To close out the Arena Football League 2019 regular season, the Philadelphia Soul are back to business, and the road, against the Albany Empire. The Empire ran away with a win against the Columbus Destroyers and secured the top seed in the AFL playoffs. The Soul is coming off of a bye week, well-rested and ready to clash. In the last game between Philadelphia and Albany, the Soul avenged their loss against the Empire, tying this season series at one win apiece. How apropos that the hottest team in the league is facing the best team in the league to close out the AFL season with a final bang.
The Albany Empire (9-2) host the Philadelphia Soul (7-4) on Saturday, July 20th at 7 pm in the Times Union Center. Empire head coach, Rob Keefe, has yet to reach double digits in losses in Albany. Soul head coach, Clint Dolezel, matches up well against Keefe however, defeating him 9 times. That’s one win shy of matching his most against any opposing head coach. All-time, Albany and Philadelphia are tied with a 3-3 head to head record. This game is a continuation of the constant competition to prove who is the best between the Soul and the Empire, maybe more importantly between Dolezel and Keefe.
Going into the final week of the season, the Philadelphia Soul are riding a four-game winning streak with an opportunity to end on a higher note with a five-game winning streak. With a win against the Albany Empire, the Soul will also secure the second seed in the AFL playoffs. In the 54-43 victory for the Soul at the Wells Fargo Center in week 10, Torez Jones came up with a crucial interception against Tommy Grady in the endzone. That play provided Philadelphia with the opportunity to take the lead and momentum to win the game.
Dan Raudabaugh has been the definition of a technician behind center this season, completing 68% of his passes during this four-game winning streak. In the first seven games of the season, Raudabaugh completed 58% of his passes. As the defense has been very streaky in an upward trend, so has the offense under the command of Raudabaugh. This continues in the crucial areas when points are needed in clutch situations. The Philadelphia Soul has scored a league-best 90% of its red zone opportunities.
Adding onto the big play that Torez Jones made last time the Philadelphia Soul faced the Albany Empire, James Romain also collected another interception that game. Romain has a league-best 8 interceptions this season. The Soul defense has forced 15 turnovers in the last 6 games. Empire quarterback, Tommy Grady, has only been sacked once this season. That was courtesy of Philadelphia and Sean Daniels. The Soul’s defense is going to have to continue to be hot while Albany owns the best red-zone defense in the league.
If the pass rush from the Philadelphia Soul defensive line can remain constant, Tommy Grady becomes susceptible to pressure. After being sacked for the first time this season by Sean Daniels, Grady proceeded to throw two interceptions and only completed 44% of his passes in week 10. After Torez Jones’ interception, the Soul flipped 14 points on the way to a win. That turning point happened less than five minutes into the third quarter. The Albany Empire has two of the best players this season on the offensive side of the ball in Malachi Jones and Grady. My Philadelphia players to watch this week are James Romain and Dan Raudabaugh. Romain will have to help limit the damage from Jones and Raudabaugh is going to have to outplay Grady.
In the first half of this season, the Philadelphia Soul were a .500 team. Now, they are very much able to handle the best team in the league. After watching the Soul this season, I think that Philadelphia has coached the best secondary in the league between James Romain, Torez Jones, and Dwayne Hollis. At the rate that the Soul offense has been playing, don’t be shocked if Philadelphia steals another victory against the Albany Empire in Albany. Watch on NBCSP+ and ESPN3 or tune in to listen at 97.5FM The Fanatic.