The Chicago Rush faces an enormous challenge this week in the Arena Football League as the team travels to Phoenix to take on the Arizona Rattlers in the Snake Pit on Saturday night.
Gene Nudo, Bob McMillen, Sherdrick Bonner, Kelvin Morris, Johnie Kirton, and JJ McKelvey all have ties to the Rattlers organization, so it will be something of a homecoming for them. With any luck, they’ll be able to provide some valuable insight into how to avoid the poisonous strike of the #2 team in the league.
Arizona (7-1) touts the AFL’s second-most potent offense, scoring 62.2 points per game, and throwing the ball at just a tick over 300 yards per game, also second-best in the league. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the Rattlers are also second-best in the AFL in yards allowed on defense (262 per game) and fourth-best in points allowed (46.6 per game).
Arizona’s only blemish on its record is a one-point, last-second loss on the road to the defending league champion Spokane Shock two weeks ago. The Rattlers recovered nicely last week, thumping a very solid San Jose SaberCats (5-3) team, 65-43, on the road.
Nick Davila is at the helm of the Arizona offense, throwing 48 touchdown passes against only six interceptions so far this season, and holding the second-best passing efficiency rating in the league. His two favorite targets are Rod Windsor (74 receptions, 905 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns) and Trandon Harvey (74-858-20), who rank second and fourth in the league, respectively, in receptions per game.
If the Rush manages to contain the passing attack, here comes Odie Armstrong with his 146 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
On defense, three Rattlers are tied for the team lead in interceptions with four a piece: Kevin McCullough, Marquis Floyd, and Virgil Gray. Vince Hill is right behind them with three picks of his own. Floyd is also the leading tackler on the team.
The Rush quarterbacks might want to wear their track shoes on Saturday night because Antajj Hawthorne (6 sacks), Tyre Glasper (5.5 sacks), and Marcus Pittman (3.5 sacks) will be coming after them.
As a defense, the Rattlers are #2 in the league with their +11 turnover ratio and #2 in the league in sacks (16). I had to dig really deep into the stats to find something that Arizona isn’t good at. Turns out, they’re dead last in the league in red zone defense, allowing scores on 31 of 34 red zone possessions.
This isn’t looking real promising so far, is it, Rush fans?
Chicago (5-3) has been maddeningly inconsistent so far this season, operating at times with surgical precision, while seemingly making a hero’s effort to shoot themselves in both feet–or blow them clean off–at other times.
After jumping out to a 3-0 start to the season, the Rush has been floundering for the past month, going 2-3 in its last five. Two of those losses were especially painful–a home loss to division opponent Kansas City Command and a road loss to division opponent Tulsa Talons. Both teams have overall records that are well south of .500.
So is there even any point in the team boarding the plane for Arizona? Well, of course there is.
The Rattlers are #2 in sacks, huh? Well, guess who’s tied for #1. That’s right. The Chicago Rush (17).
They’re #4 in scoring defense? Guess who’s #3. That’s right. The Chicago Rush (45.5 points allowed per game).
And Chicago has them totally smoked in red zone defense.
They have Armstrong averaging 18.2 rushing yards per game? The Rush has Kirton averaging 20.2 ypg.
They have four defenders who have totaled 15 interceptions between them? The Rush has Vic Hall (8 INT’s) and Jason Simpson (7 picks) doing what it takes four Rattlers to do. Hall and Simpson are also the most proficient tacklers in the league.
Arizona has Harvey with 21 total touchdowns? The Rush has Big Play Reggie Gray with 22.
Hawthorne’s 6.5 sacks for Arizona is pretty good. But Quartez Vickerson‘s seven sacks for the Rush is better.
They have the #4 total offense in the league? Well, the Rush has…………. um…………… well………… okay, bad example.
Russ Michna has been having a rough time of things lately, and Chicago’s dead-last ranking in total offense is a testament to that fact. Fumbles during the snap exchange, interceptions, sacks, and stalled-out drives have the Rush faithful grumbling. He’s not the only one with fumblitis, though. Plenty of other Rush players have coughed up the pigskin at inopportune times recently.
Michna hasn’t looked comfortable for awhile and can’t seem to find his groove. Perhaps Beau Elliott‘s return from injury will help. Perhaps McKelvey’s presence on the field will give the receiving corps a boost. Perhaps Kirton can take some pressure off the passing game by mixing things up with a successful ground game. Perhaps McMillen, Bonner, and the rest of the former Rattlers can come up with something as a result of their inside knowledge.
We’ll have to wait and see. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 9:00 p.m. Central Time, with the game being broadcast on NiFTy TV.
This article also appears on Arena Pigskin.