New York at Dallas
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com
The Dragons have a chance to stay in this game if they play the gambling and aggressive defense that got them to the playoffs. If they're sloppy and play with a lack of discipline (something they've done at time this year), they will be in big trouble. Dallas runs a very sophisticated timing offense and it takes a very sound defense with solid schemes to stay with it. This game features two legendary QBs -- New York's Aaron Garcia and Dallas' Clint Dolezel. Both call their own plays, are great at reading defenses and finding the right matchups and they will exploit defensive mistakes.
New York keys to success
1. Protect QB Aaron Garcia: The Dragons' offensive line has improved after a rocky start, but it is far from perfect having allowed 20 sacks. That number should be higher but Garcia gets the ball out quickly. Led by Colston Weatherington, Dallas has an excellent pass rush. It will try to make Garcia uncomfortable and force him to hold on to the football by playing tight man to man schemes in the secondary. He is not the most durable guy in the world and if the Desperados rough him up, it will be a long day for New York.
2. Win the turnover ball: Even with Garcia, the Dragons are not an overly explosive offense and struggle if forced into a high-scoring game. Dallas is a very disciplined team that usually takes care of the football and is excellent at exploiting opponents' mistakes and converting turnovers into big plays. The Dragons need to score on almost every possession and they can't possibly stay with Dallas if they give possessions away. They need to slow this game down and play smart, methodical offense.
3. Pass rush pressure and man to man coverage: New York needs to play a near-perfect defensive game to stay competitive. The Dragons have a good pass rush and a very aggressive secondary that will take chances and jump routes. Dolezel runs a precise, timing offense. If he is forced to hold on to the ball because his receivers are covered and cannot get separation, it could lead to some coverage sacks and throwing mistakes. Dolezel is a guy who can get very frustrated if his offense is not in sync.
Dallas keys to success
1. Pass rush pressure: Dallas is an excellent at rushing the passer (21 sacks) and has the best edge rusher in the AFL in Weatherington, who has 9.5 sacks this season and 27 in the last three seasons. New York has an offense line that really struggled early in the season and allowed Garcia to get sacked and hit far too often. Dallas must put pressure on Garcia and prevent him from getting into a throwing rhythm.
2. Make good decisions in the passing game: Dolezel is one of the smartest QBs in AFL history and he's like a coach on the field. He practically draws plays up in the dirt and is a master at finding a defensive weakness or exploiting a matchup and because of his ability to adjust in the huddle, he is tough to game plan against. New York has a very aggressive defense and will take some chances in order to create turnovers and big plays, but Dolezel has a good chance to catch the Dragons in those situations and turn it into big offensive plays.
3. Don't get caught up with the garbage: Dallas is usually very discipline on both sides of the ball, even though it plays with a lot of emotions and even a little bit of a swagger. However, the Desperados had 15 penalties last week at Chicago and looked a little sloppy. New York can be really chippy on defense and has been accused of being a dirty team with cheap shots and late hits. The Dragons might try to draw Dallas into that style of play in an attempt to that it out of its rhythm. If the Desperados stay focused, they will be fine.
This looks like a matchup that strongly favors Dallas. These are two good pass offenses with very smart QBs, but both teams also have good defenses that can apply pass rush pressure and play excellent man to man cover schemes behind that pressure. Dallas is more explosive on offense and it is doubtful that New York can stay with the Desperados in a high-scoring game. Dolezel will out dual Garcia and exploit some Dragons mistakes in the secondary and the Desperados will advance to the next round.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.