07/16/2015 12:14 PM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks return to their home turf this weekend, as the team hosts the Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, July 18, in Week 17 of Arena Football League action. Kickoff on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.
Jacksonville (7-7) enters this week hoping to bounce back from last Saturday’s loss in the Pacific Northwest, as the team fell to the Portland Thunder by a 72-48. This is the third and final meeting between the Sharks and Philadelphia (13-2) this season, as each team won the previous meeting on its home turf. The Soul took the team’s Week 3 matchup at Wells Fargo Center, while the Sharks returned the favor with a victory in Week 8.
The Sharks enter this week as the No. 3 seed in the American Conference, as the team sits a half-game ahead of the 7-8 Cleveland Gladiators. Jacksonville is a game and a half behind the Orlando Predators in the South Division race, though the Sharks still control their own destiny for the division title. For their part, the Soul have already clinched the top seed in the conference, as the road to ArenaBowl XXVIII goes through Philadelphia.
This week, Jacksonville will look to better protect the football, as the team committed three turnovers in Saturday’s loss in Portland. One of those came at a critical stage of the game, as the Sharks trailed by five heading into the third quarter but lost a fumble on the opening drive of the second half. Portland turned the stop into a score, taking a two-score lead and never looking back.
This was the first time since Week 6 that Jacksonville had lost the turnover battle, as the team was a combined plus-19 in its previous seven games. The Sharks have actually recorded a positive turnover margin in both games against Philadelphia this season, though Jacksonville was a decisive plus-three in its Week 8 victory. In that contest, the Shark defense totaled five stops, including a crucial turnover on downs in the final minute to preserve an eight-point lead.
With that said, stopping the Soul’s offense is no easy task. Philadelphia ranks second among all AFL teams with an average of 58.9 points scored per game, and a big factor in that output is the efficient play of quarterback Dan Raudabaugh. Raudabaugh has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season, throwing for League-leading totals of 4,291 yards and 101 touchdowns. Having thrown for 15 more scores than any other signal-caller in the AFL, Raudabaugh has put up those numbers while throwing just 10 interceptions – only one more than Jacksonville quarterback Tommy Grady.
A major reason for the Soul’s productivity is the play of the team’s offensive line. Philadelphia has yielded just eight sacks this season, tied with Cleveland for the second-lowest total in the league – trailing only the Sharks. With time to operate, Raudabaugh has found Marco Thomas (35 touchdowns) and Ryan McDaniel (30) on a consistent basis.
With that said, the Sharks have notched three of those eight sacks that Philadelphia has allowed. The man responsible for one sack in each of the two previous matchups between these teams is Joe Sykes, who enters this week’s action on the verge of history. In last week’s game against Portland, Sykes set a new single-season AFL record for forced fumbles (10) and also tied his own single-season League sack record (16.0). With one more quarterback takedown, Sykes’ 2015 campaign will be cemented as the most dominant pass-rushing season in the AFL’s 28-year history.
The Sharks hope that the work of Sykes and the rest of the team’s pass rush will create opportunities for Jacksonville’s secondary. One game after four different Sharks hauled in an interception, Jacksonville was held without a pick against the Thunder last weekend. If the Shark defense can force Raudabaugh into an early mistake, the Sharks’ offense may have an opportunity to gain the advantage.
Speaking of the offense, the Jacksonville attack is aiming for a more efficient performance after scoring just five offensive touchdowns in last Saturday’s game. Though Grady completed 20 of his 31 attempts in the game – nearly in line with his season average of 65.6 percent – some of those incompletions came at critical times. The Sharks turned the ball over on downs and yielded a fourth-down interception in the end zone, and also were forced to kick a clear-out field goal at the end of the first half after three consecutive passes fell astray. Against the Soul this week, the Sharks cannot afford those missed opportunities.
Tickets for Saturday’s game are still available, and may be purchased by visiting jaxsharkstickets.com or 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. Shark Nation Memberships for the 2016 season are now available, starting as low as $99. To reserve your membership or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700 and speak to a Membership Activation Specialist. 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.