ArenaBowl 32 Preview - Empire vs Soul
Returning home for the final time in 2019, the Albany Empire will host the Philadelphia Soul in the Arena Football League championship game, ArenaBowl 32. The Empire have been on a tear since the team's bye week, winning each of the last four games by at least 30 points. Most recently, Albany handled the Baltimore Brigade in both games of the home-and-home playoff series, winning by an aggregate score of 123-47. The Empire had a big lead heading into the second leg of the series and never took the foot off the gas as they punched their ticket to the championship game. The Soul are coming off of a hard-fought victory against the two-seeded Washington Valor, closing out the series by an aggregate score of 117-74. This weekend's game will be at 8 p.m. in the Times Union Center on Sunday, August 11 and broadcast live on ESPN2 and Q105.7 FM.
The first matchup to lookout for is the Empire wide receiving unit against the Soul defensive backs. In the most recent matchup against the Soul, Albany receivers ran wild as the Empire piled on points en route to a 72-27 victory in the final game of the regular season. Don't expect this lopsided of an outcome in what will be the fourth meeting between the teams this season. The Soul boast two All-Arena defensive backs, including the 2019 Defensive Back of the Year winner, James Romain. The two have been ballhawks all season long as they combined for 13 of the team's 16 interceptions which led the League. The Soul were able to record two interceptions on Empire quarterback, Tommy Grady, in the team's lone win over Albany this season, proving that they can turn the League's most potent offense over and even defeat them if they can capitalize on any turnovers forced.
The key to an Empire victory in this matchup is for Grady to continue to do what he has done all season long - spread the wealth. On the current active roster, eight Empire players have caught at least one touchdown pass from Grady in 2019. As good as the Soul secondary is, they simply cannot cover everybody. In Albany's most recent victory of the Soul, four different receivers found the end zone as the Empire lit up the scoreboard. Albany matches up nicely against the Soul DBs, boasting two All-Arena receivers of their own, Malachi Jones and Quentin Sims. The duo was unstoppable all season long, combining for an incredible 54 receiving touchdowns. Jones was recently awarded Wide Receiver of the Year honors for the second consecutive year as the sophomore wideout was the only player to rack up over 1,000 receiving yards on the season (1,440). Going 2-1 on the season against the Soul, the receivers were dominant in each game. Even in the one loss to Philadelphia, Jones still had a career day, racking up 171 yards and three touchdowns. Grady and company are a threat to score on every snap, the question is, can the Soul keep pace?
The next matchup to come into play is in the trenches between the Soul defensive line and the Empire offensive line. Albany's offensive front allowed a mere two sacks all season long, a League-low. As impressive as that is, both sacks came against Philadelphia. Every starting member of the Empire offensive line, including fullback Mykel Benson, were named to the All-Arena team this season as they have been a wall for Grady all year. Soul defensive end, Sean Daniels, was named Second Team All-Arena and was responsible for one of the sacks on Grady in the Soul's Week 10 victory over Albany. If any team has the formula figured out for hitting Grady, it's the Soul, as Grady as enjoyed a relatively clean pocket all season. The Empire favor the deep ball on offense as Grady likes to five-step drop to give his receivers time to create space down field. If the Soul are able to get any kind of pressure on Grady, it could potentially disrupt the Empire's offensive flow.
The key to a victory in this matchup is simple: protect Grady. It's no secret how explosive the Empire offense can be as the team posted a 50 spot on the scoreboard nine times in 2019. Highlighted by Offensive Lineman of the Year, Ryan Cave, along with Mo Ruffins, Jordan Mudge, and Benson, the four do not receive enough credit for just how dangerous this offense is. To fans, Albany has been fun to watch simply because the team scores so many touchdowns on the long ball. To be able to do this, Grady needs time in the pocket to drop back and locate his targets. If the offensive line can provide Grady with that time, then there is almost no stopping the Empire offense. As proven by the team's last four games, which were all blowouts, as long as the offense takes care of the football, Albany should have no issues putting up points - and a lot of them at that.
The final matchup and key to victory for the Empire is to keep the crowd in the game. Albany dominated in every facet all year long, earning the top seed in the playoffs and home field advantage for ArenaBowl 32. The Empire's crowd is notorious throughout the League for being deafening and disruptive to opposing teams. A packed house for the championship game will go a long way for the Empire, as it could cause the Soul to struggle to communicate and ultimately make mistakes. The Empire must make plays early in the game and keep the crowd engaged until the final horn blows to truly capitalize on the team's home field advantage. Albany only lost one game at the Times Union Center all season, proving that it is the most difficult place in the League for opposing teams to play in. If Albany fans are loud from the opening kick to the last play of the game, then there is a high possibility that fans can keep the party going once the clock hits zero.
Tickets for the August 11 ArenaBowl championship game are on sale now 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!
Albany Empire 2019 Season Presented By CDPHP.
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Arena Football League Stories from August 7, 2019
- Nelson Named AFL Offensive Player of the Week - Washington Valor
- County Executive to Announce 'Empire Day' - Albany Empire
- AFL Front Office of the Year Award Announced - Albany Empire
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- ArenaBowl 32 Preview - Empire vs Soul - Albany Empire
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