As the Alliance of American Football heads into its third week, several things are becoming abundantly clear. First, fluke may in fact be fiction, and the Atlanta Legends might actually be the league’s worst team. After losing their second-straight road game against the San Diego Fleet, Atlanta returns home desperate for a win. Second, the Birmingham Iron are a force to be reckoned with after a comeback win over the Salt Lake Stallions. Finally, as Atlanta prepares for their first home game, it’s possible (if not entirely probable) that they drop to 0-3 when Birmingham comes to town on Sunday. Let’s take a look at this week’s matchup.
AAF Week Three: Birmingham Iron at Atlanta Legends
Atlanta Legends Make Home-Field Premiere
One has to wonder what the crowd is going to look like in Atlanta come Sunday. The Legends haven’t exactly made a reputation for themselves over the last couple of weeks, at least not for anything good. The team continues to start quarterback Matt Simms over Aaron Murray. While Murray hasn’t exactly proven anything himself yet, he is essentially a household name in Georgia. Take a peek at many of the AAF fan pages, even the Legends pages, and you’ll see fans left and right begging the Legends to start Murray over Simms. But after two weeks of play that is best described as hot garbage, it’s hard to imagine the Legends are going to have much of a home crowd to play for. Then again, even the rock bottom 2017 Cleveland Browns had fans show up, so nothing’s out of the question.
This is a do-or-die game for the Legends. An OddsShark article found that, since 2007, just 10% of NFL teams that started 0-2 have gone on to make the playoffs. Going 0-3 will further cement their position as the league’s worst team and all but ruin their chances at making the AAF playoffs in April. On the other hand, a win at home could begin to turn the tide and salvage what’s left of their inaugural season. However, the Legends face an uphill battle against one of the league’s best teams this weekend. It’s going to take everything they’ve got – and a little more – to break the Iron.
Players to Watch
Matt Simms, QB: Yeah, we know. As much as you all would like to see Murray start Atlanta’s first home game, but it appears that the team will be sticking with Simms for the time being. To be fair, his completion rate did jump between the first and second weeks (roughly 54% to 68%). And while he threw one interception in San Diego, he did also throw for a touchdown. Despite the losing streak, Simms is progressing. Whether or not he’s progressing fast enough to overcome Birmingham’s defensive line? Come back Sunday evening to find out in our game recap.
Tyson Graham, DB: Graham continues to serve as one of Atlanta’s best defensive players. Through two tough road games, he’s recorded 14 total tackles (11 solo) and a single quarterback hit. The defensive back faces a tough matchup against Birmingham quarterback Luis Perez, who was instrumental in the team’s comeback win over Salt Lake last weekend.
Malachi Jones, WR: One half of the Legends very own Jones Bros. and, thus far, the only Legends player to score a touchdown. Jones caught all three of his targets last weekend for 27 yards. Both Simms and Jones were able to beat double coverage in the team’s first touchdown of the year as well, at least hinting that Jones is better than what we’ve witnessed thus far.
Metal Meets Asphalt as Birmingham Iron Hit the Road
Although the Iron ranked third on our power ranking this week, an argument could be made that they’re simply tied with the Arizona Hotshots for second. Outstanding defensive play has propelled Birmingham to the top of the ranks, led by head coach Tim Lewis. Speaking to Birmingham’s resilience during their matchup against Salt Lake, Lewis said “Defensively, I thought we did a nice job. We did a nice job and the guys played hard, fast, tough and played smart, did what we asked them to do. We had some adversity situations, and they did a nice job stepping up and making plays.”
Now, as the team hits the road for the first time, it almost seems that their first road game is an easy pick. How can Atlanta’s stumbling offense find traction against a dominating Iron defense? Even with the potential “home-field advantage” (which may be null and void if the Legends do in fact start Simms over Murray), it seems doubtful that Atlanta can triumph over the hot Birmingham Iron.
Players to Watch
Trent Richardson, RB: Is there anything this guy can’t do? So far, Richardson is showing himself to be the AAF’s own James White. He’s walked in three touchdowns and a 49.5 YPG average, and he’s hauled in a successful two-point conversion. Right now, Richardson is easily one of Birmingham’s best offensive weapons and the Atlanta defense, which has allowed 64 points over two games, will undoubtedly struggle to contain him.
Luis Perez, QB: Perez is starting off hot with an average 218 yards per game and a 60.6% completion rating. The young quarterback is among the best in the league, and has been pivotal in Birmingham’s success over the first two weeks. Atlanta’s secondary does contain considerable talent in Doran Grant and the aforementioned Graham, but Iron fans shouldn’t expect Perez’s stellar performance to slide on Sunday.
Jeremy Faulk, DL: Faulk was a monster last week with four tackles (one for a loss), two quarterback hits and a sack. As important as Perez was in leading Birmingham’s comeback over Salt Lake, Faulk was equally as instrumental in setting the team up for said comeback thanks to two tipped passes in the fourth quarter. To date, the defensive lineman has racked up eight total tackles, proving himself vital to the Iron’s top-shelf defense. Faulk will likely haunt the Legends this weekend as well if Atlanta’s offensive line continues to deteriorate.
Week Three Matchup
This matchup doesn’t bode well for the Legends, and there’s simply no other way to put it. They say “any given Sunday”, but it would take serious adjustments to overcome the deficiencies that Atlanta currently has. You almost have to respect their stubborn persistence in sticking with Simms as quarterback, and it’s not like they have a lot of brilliant options on offense.
Although Birmingham’s offense struggled against Salt Lake, the Stallions are a remarkably better team than the Legends, even if they both own two losses. We can’t say for sure that this game will be a bloodbath, but we also don’t expect Atlanta to head into Week Four with anything more than an 0-3 record.
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