WEEK 10 GAME PREVIEW - EMPIRE VS SOUL
Coming off their first loss in over a month, the Albany Empire matchup against the Philadelphia Soul at home on Saturday, June 16 at 6:00 p.m. at the Times Union Center. The Empire will look to bounce back following a loss to the Brigade a week ago. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and on Alt 105.7 fm.
“We refused to dwell on a loss and were immediately right back to work to focus on Philadelphia” said Rob Keefe, Head Coach of the Albany Empire. “The Soul may be coming off a loss as well, but they are still the two-time defending champions. They know how to push through adversity and will show up to the Times Union Center looking for a fight.”
Despite the loss, the Empire were able to keep the back-and-forth pace with Baltimore all night long thanks to its one-two punch in the receiving unit. Both Joe Hills and Malachi Jones torched the Brigade defense, combining for 16 catches, 225 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns. Quarterback Tommy Grady has continued to target his top two weapons all year long as both Hills and Jones rank one and two in receiving touchdowns in the league respectively. Hills enters the game with an active streak of 88 consecutive games with a receiving touchdown, a league record. Hills also recorded his 250th touchdown reception a week ago, a feat only 10 other players have achieved. Philadelphia and Albany have matched up twice this year, splitting the season series at one game apiece, each winning on the other’s turf.
The first matchup to look out for is between the Empire secondary versus the “Darius duo” of Darius Prince and Darius Reynolds. Despite the Soul using three different quarterbacks on the season, Prince and Reynolds continue to thrive regardless of who is throwing them the ball. On the season, Prince leads the league in receiving yards with 765 and his 15 receiving touchdowns ties for second with Malachi Jones. Reynolds has been consistent as well, tallying 35 catches for 509 yards and nine receiving touchdowns on the season. Coupling this duo with an experienced coaching staff makes Philadelphia a threat to score on every single play.
The key to victory in this matchup may be easier said than done, but it’s for the Empire to force someone else in the Philadelphia receiving unit to step up and beat Albany. When the two teams met back on May 19 in Philadelphia, Prince had a huge game with 11 catches, 125 yards and two touchdowns, but Reynolds was limited to just 56 yards on four catches. The Empire won’t be able to shut down both of the Soul’s top targets but holding just one of them in check will bode well for Albany’s chances at winning. The Soul’s third option at receiver, Shaun Kauleinamoku, is still capable of putting up big numbers in a game but has been targeted far less often than either Darius. Expect Prince to see a healthy dose of Empire defensive back Varmah Sonie in this one. When the two teams met a few weeks ago, Sonie led the Empire defense with seven tackles, two pass breakups, and an interception as the Empire cruised to victory. Sonie may not be the tallest guy on the field, but you can expect some of the game’s biggest plays out of him. On the season, he ranks third in the league in total tackles with 40.5 as he continues to lockdown opposing receivers as part of the league’s top defense.
The next matchup to lookout for is between the Empire defensive line and Philadelphia’s rushing attack. The Soul run the football considerably more than any other team in the league and have compiled 11 touchdowns on the ground. Though it may not be traditional being a pass-heavy sport, Philadelphia keeps opposing defenses on their toes just with the threat of a running play. Led by fullback Adrian Ferns, who on 33 attempts has 122 yards and four touchdowns, the Soul will attempt the run from anywhere on the field. It’s not just the fullback who is a threat to carry the ball for the Soul as the quarterback position has produced four rushing touchdowns this season. Newly acquired quarterback Shane Austin poses as a dual threat and is perfectly content to sneak out of the pocket and run for yards if he sees daylight. Albany has seen Austin already this season when he was at the helm of the Washington Valor back in Week 7. Though Austin only carried the ball three times in the game, don’t be surprised to see the speedy quarterback pick up some key yards for Philadelphia on the ground in this one.
The key to victory in this matchup is for the Empire defensive front to remain stout. The league’s top ranked defense in nearly every statistical category has been able to shut down the opposing running game all season long. In the prior two meetings against the Soul, Albany has held Philadelphia to a total of seven rushing yards and zero touchdowns. Expect both Derrick Summers and Terence Moore to be busy in this matchup as the Mac and Jack linebackers plug up running lanes and limit the Soul’s movement on the ground. If Philadelphia is able to gain any traction in their running game, look for them to continue to run the football and gain yardage all while increasing their time of possession. This would be crucial for limiting the Empire’s potent offense by keeping them on the sideline.
The final matchup that could ultimately determine the outcome of this game will be which team wins in the third quarter. On the season, the Empire have come out of halftime on fire and have been able to pull away from opponents. This year Albany has limited opposing teams to a minimal 49 points in the third quarter as the Empire boast a +54-point differential. On the contrary, Philadelphia struggles in the third quarter with a -19-point differential on the season. If this game is close going into halftime, the third quarter could be the turning point in the game as Albany has the ability to explode and potentially put Philadelphia away before the fourth quarter even begins.
The key to victory in this matchup is simple: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s common strategy in the Arena Football League to defer the coin toss to secure the first possession in the second half. If Albany is able to score last in the first half and come out of the gates swinging to start the second half, it will be a long night for Philadelphia. Towards the end of the first half, expect Albany to mix in an onside kick or two after a score to try to steal the ball back and pile on more points. Though it may not be popular with fans, this provides a great opportunity for a turnover, especially considering the high rate of scoring in the AFL. If Albany takes a lead into the half and receives the first possession in the third quarter, expect the Empire to keep the foot on the gas and air it out to Hills and Jones as they have all year. Even though the fourth quarter is still another 15 minutes of gameplay, which is an eternity in this league, whoever wins the third quarter will ultimately come out on top of this one.
Tickets for the remaining Empire home games are still available at TheAlbanyEmpire.com. Ticket packages include: pro-rated season tickets, family four packs, group and corporate outing experiences, birthday party packages, Bud Light Party Zone tickets, Pioneer Bank Field Zone tickets, Pepsi Family Zone tickets and single game tickets. For additional information, please call 518-533-2200.
Albany Empire 2018 Inaugural Season Presented By CDPHP.