Week 13 Preview: Sharks Host Cleveland on Saturday
JACKSONVILLE - The Jacksonville Sharks look to bounce back from last Saturday's loss this week, as the team takes on the Cleveland Gladiators in Sea Best Field this Saturday, June 25. Kickoff is set at 7:00 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live to a national audience on ESPN2.
Saturday's game will be the second and final contest between Jacksonville (5-6) and Cleveland (6-6) in the regular season. Cleveland emerged with a win in Week 6 after erasing the Sharks' 19-point second-half lead. Jacksonville owns an 8-2 edge in the all-time series, and aims for a better result this time to get back to the .500 mark.
This game could also prove pivotal in the race for the No. 4 overall seed entering the postseason. Currently, the Gladiators hold that No. 4 spot by a half-game over the Sharks and the Los Angeles KISS. However, both the Sharks and KISS have a game in hand, as Cleveland has not yet had a bye week.
Last week, the Sharks were unable to match scores with the Predators, losing at home by a 44-34 count. In a game that was tied at halftime, the Sharks trailed by just one point entering the fourth quarter before faltering in the final frame, as the Predators outscored Jacksonville 16-7 in the game's final 15 minutes.
In the loss, Tommy Grady was generally efficient, going 29-for-40 for 303 yards and four touchdowns. But turnovers proved costly in the fourth quarter, as a sack-fumble led to an Orlando safety, and an interception in the final minute allowed the Predators to seal the game.
This week, Grady and the Sharks' offense will likely continue to lean on Joe Hills, who continues to rack up 100-yard, multi-touchdown games. With 114 receptions for 1,438 yards and 19 touchdowns, Hills leads the AFL in every major receiving category despite playing in one fewer game than Arizona's Rod Windsor. Alongside Hills, Reggie Gray continues to find his footing in the Jacksonville offense. After totaling 10 receptions in his first two games as a Shark, Gray matched that total with a 10-catch, 97-yard performance against Orlando.
Jacksonville's defense looks to continue its solid play. In last week's game, the Sharks were able to hold the Predators, a team that averages 57 points a game, to just 44. Going back further, the Sharks have held five of their last seven opponents to 45 points or less.
This week, Jacksonville must contain Cleveland quarterback Arvell Nelson, who is the AFL's reigning Under Armour Offensive Player of the Week following a seven-touchdown performance against Portland. The Sharks could find success in rushing the passer, as the team racked up a season-high four sacks last week. Dexter Jackson, Khreem Smith and the rest of the front four will attack a Cleveland pass protection unit that has allowed 15 sacks this season, tied for third-most in the league.
With that said, Nelson is not just a passing threat, as he leads all AFL quarterbacks with 135 rushing yards and has scored seven times on the ground. The Sharks witnessed Nelson's versatility firsthand, as he threw three touchdown passes and rushed for three more in the first meeting between the teams.
On the other side, the Gladiators' pass rush is led by Randy Colling, who is tied for third in the League with 4.0 sacks this season. In the secondary, the Gladiators have racked up 17 interceptions and returned eight of those picks for touchdowns. Rookie Marvin Ross has contributed three of those pick-sixes, and the Jacksonville native will be fired up to put on a show in his hometown.
But the Gladiators' aggressiveness on defense has cost the team at times this season. Despite all of those interceptions and defensive touchdowns, Cleveland is allowing an average of 56.1 points per game, the second-most among all AFL teams. On the flip side, the Sharks are holding opponents to an average of 48.6 points, the equivalent of one fewer touchdown per contest.
As they take the field on Saturday, the Sharks look to even the season series and shut down Cleveland in front of the home crowd at Sea Best Field. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. and tickets are still available on www.jaxsharkstickets.com The Family 4 Pack is available for this week's Star War Night game offering four tickets, four hot dogs, four Cokes and four bags of chips for just $80 ($140 value).
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