The best team in the AAF looks to keep it going against a team which can’t seem to get out of their own way. The 2-0 Orlando Apollos, coming off a ferocious comeback victory, host the 0-2 Memphis Express, looking to bounce back after blowing a nine-point lead in Week Two. Does Memphis have what it takes to pull off the upset, or will the Apollo’s dominance continue into Week Three?
Memphis Express at Orlando Apollos: AAF Week Three Preview
When Memphis Throws The Ball
As of this posting, all signs point to Christian Hackenberg earning another start under center. The New York Jets famously selected Hackenberg in the second round back in 2016, but the Penn State product never played an NFL snap. After watching his first two starts, it’s easy to see why. Through two weeks of action, Hackenberg has completed just 50% of his passes for 189 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. It’s impossible to evaluate the receivers around him, as Hackenberg’s inaccuracy never gives his receivers the chance to make plays on the ball.
Even if Memphis makes a switch at the quarterback position, it’s hard to imagine that making much of an improvement. Zach Mettenberger and Brandon Silvers are so uninspiring that head coach Mike Singletary hasn’t even discussed a switch at the quarterback position. Memphis has one of the worst quarterback situations in the league, and Orlando’s defense should be able to stop the Express’ anemic passing attack.
When Memphis Runs The Ball
Zac Stacy is the lone bright spot in an otherwise inept Memphis Express offense. Stacy had the best game of perhaps any running back in Week Two, recording 101 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The former St. Louis Ram actually had some success in the NFL, and his stellar play could earn him another training camp invite. There really isn’t a back behind him, as Hackenberg finished Week Two with the second-most rushing yards and attempts on the Express offense.
If Orlando has any weakness, it’s the run defense. While they shut down Atlanta in Week One, they struggled to stop Kenneth Farrow and the San Antonio Commanders rushing attack in Week Two. Farrow led the way with 74 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts, but he was far from the only rusher to find success. Orlando finished the game allowing 5.15 rushing yards per attempt. If Memphis is going to win this one, they’ll need Stacy to exploit Orlando’s suspect run defense.
When Orlando Throws the Ball
Garrett Gilbert is the best quarterback in the AAF, and it’s not even that close. Gilbert is coming off a phenomenal performance in Week Two, throwing for 393 yards and two touchdowns while erasing two separate 14-point deficits. So far on the season, Gilbert has completed 64.2% of his passes for 620 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. His high play will earn him another chance in the NFL, but for now, he’s the life of Orlando’s offense.
As if Gilbert wasn’t enough, Orlando also has arguably the best wide receivers in the league. Charles Johnson had a fantastic Week Two, recording seven receptions for 192 yards and a touchdown. Jalin Marshall is a great complementary receiver, recording six catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns over two games. It’s hard to see Memphis – or any defense, really – slowing down this passing attack for an entire game.
When Orlando Runs the Ball
Game script didn’t allow Orlando to run the ball that often in Week Two. However, when they tried to move the ball on the ground, they had mixed results. D’Ernest Johnson had a great game, recording 57 yards on eight carries at a 7.1 yards-per-carry rate. The rest of the offense didn’t do so well, as backup running backs De’Veon Smith and Akeem Hunt combined for zero yards on six carries. Smith found his way into the end zone, so at least there’s that. So far on the season, Smith has just 17 rushing yards on nine attempts. Hunt, meanwhile, has 69 rushing yards on 12 attempts, but 31 of those yards came on one play. Basically, this running game goes entirely through D’Ernest Johnson.
Memphis strung together two inconsistent performances against the rush. In Week One, the Express held Trent Richardson and the Birmingham Iron to just 2.35 yards-per-carry. However, Memphis allowed the Arizona Hotshots to run for 5.81 yards-per-carry in Week Two. Tim Cook led the way with 73 rushing yards, and Memphis allowed runs of 28, 36, and 45 yards on the night. Basically, this matchup pits two inconsistent units against each other. It’s anyone’s guess who has the advantage when Orlando runs the ball.