As we close the book on the second week of the Alliance of American Football, it might be too soon to call the league a success. However, thanks to some defensive rules, some transparency when it comes to rulings and reviews, some well-known coaches and a number of recognizable players, the AAF is trending in the right direction. There is no better time than to pick a team and get on board. In that vein, here is the first installment of Well Executed, a look at some of the best that the teams had to offer on the field, the game ball of the week as well as a big question that needs to be answered in the week ahead.
Passing Design of the Week
The Orlando Apollos improved to 2-0 on the young season with an impressive comeback victory over the San Antonio Commanders, 37-29. Trailing by six in the fourth quarter, the Apollos tied the game at 29 thanks to this 23-yard scoring strike from Garrett Gilbert (#3) to Jalin Marshall (#17):
Let’s break this play down a bit. Following a 16-yard completion to wide receiver Chris Thompson the Apollos face a 1st and 10 on the Commanders’ 23-yard line. They line up with 12 offensive personnel on the field, putting two tight ends to the left in a wing alignment, and using a slot to the right. Marshall is the inside slot receiver:
The player to watch defensively is strong safety Kurtis Drummond (#25). The Commanders show Cover 4 pre-snap, but right before the play they spin the safeties into a Cover 3 look, with Drummond rotating down over the slot receiver. He needs to reroute the slot receiver on a vertical release, but he does not. In addition, the post route from Thompson draws the cornerback, opening up the corner route for Marshall.
Score one for the head ball coach.
Rushing Design of the Week
Saturday night saw another comeback victory, as the Arizona Hotshots rallied back from a 12-0 halftime deficit to knock off the Memphis Express on the road, 20-18. Quarterback John Wolford threw two touchdowns during the comeback, but one of the biggest plays during the second half was this 45-yard scoring burst from running back Justin Stockton.
With 11:44 left in the game the Hotshots trailed 12-6, but were on the move again. They faced a 1st and 15 on the Memphis 45-yard line, and lined up with Wolford (#7) in the shotgun and with Stockton (#30) next to him in the backfield. Arizona uses 11 personnel, with a pro alignment to the right and a slot formation to the left (the boundary receiver is not visible):
Arizona runs Stockton on an inside delay, and the player that helps spring this huge touchdown run is center Jacob Ohnesorge (#62). Like the rest of the line, he executes a pass set after the snap. But then he’ll climb to the second level to take on linebacker Drew Jackson (#53), and give Stockton a path into the secondary:
From there it’s all Stockton. First he evades a tackle attempt from safety Arnold Tarpley III (#25). Then he hurdles through safety Jonathan Cook (#31), skips past cornerback Charles James II (#24) and outraces everyone to the end zone.
Memphis quarterback Christian Hackenberg would notch a touchdown run in the fourth quarter for the Express, but it would not be enough. A Wolford touchdown strike to running back Tim Cook would be the final difference in the win. But Stockton’s incredible run – set in motion by the block from Ohnesorge – put the Hotshots on the path to the victory.
Pressure Design of the Week
Thanks to the rules that limit the pressure packages defenses can bring in the AAF, sacks often come via a mix of a quarterback holding the ball too long, a player winning a one-on-one matchup up front, or a creative twist from the defensive front. Or a mix of the three. In their comeback victory over the Salt Lake Stallions the Birmingham Iron used a mix of these to get to Stallions quarterback Austin Allen.
Late in the first half the score is knotted at zero and the Stallions face a 3rd and 13 near midfield. They empty the backfield and put Allen (#8) in the shotgun. The Iron bring on extra defensive backs, putting safety Jack Tocho (#25) down in a linebacker’s alignment, and use six DBs on the play:
Birmingham drop into a Cover 3 here and they rush just four, but they use a pair of stunts up front and a speed rushing package consisting of linebackers Jonathan Massaquoi (#57) and Xzavier Dickson (#51) and defensive ends Jeremy Faulk (#63) and Casey Sayles (#90):
Faulk aligns over the left guard and starts upfield, while Massaquoi starts on the outside and then loops behind Faulk into the A-Gap. Dickson starts outside over the right tackle and cuts to the inside of the RT while Sayles loops behind him to the outside. Sayles and Dickson are the first to put pressure on Allen, who climbs the pocket to avoid the first wave. But then Faulk starts to chase him down, and Dickson is there to aid the effort:
This replay angle shows how the pair of stunts and the effort from Faulk lead to the sack:
Because the Stallions face a 3rd and long they call for a slower-developing play. But the effort from the defenders up front helps them to overcome the situation and to get home with just four.
Interception of the Week
While Gilbert and Marshall put the Apollos in position to tie the game on the play previously broken down, Orlando still needed to break the tie.
Enter cornerback Keith Reaser (#29):
Just a few plays after Gilbert hit Marshall to tie the contest at 29, the Commanders faced a 2nd and 6 on their own 29-yard line. San Antonio quarterback Logan Woodside (#5) dropped into the pocket and tried to fine Mekale McKay (#82) along the left sideline, but Reaser jumped the route perfectly with nothing but green grass in front of him.
As you can see, Woodside makes this throw with a bit of anticipation to it, timing his release with the break from McKay. But the pass hangs in the air a bit,allowing Reaser to click-and-close here, erasing the separation and stepping in front of McKay for the turnover.
The Pick Six would give Orlando the lead for good.
Game Ball – Gilbert, Marshall and Charles Johnson, Orlando Apollos
The Orlando passing game played a huge role in the comeback, and the Apollos QB and this pair of wide receivers were a massive part of the come from behind victory. Gilbert completed 19 of 28 pases for 393 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with one coming to Marshall and the other to Johnson. Marshall finished the day with three catches for 84 yards and a score while Johnson added seven receptions for a whopping 192 yards and a touchdown.
Question for Week 3 – Will the Express make a quarterback change?
Through two weeks the Memphis Express are struggling. After being shut out in the season opener 26-0 by the Iron, the Express failed to salt away a victory in their loss to the Hotshots. Despite his touchdown run, Hackenberg struggled at times in the passing game and the Express have yet to post a touchdown pass this season. From Troy University quarterback Brandon Silvers has completed three of four passes for the Express in limited action, but he has also thrown an interception. Does head coach Mike Singletary make a change to Silvers, tap Zach Mettenberger, or stick with Hackenberg in Week 3?