AAF Week 8 Preview: How the Atlanta Legends can be Bracket Busters

Week 8 Atlanta Legends

 

Atlanta Legends at Birmingham Iron 

Sunday, March 31 at 4 p.m. ET: CBS Sports

March Madness 

Well, it’s that time of year again. It is a time where millions of Americans tune in to watch their favorite college basketball teams, or if they don’t have a favorite school: the team that has the best looking jerseys. Even if you don’t plan on watching a single game, you still fill out a bracket for the office pool. One of the tournament’s greatest storylines are the upsets or the bracket busters. I mean, even the casual viewer who didn’t watch a minute of the NCCAM regular season freaked out last year when 16 seed UMBC beat the one seed, Virginia. 

So, you are probably scratching your head and thinking, “wasn’t this supposed to be an AAF article?” Well here’s where I’m going with this. With only three games left of the AAF regular season, the playoff picture is coming together. In the east, the Orlando Apollos (6-1) have clinched the division, and the Birmingham Iron (4-3) are in second place. So, here are the ways, sorry, I meant ‘here is the only way‘ the Legends can make the playoffs:

  • Atlanta Legends: Week 8 at Iron (W). Week 9 vs. Stallions (W). Week 10 at Express (W)
  • Birmingham Iron: Week 8 vs. Legends (L). Week 9 at Hotshots (L). Week 10 at Apollos (L)

So, it’s pretty simple. Therefore, Legends must win their last three games, and the Iron must lose their last three games. The madness of March is here in the Alliance of American Football, and it’s time for the Legends to bust some playoff brackets. It all starts on Sunday. In the meantime, here are some keys to how Atlanta can #SecureTheCrown

Quick Hits

  • The offensive line must provide protection to a beat up Murray
  • If Murray can step up into the pocket, he can exploit the Iron secondary through play action and the deep ball
  • Malachi Jones has been consistent this season and needs to capitalize on his ability to work the middle of the field
  • Seantavius Jones should get the opportunity for the deep ball when Iron run man-to-man press coverage 
  • With Graham’s injury, it is paramount that the secondary can mitigate Quinton Patton, as they did in week 3
  • Will Coach Coyle make defensive adjustments to move Ed Reynolds, Jr. when in man coverage to cover Patton in the slot
  • Somehow someway stop Trent Richardson within the 10-yard line
  • Comparison of Legends players to NCCA Tournament teams

How to Win on Offense 

Protect Aaron Murray

Over the past two weeks, Aaron Murray has been sacked three times and thrown five interceptions. Also, the Georgia Bulldogs legend was forced out of the game last week after a vicious hit in the third quarter. To say the least, it hasn’t been the Aaron Murray we saw take over in week four and led the Legends to straight victories. Subsequently, this week, he will be facing a Birmingham defense that has 11 sacks on the season and is averaging over five quarterback hits a game (9 QH last week). 

Aaron Murray has played at his best when he has time to step up into the pocket. From inside the pocket, he is able to take advantage of the deep ball, and his accuracy increases tremendously when throwing to the middle of the field. Against a stingy defense, such as the Iron, the Legends might have to take advantage of big plays, due to the difficulty of sustaining long drives. If Murray can stay on his feet and the line stop penetration from LB Jonathan Massaquoi, there is an opportunity for the Legends’ QB to post big numbers. Last week, the Iron late Memphis QB B. Silvers to post a stat line of 25 of 34 for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns, following a 300-yard passing game from Fleet QB M. Bercovici. 

-Murray when he has time to step up in the pocket

-Birmingham’s weakness on the play-action

Exploit Soft Spots in the Iron Secondary

WR Malachi Jones

Some of the deadliest routes in Malachi Jones’s arsenal allow him to exploit the middle of the field. Jones could be in store for a monster performance if the line can provide enough time for Aaron Murray (see above section) and set up the play action. We saw quarterback Mike Bercovici tare the Iron pass coverage apart two weeks ago. One of the plays that derived the most success was the play action pass across the middle. Both linebackers bite the run, something fairly common in the AAF. However, what allowed Dontez Ford to have success over the middle was strong safety (no. 20 Max Redfield) fell for the run. If the Legends can establish the run to set up the play action, well, that is something that has Malachi Jones written all over it. 

