Another week of AAF action is in the books, and we are getting a much clearer picture of who the best team is in this brand new league. The weekend was dominated by some great individual performances and two thrilling contests. Here’s a snippet of some of the best from Week 5 of the AAF.
Passing Play of the Week
The weekend began with a double-digit victory, so it was probably fitting that it ended with a similar result. The San Antonio Commanders trekked west to take on the Arizona Hotshots for Sunday’s final game, and after staking themselves to an early 20-0 lead, San Antonio held on for the 29-25 victory.
Quarterback Logan Woodside was on point for the Commanders, completing 21 of 27 passes for 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with one interception. He got into the end zone early on this 54-yard scoring strike to wide receiver MeKale McKay (#82) that came on a deep post route in a Mills concept design:
San Antonio faces a 2nd and 12 on this play, and they align with Woodside (#5) under center and with 12 offensive personnel in the game. Tight ends Cameron Clear (#85) and Stehly Reden (#89) are in a two-TE wing to the left. The focal point to this play is how the Commanders set up the play-action. Critical to a successful play-action play is getting the second- and third-level defenders to read run action, and pulling a guard to the edge helps sell the run. That is exactly what the Commanders do:
San Antonio shows a counter play here, with left guard Cyril Richardson (#73) pulling to the right edge. Woodside reverse pivots as well to help sell the action, before faking a handoff to running back Trey Williams (#35). As you watch from this angle, pay attention to a few things: First, the job that Richardson and Williams do in protecting Woodside. Second, how the run action gets the playside safety to bite down a few steps, which gives McKay the chance to get open over the top of him:
The run action gets the safety to cheat down, giving the receiver the angle to get open against this Cover 4 coverage look. The cornerback is expecting help to inside, but with the safety out of position, McKay gets open deep. Richardson and Williams do enough on the rushing edge defender to give Woodside time, and the QB drops in a bucket shot before absorbing the hit.
Rushing Play of the Week
The action kicked off Sunday with a showdown between the Memphis Express and the Atlanta Legends, with each team looking for their second victory here in the inaugural AAF campaign. The meeting also featured a showdown of former Georgia Bulldogs at the quarterback position, with Zach Mettenberger getting the start for Memphis and Aaron Murray taking the helm for the Legends
This back-and-forth affair was knotted at 20 with under four minutes remaining and Mettenberger’s men were in good position. They had the football just outside the red zone facing a 3rd and 6. However, the QB was flushed to his right on a third down passing attempt and his throw was intercepted, giving the Legends a chance to capitalize.
They would need a big play or two on their ensuing possession to get into field goal range, and on the second play of their possession, they got one via the ground game:
Let’s break down this zone running play. The Legends face 2nd and 9 here and put Murray (#11) in the shotgun with running back Tarean Folston (#26) standing to his left. Atlanta has 11 offensive personnel in the game, with tight end Keith Towbridge (#89) in a wing to the left:
There is one problem lurking however: Backside linebacker DeMarquis Gates (#58). Gates has identified the play and the hole and is crashing down to fill the crease. Thankfully for Atlanta, left tackle Avery Gennesy (#65) identifies that as well:
With Gennesy’s peel-back block of Gates, Folston is able to spring this run out to near midfield. The big burst puts Atlanta on the move, and the drive would finish with Younghoe Koo’s game-winning field goal.
Pressure Play of the Week
Saturday provided perhaps the most exciting game in AAF history, as the San Diego Fleet overcame a heroic touchdown drive from the Salt Lake Stallions in the closing moments through a drive of their own, with Mike Bercovici getting the Fleet into position for the game-winning field goal on the game’s final play. Kicker Donny Hageman split the uprights as the game ended, giving San Diego the 27-25 victory.
Late in the third quarter, however, Fleet defensive end Damontre Moore provided a huge spark on the defensive side of the football. Holding a slim one-point lead, the Fleet knocked Stallions starting quarterback Josh Woodrum from the game for a brief time, forcing Salt Lake to turn to backup Austin Allen to face a difficult 3rd and 26. Allen (#8) aligns in the shotgun and the Stallions have 10 offensive personnel in the game, using a single receiver to the left and a three receiver bunch to the right. Moore (#94) aligns outside right tackle Leon Johnson (#63):
Moore displays textbook pass rushing on this play, as he gets upfield against Johnson before using a picturesque rip move with his inside arm to turn the corner and angle himself towards the quarterback:
Once Moore gets to the outside of Johnson with speed, he converts it to power by bringing his right arm up violently into the nook of the tackle’s right arm, allowing Moore to flatten his arc toward Allen. From there, Moore uses that right arm once more, punching the football from Allen and then alertly recovering the fumble:
The Fleet would score on the very next play to extend their lead.
