The Chicago Rush (4-2) looks to bounce back this week after a frustrating division loss to Kansas City when the New Orleans VooDoo (1-5) comes to Allstate Arena on Saturday night.
Don’t let the VooDoo’s record deceive you. The team lost to three of the best teams in the league-Georgia, Jacksonville, and Orlando-and its other two losses have been by six points and seven points. With a little softer schedule and a couple of bounces its way, New Orleans could have had a much different record. This will not be an easy game for the Rush by any means.
Former Rush quarterback and current VooDoo Offensive Coordinator (and a big factor in how I got hooked on the Arena Football League) Raymond Philyaw returns to Chicago with the visiting team. He was hired at the end of March to help with the lowest-scoring offense in the league, and the VooDoo has been improving ever since, handing the Cleveland Gladiators their first defeat two weeks ago and scoring 49 points in a close loss to the Pittsburgh Power last week.
The VooDoo is the league’s fifth-best rushing team, averaging 30.3 rushing yards per game, just a tick behind the fourth-ranked Rush and its 34.2-yard average. Leading rusher FB/LB Jason Schule is on injured reserve after suffering an elbow injury against Georgia, so enter OL/DL Tommy Taggart, listed at 6’4″, 285 lbs. He’s been averaging 13 yards per game since taking over as the primary running back after Schule’s injury. Bringing Taggart down is going to be like trying to tackle a Chevy.
QB Danny Wimprine leads the passing attack for the VooDoo with 1,296 passing yards and 22 touchdowns through six games. He’s also tied for the league lead with nine interceptions.
Chicago is going to have to make sure it covers kickoff returns well, since JLS Ironman of the Week P.J. Berry has led New Orleans to the fourth-best return average in the league to this point. Berry himself is the third-most proficient returner in the league, averaging 21.5 yards per return and scoring twice. He also ranks second in the league in all-purpose yards (208.2 per game). On top of all of that, he’s the VooDoo’s leading receiver. The Rush probably ought to have a plan for him.
On defense, DB/LB Alvin Jackson is the one to keep your eye on. He leads the team with 29 solo tackles and 9 assists. He also leads the team with two interceptions and has recovered a fumble.
The Rush offense has looked off-kilter for the past few weeks and is hoping to get back on track on Saturday. Chicago currently sits at the bottom of the league standings in passing yards per game (207.3) and total offense per game (241.5). QB Russ Michna, WR Reggie Gray, and FB Johnie Kirton will try to get that offensive fire burning again this week.
For the love of everything holy, let’s hope Michna and C T.J. Watkins worked on the snap exchange a lot this week in practice. I bet they did. Coach McMillen doesn’t seem like the type of guy to not notice all the exchange problems in last week’s game.
Gray stopped the hearts of every Rush fan last week when he staggered to the locker room after an awkward collision with the boards in the back of the end zone. It turned out to be a stinger, though, and he showed that it was just a temporary setback when he returned a kickoff 55 yards for a touchdown in the second half.
Kirton had a monster game against the Kansas City Command last week and looks to continue his smashmouth brand of football this week against New Orleans. His 119 rushing yards on the season are good for fourth in the league, and his six rushing touchdowns are seventh-best in the AFL.
DB Jason Simpson is probably licking his chops this week. After snagging two interceptions last week, he’s now tied for the league lead with six picks on the season. Recall that Wimprine has thrown a league-leading nine interceptions so far this season. If DB Vic Hall returns this week from his tweaked knee (four interceptions in five games), Wimprine could be in for a really long day.
When Wimprine isn’t worrying about Simpson and Hall, he’ll be running for his life from DL Quartez Vickerson, who has three sacks this season, and from DL Mark Weivoda, and FB/LB Marcus Waugh, each of whom has two sacks on the season. And if he survives that onslaught, here comes JLB Kelvin Morris and DL Joe Clermond.
Saturday’s game will also feature the retirement of head coach Bob McMillen‘s #44 Chicago Rush jersey, as well as the giveaway of commemorative Bob McMillen bobbleheads to the first 3,000 fans who arrive at Allstate Arena. McMillen’s will be the first number retired in Rush franchise history.
Kickoff is set for Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.
This article also appears on Arena Pigskin.