Dallas Desperados at Colorado Crush
(Monday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360)
Both of these teams are headed to the playoffs but enter the postseason with totally different mindsets. Dallas is clearly the most complete team in the AFL right now and can take over and control a game better than anybody. The veteran-laden Desperados vividly remember how good they were a year ago only to get upset in the playoffs by Orlando. So they will maintain their focus as they prepare to make up for last season's disappointment. The Crush limp into the playoffs as a good, but inconsistent, team and could easily enter the postseason with two consecutive Monday night losses, but an upset win over Dallas would give them a huge burst of momentum. There is obviously a lot at stake here for Colorado and certainly Dallas does not want to go into the playoffs on a losing note.
When Dallas has the ball
This is a very sophisticated offense that will test a defense in every area. With QB Clint Dolezel, who calls his own plays, it is very difficult to game plan versus the Desperados' offense. They are somewhat unpredictable and do a great job of reading the defense and exploiting the scheme. Colorado has a couple of playmakers in the secondary in Rashad Floyd and Chris Angel, who will likely lock up on Dallas WRs Will Pettis and Diaello Burks. The problem for the Crush is that they do not have a great pass rush up front and if Dolezel has time to throw, he will read his progressions and give his receivers time to separate regardless of how good the coverage. Colorado also has a tendency to play some "off" coverages in zone schemes and give away a lot of underneath routes. Dolezel will not be afraid to dump the ball off and let his physical receivers make yards after the catch. Even without injured Marcus Nash, the Desperados have five quality receivers and a chance to wear out the Crush secondary. Look for Dolezel to employ a passing game with a lot of crossing routes and some surprise running plays and reverses to keep Colorado off balance. Dallas will also try to get very physical versus the Crush defense.
When Colorado has the ball
The Crush have an offense that is tough to get a handle on. At times they can look like a well-oiled machine that can score at will. Other times they go through periods of inconsistency or make mistakes and stop themselves. They do have three quality receivers to get the ball to in Damian Harrell, Willie Quinnie, and Brad Pyatt, but Dallas has enough depth in the secondary to matchup well. Plus, the Desperados have a pass rush that can force John Dutton to release the ball early, which doesn't allow his receivers to separate. Dallas is especially good on the money downs. It held New York to an amazing three for 17 on third and fourth downs last week and that is where the Colorado offense tends to struggle. Dutton may have to shorten the passing game to neutralize the Dallas pass rush and that will require his receivers to make quality yards after the catch. But the Desperados also do a good job of changing up their coverages and they make it difficult for a QB to read the secondary. Colorado tried to run the ball a lot last week versus Chicago, especially in the red zone, but that is out of character for the Crush and it will not work versus this Dallas defense. Dutton may have some chances to go deep if Dallas gambles and tries to jump routes, but he must have a great recognition game versus this defense to be successful.
Dallas keys to success
1. Play typical Desperados defense: This is a unit that can dominate offenses when focused and motivated and has the ability to take away what an offense does best. They create turnovers, pressure the QB and play great pass defense. They need to play this game with a playoff mentality an they prepare for the postseason.
2. Start fast: As dominant as Dallas has been, it had some games with early lapses in focus that forced it to rally late to win. Colorado can be a flat team if it gets down early and the Crush are not really an explosive come-from-behind group. Dallas needs to avoid playing down to the level of the Crush and instead needs to start fast and take the crowd out of the game early.
3. Take advantage of good offensive matchups: Right now Dallas has five receivers that they feel good about and that's not even including their go-to guy Marcus Nash, who's injured. Colorado has one difference maker in the secondary in Rashad Floyd. Chris Angel is another solid defender, but they cannot go as deep on defense that Dallas can on offense.
Colorado keys to success
1. Block Dallas DE Colston Weatherington: He is an excellent rusher off the edge with good quickness and the ability to penetrate. John Dutton is not a QB who is going to run out of jams and if he is pressured he is prone he is throwing the ball up for grabs. If they cannot neutralize Weatherington, Colorado may have to shorten their passing game.
2. Tighten up in zone coverages: The Crush like to play some zone schemes and they will sit back in a bend, but don't break philosophy. Dallas QB Clint Dolezel will pick this defense apart with underneath routes if Colorado doesn't change up their schemes and break on the ball quickly.
3. Convert on third and fourth downs: Colorado faces a Dallas defense that can generate more key stops than any other in the league. Dutton must make great calls on third and fourth downs, recognize good matchups and capitalize on them or they will not be in this game.
At first glance, it would seem Colorado has all the motivation in this game because it is struggling to improve its playoff slot. Plus, the Crush do not want to go in to the post season with a four-game losing streak. However, even though it would be easy to assume that Dallas will be looking ahead to the playoffs, this is a Desperado team that had a great regular season a year ago only to be shocked in the playoffs by Orlando. They do not want to go into the postseason on a losing note. The veteran Desperados have a lot of pride and know they are one of the elite teams. When you add to the mix a national audience, it leads you to believe that Dallas will play hard in this one. Look for QB Clint Dolezel to call a solid game and exploit Colorado's defensive weaknesses, while John Dutton will likely struggle versus the talented Desperado defense. Both teams will play hard and we will see our share of big plays, but in the end the Dallas depth and maturity will be enough to give them a nice road win and close out a magical regular season.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.