to repeat that feat this week.
Another key to the Sharks’ recent success has been the playmaking ability of the team’s defense. Jacksonville has forced at least two turnovers in each of its five consecutive wins, and the Sharks rank third in the League with a plus-12 turnover margin overall. Defensive lineman Joe Sykes put together a tour-de-force performance against the Predators, twice stripping the ball from Orlando quarterback Bernard Morris’ hand.
Sykes has now racked up 10 consecutive games with at least one sack, and seems to be getting stronger as the season has progressed. He has now recorded two sacks in each of the last three games, and needs just two more to tie his own single-season AFL record of 16.
Offensively, the Sharks will look to replicate the efficiency with which they played in the second half of Saturday’s game. After throwing two first-half interceptions against the Predators, Tommy Grady went 13-of-14 with five touchdown passes in the second half of the contest. Grady’s accuracy played a big role in helping the Sharks accumulate 50 points over the final two quarters, the team’s most productive half of the season. While repeating that output will be a challenge against a Storm defense that allows 48.4 points per game, the Sharks can look on their recent success as something to build on.
On the other side, Tampa Bay enters this week’s game having won just one if its three games since the Storm’s previous matchup with the Sharks. Last week, Tampa Bay endured the challenge of playing the Arizona Rattlers on the road, as the Storm fell in the Snake Pit by a 69-46 count. Storm quarterback Jason Boltus will look to protect the football better this week, as he threw three interceptions against Arizona.
In his first season starting with the Storm, Boltus has fired 58 touchdown passes in 10 games, a total that ranks him one ahead of Grady and third among all AFL signal callers. But inefficiency and turnovers have been sticking points, as Boltus is completing just 55.3 percent of his passes and has thrown a league-leading total of 14 interceptions. By comparison, Grady has hit his target on 65.2 percent of his throws and has yielded just eight picks. The Sharks hope to utilize a consistent pass rush and a playmaking secondary to rattle Boltus this week.
On defense, the Storm feature a veteran group that held the Sharks to their season-low point total in the first matchup. Jacksonville is well aware of the ability of James Harrell, who leads Tampa Bay with six interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Harrell collected an interception and recovered a fumble in the first meeting between the two teams. Up front, the interior of the Sharks’ offensive line will need to contain Richard Clebert, who leads the Storm with 4.5 tackles for loss.
After Friday’s game, the Sharks will enter the first of this season’s two bye weeks. The Sharks will return to action on Saturday, June 27, as Jacksonville hosts the Cleveland Gladiators 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.