The Jacksonville Sharks (7-3) return home on Saturday night to host the Pittsburgh Power (3-6) at Veterans Memorial Arena. The Sharks celebrate “Shark-A-Ritaville” night coming off of a 44-41 win against their archrivals, the Orlando Predators. They face the Power at an opportune time, not only coming off of a win but with the ability to go on a two-game Western road trip in prime position in the South division.
They face a Pittsburgh team that’s had nothing but trouble at quarterback. They’ve had four different men under center, and as a team they’ve only managed a passer rating of 84.8 this season. Steven Sheffield has proven an adequate replacement for Jordan Jefferson, who was injured Week 7 against Orlando, but adequate is all Power fans have seen this year. Sheffield has only completed 55% of his passes, throwing seven interceptions against only 15 touchdown passes in his three starts. Against the top scoring defense and a team with the fifth-best turnover ratio in the Arena Football League, that plays into Jacksonville’s favor.
The X factor, however, is obvious when you look at the statistics, but subtle in terms of game action. Jacksonville leads the Arena Football League with 29 sacks on the season. Their strong front four is bolstered by the return of DL Derrick Summers, who played returns from the CFL after registering 3 sacks in 10 games for the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He flourished in his first stint with the Sharks, tallying 13 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 24 games. He also added six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two blocked kicks in his stellar rookie campaign in 2011.
Add him to a squad featuring Aaron Robbins and Jerry Turner, who are first and second in sacks, and it will be a long night for Steven Sheffield behind an offensive line that has given up 30 sacks on the season, the most in the league.
While Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league, allowing only 244.8 YPG (217.4 YPG passing, also leading the league), QB Bernard Morris is back in form under center. In two games against the Power, who he started for in 2011 after backing up Aaron Garcia in Jacksonville in 2010, he’s completed 74.1% of his passes, throwing for 12 touchdowns against just one interception.
He’ll have to maintain this form against Pittsburgh. In the last four games, the Sharks have been prone to long scoring droughts. They’ve converted just six of 24 third downs in that span, a trend that will have to be reversed against a team that is second in the league allowing opponents to convert only 33.3% of their third downs. Combine that with the fact that the Power have surrendered the third-fewest first downs in the league (165) and this could shape up to be another defensive battle.
Another key matchup is at receiver. Jeron Harvey was held out of practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury, but should be ready for the game on Saturday. He’ll lead a battery of receivers bolstered by Josh Philpart, who’s beginning to emerge in his second stint in Jacksonville. They face a team that is third-worst with only seven interceptions on the year, so if the Sharks can control the ball, they’ll have a big advantage yet again.
On the other sideline, it’s night and day. Mike Washington has more catches, yards, and touchdowns than the next three Power receivers combined. As he goes, so goes the team. The Sharks and their ball-hungry secondary will use this and look to feast on Pittsburgh yet again.
On paper, Jacksonville looks to win their fourth straight meeting against the Power, and look to remain undefeated against the American conference this season. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. and the game will be televised locally on this. The game will also be broadcast over the air on WBOB AM 600, and streamed through AFL Live. For more information about the Sharks, including the latest news and promotions, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. For more on the rest of the Arena Football League, including the latest news and standings, log on to www.arenafootball.com.