WEEK 5 GAME PREVIEW - EMPIRE AT BLACKJACKS
Beginning the 2019 season with a 4-0 record, the Albany Empire now hold an early two-game cushion at the top spot in the League standings. Albany’s most recent victory came in a hard-fought match against the Columbus Destroyers at the Nationwide Arena in what was the Destroyers’ home opener and first AFL game in over a decade in the arena. The game started out close, but the Empire took the lead in the second quarter and never looked back, winning 56-40. Next up for the Empire is the final road game of a three-game stretch, this one against the Atlantic City Blackjacks. Kickoff will be at 7:00 p.m. in the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall on Saturday, May 25 and broadcast live on MY4 Albany, ESPN 3, and Alt 105.7 FM.
The first matchup to come into play is the Empire defensive backfield against the balanced trio of receivers on the Blackjacks’ offense. Atlantic City has three receivers, all with nearly identical stats thus far through the team’s first four games of their inaugural season. Kendrick Ings, Antwane Grant, and Lamark Brown have over 20 catches and 200 yards each so far, serving as reliable options for their former MVP quarterback, Randy Hippeard. Ings is coming off a 10 catch, 91 yards and two touchdown performance in the team’s victory over Baltimore a week ago and Brown has been a touchdown machine for the Blackjacks through four games. So far on the season, Brown has 11 total touchdowns, leading all skilled position players in the League.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is to try to limit the production of at least two of the three receivers. The Empire defense was torched by one receiver in each of the team’s last two games, but Albany still prevailed and won both matchups. Against the Soul, receiver Lonnie Outlaw went for nine catches, 191 yards and three touchdowns, whereas a week ago against Columbus, receiver Fabian Guerra went off for 13 catches, 202 yards and six total touchdowns. Moral of the story? One receiver putting up huge numbers isn’t enough to take down the Empire. Hippeard will continue to look for his top three targets and spread the ball around to keep the Empire defense on their toes. Albany would obviously prefer to shut down every Blackjack receiver, but if they can limit the production of two of them, the Empire offense should be able to outscore Atlantic City with ease.
The next matchup to lookout for is between the Empire’s top ranked scoring defense against the 2017 League MVP, Randy Hippeard. Though his stats might not jump off the page through the first four games in the season, this is a guy who tossed 61 touchdown passes a season ago, good for second in the League. During his 2017 MVP campaign, Hippeard threw 80 touchdown passes and rushed for another seven while leading the League in passing yards. The veteran quarterback has been in the ArenaBowl each of the last two seasons, and despite falling short both years, he certainly has proven that he can lead any team to success.
The key to victory in this matchup is for Albany to find ways to turn Hippeard over. So far this season, Hippeard has already thrown a League-high five interceptions and currently sits near the bottom of the League with a 98.7 quarterback rating. Last season, Hippeard had only five interceptions all year, so what has changed between this season and the last? It’s possible that Hippeard is still trying to gel with his offense and growing pains might be causing some of the early season turnovers. That being said, Albany averages two forced turnovers per game and must find a way to capitalize on the early season offensive woes of Hippeard and the Blackjack offense.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is to protect quarterback Tommy Grady. Through four games, the Blackjacks have pressured opposing quarterbacks with good success, causing five sacks, and four interceptions. On the flip side, Grady has yet to be sacked this season and has barely even been touched. The key here is for the Empire to win in the trenches. Last game against Columbus, Albany needed to shift some pieces around in the offensive line and make it work to give Grady time to find his targets. The Empire offensive line must regroup and be a wall for Grady in this one for Albany to come out on top. The offensive line play thus far in the season is a huge reason why the Empire sits in first place with an undefeated record. If the Blackjacks can pressure Grady, they may be able to force errant throws which leads to turnovers. If Grady is able to sit in a clean pocket, then he will pick apart the Atlantic City defense all night long and light up the scoreboard.
Fans can secure season tickets for the Albany Empire by calling 518-533-2200, by going to TheAlbanyEmpire.com, or by stopping by the Empire office located in the Times Union Center. A limited number of great seats are still available! Want to bring your organization to a game, fundraise, or perform on the field? Group experiences are now on sale. Call 518-533-2200 for additional information.
Albany Empire 2019 Season Presented By CDPHP.
About Albany Empire
Season memberships for the 2019 season are on sale now. For tickets, contact the Albany Empire sales department at (518) 533-2200 or by going to TheAlbanyEmpire.com. Follow the team on Facebook at facebook.com/TheAlbanyEmpire and Twitter at twitter.com/Albany_Empire.
About the Arena Football League
The Arena Football League enters its 32nd season in 2019. Since its inception in 1987, the AFL showcases a fast-paced, exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets. With the addition of two new teams in Atlantic City, N.J., and Columbus, O.H., the League totals six teams for 2019: Albany, Atlantic City, Baltimore, Columbus, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Each team will play 12 regular-season games in 2019. One can find the League can on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the handle @OfficialAFL.
About Times Union Center
Albany’s Times Union Center, formerly Pepsi Arena, continues to have great success. Renamed in January 2007, the Times Union Center is “Upstate New York’s Premier Sports and Entertainment Facility. Owned by Albany County and operated by SMG, the world’s largest private management firm for public assembly facilities, the Times Union Center has an adaptable seating capacity between 6,000 and 17,500. Since Frank Sinatra christened the building on January 30, 1990, more than seven million patrons have walked through the turnstiles. As a multi-purpose facility, the Times Union Center has hosted a variety of events, including concerts, family shows and sporting events, averaging 165 events each year.
Established in 1984, CDPHP is a physician-founded, member-focused and community-based not-for-profit health plan that offers high-quality affordable health insurance plans to members in 26 counties throughout New York. CDPHP is also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Founded in 1988 and headquartered in Schenectady, New York, Transfinder is a national leader in intelligent transportation systems, providing transportation management systems and services to school districts, municipalities and adult care facilities. Transfinder, an Inc. magazine “fastest-growing company” for the past eleven straight years, has offices in Austin, Texas, and Shanghai, China. The software company develops and supports routing and scheduling solutions for optimal transportation logistics. http://transfinder.com