Its week 7 in the Alliance of American Football. The Birmingham Iron and Memphis Express are meeting for the second time this season. The first tilt was a 26-0 meat grinder of a game. Both teams have improved since week 1. The Express looked to have found themselves a quarterback in Zach Mettenberger. An injury to the bearer of hope for Memphis last week against Salt Lake has extinguished that breath of life. Enter Johnny Manziel. Chances are Brandon Silvers gets the start this week, though we may see Johnny Football in a limited capacity. The Iron must prepare as if both QBs will see substantial playing time. Here are a few things Birmingham will need to focus on to complete the sweep of the Express.
- Limit the Memphis rushing attack:
Outside of the couple weeks, Mettenberger was under Center for Memphis, they have had the worst passing attack in the Alliance. They have been able to find success running the ball, much similar to Birmingham, in short yardage situations. Zac Stacy is 4th in the Alliance with 304 yards rushing and 3 scores on the season. Terrance Magee has touched the ball 28 times for 91 yards. Safe to say Stacy is the workhorse for the Express. The Iron were able to limit the Fleet runners last week and will look to keep Memphis in check as well. If Manziel does see playing time, he will more than likely be used in designed QB runs and on bootleg passing attempts during early downs.
- Protect the QB(whoever it may be):
A constant problem all season for Birmingham has been protection up front. Both in the run game, as well as passing, Offensive Line play, has been inconsistent at best. Injuries have besieged the unit over the past month causing even more problems. The Express bring two of the top five leading tacklers to the game in Demarquis Gates and Drew Jackson. Jackson won Alliance Defensive Player of the Week honors in the win over San Diego a few weeks ago. He is able to get penetration as a pass rusher as well as drop back into coverage and be effective against the run. Both of these solid LBs along with Julius Warmsley at Nose Tackle and Corey Vereen off the edge make for a handful on Sunday. It will be critical to provide as much protection possible for whoever gets the start at QB for the Iron.
- Use the pass to set up the run:
The Express secondary has been susceptible to the deep ball most of the year. In order for Birmingham to be effective running the ball against the Memphis front 7, look for the game plan to include deep shots early. The Iron love to play power football and run inside the tackles. It has proven to be fruitless much of the time; there is a way however to create running space. Force Memphis to play pass coverage and abandon the base set which has proven effective against the run. Removing the extra lineman inside and bringing in nickel and dime backs to limit the deep balls and intermediate routes should create some space for Richardson, Marshaun Coprich, and Brandon Ross to move.
With a win this weekend it would all but secure the Iron a spot in the playoffs. Wins, however, have proven to be difficult to come by in the Alliance. Every week is different. The game will be played on Sunday night at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN. The broadcast will be on NFL Network at 8 pm EST/ 7 pm Central time. Matt Smith and Coach Marvin Lewis will be in the booth. You can also come out and support your Iron (or Express) in person… Forge On!