at Philadelphia Soul
Thursday, March 22, 7 p.m. ET
These are two of the glamour franchises in the AFL and both appeared poised to make a championship run in 2007. With John Elway at the top of the Crush organization and Jon Bon Jovi and Ron Jaworski overseeing the Soul operation, there is no shortage of star power. These are mature teams with a good blend of veteran players and young playmakers. This is a huge early-season test for both franchises.
Philadelphia is playing great, especially on defense. And while Colorado is winning, you get the feeling the Crush have not hit their stride yet. We will know a lot more about these teams after Thursday night.
When Colorado has the ball
Moving the ball consistently versus a terrific Philadelphia defense is a huge challenge for Colorado. Their biggest goal is to protect QB John Dutton, a goal they accomplished last week when they didn't allow a sack versus Arizona. The Soul have a deep defensive line with a solid four-man rotation (Dwayne Missouri, Felipe Claybrooks, Idris Price and Bryan Save). They create such good pressure that it allows their excellent secondary (Eddie Moten, Mike Brown and Johnnie Harris) to break on the ball, jump routes and make plays.
The Crush need to get their other receivers -- Brad Pyatt and Willie Quinnie -- involved early because Philadelphia likely will try to take WR Damian Harrell out of the game, possibly with some man-to-man coverage by Moten.
Colorado may decide to shorten its passing game to negate the Soul pass rush, but that means they must be patient on offense and not turn the ball over and that's not really their style. They must also be efficient on third down because that is where Philadelphia really tightens up and takes control of the game.
To be successful on offense, Colorado must have somebody besides Harrell emerge and Dutton must play a perfect game with good reads and decisions.
When Philadelphia has the ball
Although the Soul are 2-0, you get the felling they have not yet reached their potential on offense. QB Tony Graziani is putting up respectable, but not gaudy, numbers and is doing a nice job of spreading the ball around. He has three big and physical receivers in Sean Scott, J.J. McKelvey and Larry Brackins, along with one small and quick guy in Charles Pauley. This is a group that can push off against man coverage. They should develop into a terrific red-zone unit because of their ability to out-jump and out-muscle smaller defensive backs.
Colorado has one terrific defensive back in Rashad Floyd, but he can't cover everybody and that leaves it up to Graziani to find his favorable matchups. The Soul need to protect the immobile Graziani, which they have been doing well, and are aided by the fact the Crush do not have an elite pass rush.
Philadelphia also will run the ball with their big fullbacks, Wes Ours and Idris Price, behind a big, revamped offensive line (Martin Bibla, Mike Mabry and Phil Bogle). Last week they had 10 carries and four touchdowns versus Grand Rapids and Colorado is vulnerable to a physical run game. The balance and physicality of the Soul offense will wear down the Crush. If Graziani is patient, he will have excellent opportunities in both the run and passing game.
Colorado keys to success
• Get the ball to Harrell: He is by far the Crush's best playmaker and is coming off a 10-reception, 154-yard, five-touchdown performance against Arizona. Harrell had some problems with sore quads, but the Crush must keep him involved early (all four of his TDs were in the first half last week). They also must move him around to get good matchups and try to avoid Moten in man-to-man situations.
• Play good red-zone defense: The Soul are not afraid to run the football in the red zone and are a very physical team. Teams have attacked the Colorado defense with the run game when they get in close and it is very important for the Crush to not get pushed around inside. They need a couple of red zone stops.
• Protect the football: The Crush have not been an overly disciplined team in their first three games, but sloppiness will not work versus the opportunistic Soul. Colorado had 10 penalties versus Arizona. Playing smart and keeping the Philadelphia defense off the field is a recipe for success.
Philadelphia keys to success
• Control the trenches: The Soul have been dominant on both sides of the line. They are quick and active in the defensive line and have a deep rotation of players. They are big on the offensive line and boast excellent pass-blocking skills. They can control this game by being more physical than Colorado and wearing down the Crush.
• Control the clock when necessary: When things get tight, the Soul can utilize ball control on offense to keep opposing offenses off the field. On defense, they can force "four-and-outs." When last week's game with Grand Rapids got tight, the Soul controlled the ball for more than 12 minutes in the third quarter, including scoring three TDs on the ground. They totally took the Rampage out of the game.
• Match up DB Moten vs. WR Harrell: Moten is arguably the best defensive back in the league and is a great ballhawk. He closes on the ball well and with a good pass rush up front, Colorado's Dutton will have to get the ball out quickly. But even that may not be enough as that's when Moten is at his best and jumping routes.
This is a heavyweight matchup early in the season that will give both of these teams a better sense of who are in 2007. Right now, the Philadelphia Soul are a scary team because they are so physical and have the ability to dictate the style and the pace of the game. Colorado is potentially explosive on offense, but has not played a great game yet and can be exploited defensively. Both offenses in this game likely will cancel each other out, but the key will be the dominance and pass rush pressure of the Philadelphia defense. The Soul will out-physical the Crush with a prime time win in their home opener.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.