While the game will likely be remembered for the fantastic finish, it was this tremendous effort from Moore that put the Fleet in a comfortable position heading into the game’s final quarter.
Coverage Play of the Week
On Saturday the two team in the AAF with the best records squared off, with the Birmingham Iron hosting the Orlando Apollos. The visitors got out to the early lead, holding a 14-0 advantage at the end of the first quarter, and never really looked back, topping the Iron by a final score of 31-14. MVP Candidate Garrett Gilbert continued his scorching hot start to the season, completing 23 of 35 passes for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns, without an interception. However, the Orlando defense was not to be ignored in this contest, and one of the big players was defensive back Keith Reaser. The former Kansas City Chief notched his third interception of the season, keeping him tied atop the AAF leaderboard, and it was a huge play in the victory.
Early in the contest the Iron trail 6-0 and face a daunting 3rd and 26 in their own territory. As we saw on the previous example, these plays often tend to tilt toward the defense. In this case, the Iron line up with quarterback Luis Perez (#12) in the shotgun and with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with three receivers to the left side of the formation:
Perez climbs the pocket well before trying to drill in a deep curl route to Quinton Patton (#11). Unfortunately, the quarterback did not turn his field of vision to his target until just before the throw, and he missed Reaser (#29) reading the play perfectly:
Reaser steps in front of Patton and snares the interception, and immediately transitions from defender to ball-carrier, working his way down the field and into the end zone for the Pick Six.
Looking at this play from the overhead camera you can see how the coverage, Perez’s late look and the read from Reaser doomed this passing attempt. The Apollos show a soft Tampa 2 before the play, with Reaser aligned outside over Patton. But at the snap, they drop into more of a three-deep look, with Reaser staying on top of the route from Patton. Perez tries to work the inside post routes before coming to Patton late, and he fails to see Reaser jumping the route:
The victory kept Orlando unbeaten, and moved them two games clear of the Iron at the season’s halfway point. Not a bad place to be with just five games remaining, and with a favorable schedule down the stretch to boot.
Game Ball – Garrett Gilbert, Quarterback
When you are the trigger man for the league’s best offense, and you play another clean game in your team’s biggest test to date, chances are you’re gonna get some hardware. GIlbert continued his strong start to the 2019 AAF campaign, throwing for two touchdowns in Orlando’s victory. Honorable mention to Josh Woodrum who posted a stellar effort in Salt Lake’s last-second loss to the Fleet. Woodrum, who was knocked from the game for a time, completed 31 of 48 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns against one interception, and seemingly put the Stallions ahead for good on his third touchdown pass of the game, which gave his team a lead with under a minute to go in the contest. While Salt Lake sits at 1-4 and at the bottom of the Western Conference, the probably are the best 1-4 team in AAF history…
Week 5 Question Revisited
Last week we posited two questions for the Week 5 slate. First, who was the “Beast in the East?” Second, could the Iron continue to win games with Perez struggling at the quarterback position? It seems both questions were answered on Saturday, as the Apollos cruised to victory and Perez was relegated to watching the game from the bench after a disastrous Pick Six. Keith Price came in after the interception and completed 18 of 29 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown…Birmingham’s first passing touchdown of the season. Chances are it will be Price taking the snaps for the Iron in the week ahead.
Week 6 Question
Can anyone beat Orlando?
The Apollos moved to 5-0 with their victory over Birmingham and as previously indicated, they have a very favorable schedule down the stretch. Three of their last five games are at home, and their two remaining road contests are at Memphis and Atlanta, two teams with a combined three wins between them and who are in the cellar of the Eastern Conference. The Apollos have the league’s best offense (as they are the only team averaging over 400 yards and 29.8 points per game, both best in the league) and have paired it with an opportunistic defense that is giving up just 15.4 points per game, second-lowest in the AAF. A top-scoring offense paired with a top-scoring defense is usually a recipe for success.