WR Seantavius Jones

Conversely, Seantavius has been streaky over the course of the season. The Valdosta State product has reeled in 89 yards receiving game, in addition to a 72 yards contest. However, Seantavius had 0 receptions on 2 targets in week four, and last week he was limited to 1 reception on 4 targets. Thankfully for Seantavius, the deep ball hasn’t been a soft spot in the Iron secondary. Against Memphis, WR Reece Horne, who has a similar build to Jones (Horne 6′ 3” 215lbs and Jones 6’4” 217lbs), posted 113 yards off seven receptions and one touchdown. Now, I’m not saying you should expect those numbers from Seantavius, but I think he is more than capable. Get the Iron in man-to-man press coverage, send Seantavius on a Go-route, oh baby. 

How to Win on Defense

Secondary Superiority 

After being benched in week five, but incidentally got the job back when Keith Price got hurt the following week, Perez has been able to put up points. In weeks six and seven, the Iron QB has total five total touchdowns and averaged almost 300 yards passing. However, he hasn’t shaken all his flaws and still likes to throw interceptions. Thankfully, the Legends quietly have the best passing defense in the league. The unit did take hit with Tyson Graham, Jr. having to go on IR due to a neck injury. As I discussed in my previous article, his absence has left holes in the secondary. As a result of Graham’s injury, Carlos Merritt is now starting; his performance is pivotal as he must cover Quinton Patton in the slot. Patton has been lethal this year in the slot. He has exposed countless safties that have lined up over him when in man coverage. His go-to routes in routes across the middle and corner-out routes, especially against man coverage. It will be interesting to see if Head Coach Coyle shifts the defense when running man and move Ed Reynolds, Jr. to SS to deal with Patton.

Stop Trent Richardson in the Red Zone

So, I’m pretty tired of having to talk about red zone issues every week, so I’m going to keep this brief. Earlier in the season when we faced the Iron, we all remember Trent Richardson bulldozing in for three touchdowns. Last week, the Legends allowed De’Veon Smith to rush for three touchdowns as well. Plain and simple, Atlanta’s red zone defense is awful. Honestly, the best way to minimize this issue is by not letting them pass our 10-yard line. If the Birmingham Iron get within the ten (well I’m going to be a bad sports writer for being honest), it’s going to be very challenging, and I don’t know what we can do. Here is one positive note for the Legends, Trent Richardson had his first run that was more than 10 yards last week. It was a 12-yard rush.

Time for the Atlanta Legends to Bust some Brackets

In the words of the great Phil Collins, “I can feel it coming in the air [sunday].” On the eve of Sunday’s Elite 8 games, the American public can get a taste of another bracket buster dueling it out in Birmingham Alabama. Like all underdogs, the Legends have a tall task ahead of them; but, this metal they’re facing can bend and break. 

Tournament Teams as Legends

  • Aaron Murray: Tennese 
  • Tarean Folston: Oregon 
  • Ed Reynolds, Jr: Michigan State
  • Tracy Sprinkle: Virginia 
  • Malachi Jones: Auburn  
  • Seantavius Jones: Purdue
  • Bug Howard: North Carolina (I mean this is obvious) 
  • Denard Robinson: Michigan (once again, had to do it)
  • James Quick: Texas Tech
  • J.T. Jones: Kentucky
  • Younghoe Koo: Duke
  • Khalil Bass: Virginia Tech
  • Louis Young: Houston 
  • Jeff Luc: Florida State
  • Cameron Nizialek: Gonzaga 
  • Damian Swann: Kentucky 

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