In week three of the Philadelphia Soul 2019 Arena Football League season, they hosted a team that has been quite a problem for them as of late. The Albany Empire proved to be more than a formidable opponent, seemingly connecting on all phases of the game.
Going into this game, the Soul were looking to begin the season with three consecutive wins for a third straight season. The all-time series between the Empire and the Soul was tied at two wins apiece, with Albany winning the only previous matchup at the Wells Fargo Center. There were familiar faces on both sides of the ball, including Soul General Manager and assistant coach, Beau Bell, who served as the Empire’s Director of Player Personnel last season.
The Philadelphia Soul had some success previously against the Albany Empire as we look closer at the numbers. Five Philadelphia wide receivers had 100yrd receiving games in the four previous matchups, Darius Prince leading the pack with three such performances. Another stat that jumped out big time this season, especially against a team with a prolific pass rush like the Empire have, was that the Soul offensive line has yet to allow a sack this 2019 season. This would have to play a huge part for the Soul to have an opportunity to hang in tough against a team that may be a familiar matchup in the 2019 AFL playoffs.
With a win, the Soul would move into sole possession of first place in the AFL and would improve to 9-4 against teams coached by Rob Keefe. Another note is that Soul head coach, Clint Dolezel, would move into eighth place all-time in AFL wins, as he is currently three behind current Washington Redskins head coach, Jay Gruden.
One of the key components of this game was the competition between two of the most experienced quarterbacks in the AFL. The Philadelphia Soul’s Dan Raudabaugh was facing off against the Albany Empire’s Tommy Grady. In 2018, Grady threw for twenty-eight touchdowns in four games against the Soul. Last night, Grady was on fire as he threw for a perfect passer rating of 158.3, going 14-17 for 256yrds and 7TDs. Raudabaugh was not far off from Grady’s performance whatsoever. Raudabaugh had a passer rating of 118.8, going 21-34 for 309yrds and 6TDS with 1INT. “It’s kind of how Keefe coaches his teams too,” said Raudabaugh after the game. “They let you work the ball down field and then play physical in the redzone. We were in it until the last bad throw. Had what we liked, but kind of let it go too early. It wasn’t my best throw.”
In the passing game, the Albany Empire spread the ball round with ease while the Philadelphia Soul had more of a challenge. While both quarterbacks had good performances, not every receiver had a touchdown for the Soul like the receivers for the Empire. Darius Prince had 3TDs on 8recs for 44yrds receiving while Lonnie Outlaw led Soul receivers with 3TDs on 9recs for 191yrds receiving. Regarding the usage of Aaron Wascha, Clint Dolezel stated, “when Wascha was in motion, they played more zone. You’re not going to have a big week every week when they’re zoning you.”
Tommy Grady was able to spread the ball around to all receivers, connecting with multiple touchdowns to all receivers but one. Malachi Jones, Demetres Stephens, and Quentin Sims all had 2TDs, while Collin Taylor scored one, the first of the game for the Empire. Rob Keefe commented on the offensive philosophy of the Empire, “we’re really quite dangerous, we’re not just one person, we’re very dynamic on that side of the ball, and Tommy doesn’t play favorites. Whoever’s open, he’s going to throw the ball. I think Coach Moss does a great job spreading the ball around and getting guys open that are fresh.”
While facing a dominate defensive pass rush, the Philadelphia Soul offensive line played remarkably well, not allowing a single sack for the third game this season. The highly touted pass rusher of the Albany Empire, Joe Sykes, was a non-factor when getting to Dan Raudabaugh. Sykes is the AFL career sacks leader and widely regarded as the best pass rusher in the league by not only the Albany coaching staff but current Soul General Manager Beau Bell. Raudabaugh praised his offensive line, “our offensive line blocked great again, no sacks. That’s arguably the best pass rush in the league, they really blocked their butts off.”
On the defensive line for the Soul, pass rusher Darius Rosser left the game late with an injury. He was helped off the field by his teammates, unable to put any pressure on his foot. I asked Clint Dolezel about Rosser’s injury after the game. Dolezel stated, “it doesn’t look good, I can’t give you exactly what it is. It was his left leg.” Again, Rosser was lifted off the ground and off the field to the locker room by teammates, no pressure on either foot at the time of the injury.
One of the big deciding factors in this game was the lack of execution on the extra point, two-point conversion, or field goal attempt by the special teams. Kenneth Spencer missed an early extra point that forced the Philadelphia Soul to play catch up the rest of the game. With an opportunity to close the gap at the end of the half, Spencer’s 34yrd field goal was wide right. The Soul would later score in the game and attempt a two-point conversion on a fake extra point run, but it would not be converted. Execution from the special teams diminished the opportunity for the Soul to steal a win against the Empire. Dan Raudabaugh commented about feeling the pressure to score,”this is Arena Football, it’s supposed to go score for score. Our defense, I don’t think they played their best game tonight. When they’re struggling on defense, we got to play better on offense. Our special teams, they weren’t as special as they have been either. We have to put all three phases together to make a complete game and we still haven’t played a game of Soul football yet.”
Late in the game, there was a blown onside kick attempt, recovered by the Albany Empire’s defensive player of the game, Arkeith Brown, for a touchdown. When asked about the decision to go for an onside kick, Clint Dolezel responded, “we were trying to gain possession back. It’s hard to stop them especially when they are scoring as easy as they are.” After Brown recovered the onside kick for the touchdown, he sealed the win for the Empire after he intercepted Dan Raudabaugh in the last minute of the game.
The Albany Empire (3-0) defeated the Philadelphia Soul (2-1) at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Soul played a more disciplined game as far as penalties are concerned, out gained the Empire on offense in yardage, and had more success running the football than Albany. However, the main factors were the lack of execution of special teams play for the Soul, the offensive powerhouse of the Empire, and the final interception thrown by Dan Raudabaugh to Arkeith Brown to seal the game. The final score in favor of the Empire was 57-48 in front of 9,843 in the Wells Fargo Center. The Albany Empire travel next week to face the Columbus Destroyers (0-3) and the Philadelphia Soul travel next week to face the reigning AFL champions, the Washington Valor (1-2).