AAF Week Two Preview: Atlanta Legends at San Diego Fleet

Alliance of American Football
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 09: Shaan Washington #54 of the San Antonio Commanders sacks Mike Bercovici #11 of the San Diego Fleet during the first quarter in an Alliance of American Football game at the Alamodome on February 09, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/AAF/Getty Images)

So far, the Alliance of American Football has proven itself to be a success. Whether or not it can sustain long term success remains to be seen, but as the AAF heads into the second week of its inaugural season, two teams are already desperate to claw their way back after difficult road losses. This weekend, the Atlanta Legends travel once again to take on the San Diego Fleet, who are playing their first home game.

After an embarrassing loss against the Orlando Apollos landed them in last place of the Week One power rankings, the Legends hope they can bounce back to even out their 0-1 record. As for the Fleet, who became the talk of the AAF after a nasty hit on quarterback Mike Bercovici, are hoping to establish themselves with a first-time home win.

AAF Week Two: Atlanta Legends at San Diego Fleet

Atlanta Legends Seek Rebound After Embarrassment in Orlando

Not only is a 40-6 loss a bad way to open your inaugural season, it’s flat out embarrassing. Week One literally could not have gone any worse for the Legends. Despite heading into the season as early favorites around the league, thanks to names like Michael Vick and Aaron Murray, the sudden departure of Vick and questionable change to Matt Simms as starting quarterback caused the majority of Atlanta fans to wonder what exactly was going on with the team.

By the end of the game, both Murray and Simms had combined for three interceptions while the team’s collective running backs rushed for fewer than four YPC on 24 attempts. Worse still, the team’s defense surrendered a league-high 40 points to the Orlando Apollos. That’s not exactly a record you want to set in your first ever game.

Of course, the road ahead doesn’t look much brighter, but the team seems hopeful. Wide receiver Justin Thomas spoke after practice on Thursday, saying “It’s very important to get a win after a loss […] It will get us back on our feet and get us going in the right direction again.”

Players to Watch

Atlanta Legends
Look, a homegrown LWOS meme.

Matt Simms, QB: Okay, maybe his first outing was a fluke. Maybe he really does deserve to be the starting quarterback. The fans might not say so, but what do they know? Simms himself comprised two-thirds of Atlanta’s three interceptions in their first game. It’s entirely possible that Simms can bounce back against the Fleet, but this may very well be his last chance. A repeat performance of last week should land him on the bench, if not on the side of the road while the team travels back to Atlanta.

Justin Thomas, WR: Starting wide receiver Seantavius Jones reeled in a dismal 37.5% of passes last weekend, while Justin Thomas brought in all four of his targets. Jones was listed as one of the starting receivers when the season opened, but he could be usurped at that position if Thomas continues on his path of catching whatever comes his way. He’ll face some difficulty against the Fleet, whose secondary combined for two interceptions against the San Antonio Commanders.

Tyson Graham, DB: After surrendering 40 points to the Apollos, there’s honestly not much to look out for on defense for Atlanta. That being said, Tyson Graham performed admirably in the first week. While Graham recorded no interceptions, he did rack up six total tackles (five solo). While he has seen time on NFL teams, he’s never played an NFL snap. Still, he was the University of South Dakota’s leading tackler in 2014.

San Diego Fleet Not Sinking Despite Loss in San Antonio

You know we can’t talk about the Fleet without mentioning the hit that absolutely wrecked Mike Bercovici. The man was hit so hard his helmet flew off, and while he’s technically okay, the team has decided to start Philip Nelson in place of Bercovici against Atlanta this weekend. Nelson, who has previously played under San Diego head coach Mike Martz, is looking forward to the opportunity to start. “It’s something that I’ve been preparing for, for a long time,” he said, “It’s a great offense, first and foremost. There are so many details to it. It takes a little time to get it going, and that’s why I’m so excited about this team.”

One would certainly hope it’s a great offense, even if it didn’t appear to be last weekend. Martz, the man known for running “The Greatest Show on Turf” for the then-St. Louis Rams, is now running the Fleet’s entire team. Whether or not he can turn them into “The Greatest Ship on Surf” remains to be seen, but at least San Diego’s offense appears functional – whereas Atlanta’s offense just looked defeated.

Players to Watch

Philip Nelson, QB: Well duh, right? Nelson’s 50% completion rate wasn’t anything worth bragging about, but at least he’s familiar with Martz’s system. On top of that, he only played one quarter’s worth of football against the Commanders. Now that he’s taken over the starting role, he’ll have a fresh chance to prove himself in front of the home crowd.

Ryan Moeller, SS: This safety out of Colorado racked up five solo tackles and an interception in San Diego’s first game of the year. Moeller is a fast defensive player, and he packs a punch. Atlanta may want to keep an eye on this one.

San Diego’s Wide Receivers: Last weekend, three of the Fleet’s receivers combined for 12 receptions on 15 passes, recording 188 yards and zero touchdowns. Gavin Escobar and Brian Brown led the group with 66 yards each, while Dontez Ford reeled in all three of his targets for 56 yards. Sure, no one scored a touchdown, but that’s not the point. We’ve seen this kind of approach with a certain Super Bowl winning team before. Spread the ball around, eat up yardage, keep the defense on their toes. It’s a tried-and-true method for the New England Patriots, and it’s something Martz plans on mirroring in San Diego if pass distribution is anything to go by.

Week Two Matchup

This game is do-or-die for both teams. For Atlanta, it’s another tough road game in a completely different time zone. An embarrassing loss hasn’t caused the team to doubt themselves yet, but another loss of any kind might start to eat away at the group. No one wants to be the team with zero wins after Week Two, but it’s certainly not out of the question for the Legends.

As for the Fleet, it comes down to repping professional football in a city that recently lost their own NFL team. When the Chargers up and moved to Los Angeles (a move that, honestly, no one liked) it created a void for San Diego residents. Now that professional football has returned, the Fleet has something to prove. Their loss against San Antonio wasn’t nearly as bad as Atlanta’s loss in Orlando, but the offensive line must do a better job at protecting the quarterback and stop letting helmets fly off like they did last weekend.

The key matchups here, I think, will be San Diego’s offense and Atlanta’s defense. The Legends head coach has a long history of defensive coaching, while offensive-minded Martz led the Rams to two Super Bowls. As both teams settle into roles and start finding a groove, I’d expect this game to be at least a little more entertaining than last week’s games.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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