What happens when the best offense in the AAF meets the best defense? We’ll find out in Week Five when the 4-0 Orlando Apollos take on the 3-1 Birmingham Iron. Led by MVP frontrunner Garrett Gilbert, Orlando is the class of the league and the team to beat. Birmingham isn’t far behind them, as the Iron boasts a ferocious defense. These teams have completely different styles and should produce one of the best games of Week Five.
AAF Week Five Preview: Orlando Apollos at Birmingham Iron
When the Apollos Throw
This is the ultimate battle of strength versus strength. Orlando currently sits at 4-0 in large part due to the fantastic arm of quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Through four weeks, Gilbert comfortably leads the league in passing yards (1,071) and trails only John Wolford in touchdown passes (six). He’s yet to throw an interception and boasts the second-best completion percentage among quarterbacks with 40 or more pass attempts. Gilbert enters Week Five on the heels of a solid 244 yard, one touchdown performance against the Salt Lake Stallions. Gilbert can be slowed, but he’s easily the best quarterback in the league.
Joining Gilbert in Orlando’s dominant passing attack is former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson. Johnson is probably the AAF’s best wide receiver, boasting the most receiving yards (410), receptions (23), and targets (32) in the league. As if that wasn’t enough, Orlando also has Jalin Marshall lined up on the other side. Marshall isn’t quite as good as Johnson, but he still ranks fifth in receiving yards. Quite frankly, stopping this receiver duo with Gilbert at the helm is nearly impossible.
If any defense is equipped to stop this passing attack, it’s the Birmingham Iron. Through four weeks of play, Birmingham is allowing just 164.3 yards-per-game and just one touchdown pass all season long. Jamar Summers leads Birmingham’s pass defense, as the Connecticut product already has two interceptions while playing lockdown coverage on his side of the field. Great defense beats great offense thus far in the AAF, but that will be put to the test this Saturday.
When the Apollos Run
Good luck trying to figure out the Apollos’ backfield. One week after D’Ernest Johnson seemingly took over the starters’ role, Orlando went back to a committee approach in Week Four. De’Veon Smith, Akeem Hunt, and Johnson all received eight or more carries, running the ball for a combined 117 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Orlando has a rather pedestrian rushing attack. Through four games, the Apollos average just 108.8 rushing yards per game, good for fourth-best in the league.
Birmingham matches Orlando’s mediocrity with an unremarkable run defense. Through four games, Birmingham allows 102.5 rushing yards per game, also fourth-best in the league. Beniquez Brown is Birmingham’s best linebacker, boasting the second-most tackles (26) and fourth-most tackles-for-loss (four) on the season. By and large, this matchup pits an average rushing offense against an average rushing defense.
When the Iron Throw
The Birmingham Iron passing attack has the ability to be so much better than it actually is. Quarterback Luis Perez always has a few plays every week where he looks like the class of the AAF. Unfortunately, he struggles to consistently make these plays, leading to an inconsistent aerial attack. So far through the season, Perez has completed 56% of his passes for 797 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. To his credit, he has completed four separate two-point conversions.
Of course, his wide receivers aren’t doing him any favors. The unit has a collective case of the drops, as Birmingham’s receivers drop multiple passes each and every week. Quinton Patton is third in the league in yardage, but that’s mostly due to his high target count. Perez simply doesn’t trust anyone else, leading to Patton being the lifeblood of an inconsistent passing attack.
Orlando’s pass defense is nothing special, but they are capable of stopping a passing attack like this one. The Apollos allow an average of 189.8 passing yards per game and have only allowed three passing touchdowns all season long. Perez could get his first passing touchdown in Week Five, but he probably won’t light up the stat sheet.
When the Iron Run
Birmingham’s rushing attack is the most confusing thing in the entire AAF. On paper, the Iron do not have a running game. They average a measly 67.8 rushing yards per game and lead back Trent Richardson averages a ghastly 2.4 yards-per-carry. Despite this, Richardson has a league-leading seven rushing touchdowns, which is more than any other team in the league. The Iron cannot run the ball with any success outside of the red zone, but once in the red zone, they’re borderline unstoppable.
Orlando’s run defense – just like their pass defense – is pretty unremarkable. The unit ranks fourth in the league with 100.3 rushing yards allowed per game and has allowed just two rushing touchdowns so far. While they might be in trouble if Birmingham makes it into the red zone, they won’t have to worry about Trent Richardson bulldozing over them for 60 minutes.
Last Word on Orlando Apollos at Birmingham Iron AAF Preview
This should be a close battle between two of the better teams in the league. Orlando clearly has the better offense, while Birmingham boasts the superior defense. These teams are evenly matched in just about every phase of the game, but this matchup should hinge on Orlando’s top-ranked passing attack versus Birmingham’s elite secondary.
Birmingham will slow Garrett Gilbert and company, but the Apollos should be able to put at least 20 points on the board. The same cannot be said for the Iron, as the offense simply cannot get out of their own way. This one will go down to the wire but look for Orlando to pull off a 20-14 victory.
Embed from Getty Images