The Orlando Apollos have already locked up a playoff spot, and this week the Apollos vs. Express II could see them lock up home-field advantage in the playoffs. As dominant as the Apollos have been this season, this won’t be an easy task. They face a Memphis Express team that must win out in order to have even the slimmest chance of a playoff berth. Add in the fact that Brandon Silvers (in my opinion the best QB on the Memphis roster) is the starter and is coming off a phenomenal performance last week, and the task grows even tougher.
The last time the Apollos faced Memphis, the Express defense did an outstanding job forcing the Apollos into tough 3rd down conversions that the Apollos simply could not pick up. The Express defense is overlooked in the AAF mostly due to their record, but don’t be fooled they are fast and aggressive. Orlando will have to pay special attention to LBs DeMarquis Gates and Drew Jackson, who are excellent in pass and run defensive packages. Gates was a force last week against the Iron, earning Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The Apollos will need to use a smart balanced approach against the Express, but most importantly they will have to convert on 3rd downs. The first time around, the Apollos went 3-11 on 3rd down conversions with the final drive of the game accounting for 2 of the 3 conversions. This isn’t how big teams win big games. The offense will have to pick up those 3rd downs, and it starts with Coach Spurrier calling the best plays.
I would expect to see a heavy dose of the two-headed monster that is De’Veon Smith and D’Ernest Johnson. The two combined for 131 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting and I imagine that number will be higher in the rematch. Efficient early down running could position the Apollos into manageable 3rd downs and will wear down the Memphis defense. Not to mention how much that rushing attack can open up the play-action passing game for Garrett Gilbert and company!
This is a huge game for both teams, and I fully expect a game of the week performance from each. I give the edge to the Apollos as the better all around and complete team. But the will have to play a cleaner game than the first meeting, but any way this game goes, fans of the AAF will definitely be winners!
Memphis- Reece Horn, Zac Stacy, Brandon Silvers, DeMarquise Gates
Orlando- Rannell Hall, D’Ernest Johnson, Keith Reaser