High Powered Apollos Face Stiff Express Defense
The Memphis Express travel to play the Orlando Apollos in week 3 AAF action. They are seeking their first win of the inaugural Alliance of American Football. The undefeated Orlando Apollos are standing dead in the way. Orlando is the highest-scoring team in the AAF. They are averaging 38.5 points per game, and is second best in yardage gained.
Date: Saturday, Feb. 23 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Spectrum Stadium — Orlando, Florida
TV: NFL Network | Live stream:fuboTV (Try for free)
Memphis is not chopped liver. The Express pass rush and running game stand out, and up to the best in the league. The Express are tied for second in the AAF in sacks as a team with four. Express running back Zac Stacy is the league’s leading rusher with 159 yards. They’re coming off a tough Week-2 loss to the Arizona Hotshots. They ran out of gas in the fourth quarter after leading for most of the game. It was by far the most exciting game in the AAF so far this young season.
Both teams have household names leading them. The Express head coach, Mike Singletary, is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his career as a linebacker in the NFL. He played all 12 of his seasons with the Chicago Bears. Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame twice over. He is in as both a player and a head coach. Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at the University of Florida. He became a coach following 10 seasons in the NFL. He won the 1996 National Championship as Florida’s head coach. He is the winningest head football coach in history at two Southeastern Conference schools. Those schools are Florida and South Carolina.
When the Express have the ball
The Express leaned on Stacy throughout most of the game against the Hotshots last week. Stacy finished the game with 19 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown. He became the first player in the history of the AAF to surpass 100 yards rushing in a game. He scored the first touchdown in the history of the Express.
If the Express want to keep drives alive, it will be Stacy moving the chains. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s stat line wasn’t the prettiest last weekend. He was 14 of 25 for only 102 yards. The Penn State alum displayed a grittiness against the Hotshots. He used his legs to extend drives and convert long downs. The Apollos’ defense gave up some big runs to quarterbacks in their come-from-behind win at San Antonio last week. They will be looking to limit big runs by Hackenberg. Hackenberg needs to be better in the passing game for the Express to come out with an upset.
When the Apollos have the ball
The Apollos’ offensive line struggled at times to protect quarterback Garrett Gilbert last week against the San Antonio Commanders. Gilbert was sacked four times and hurried six more. One of those sacks led to a fumble and a defensive touchdown for the Commanders. The line played a lot better in the second half of the game. They gave Gilbert enough time to complete some deep passes to his receivers. The protection allowed the Apollos back in the game, and eventually get the win. Charles Johnson had 192 yards receiving and scored a touchdown.
Memphis has an excellent pass rush and is very physical up front. The O-line will have to play more consistently to keep the Apollos at bay. Orlando also struggled to establish the run through the first three quarters of its Week 2 matchup. Being able to run effectively and keep Memphis’ defense honest, and on the field, will also be key for the Apollos to stay undefeated. That won’t be easy against a front seven that includes Express linebacker DeMarquis Gates. He leads the AAF in solo tackles with 16.
Express DB Channing Stribling has been a lock-down force in the secondary. He excelled Saturday against the Hotshots with six tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. The Michigan product leads the Express secondary with four pass breakups and one pick on the season. His most impressive stat is that opposing quarterbacks have a 52.1 passer rating when targeting Stribling (according to Pro Football Focus). He’ll have his hands full trying to cover Apollos wide receivers Johnson and Jalin Marshall.
Apollos RB D’Ernest Johnson has to get the ball a lot. The Apollos didn’t get their running game going in Week 2 until the fourth quarter. That is when Johnson got the ball more often. He’s averaging more than 7 yards per carry this season. He has proven to be a physical runner who can make his own holes when needed. Johnson also has good speed and the hands to catch the ball out of the backfield. He has the best skill set of all the Apollos’ running backs. Spurrier said earlier this week that Johnson’s play in Week 2 may have earned him more carries.
This, That, and a Dart Throw
A total of 96 of Stacy’s 101 rushing yards against Arizona came after first contact. Gilbert leads the AAF in passing yards with 620. The Apollos’ defense is tied for the AAF lead in interceptions with four. The Express defense leads The Alliance with 12 tackles for a loss. Home teams are 6-2 in the AAF through the first two weeks of the season.
Pick: Apollos -15.5, Over 44.5
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AAF Week 4 Schedule
|Orlando at Salt Lake||Saturday, March 2||4 p.m.||B/R Live|
|San Diego at Memphis||Saturday, March 2||8 p.m.||NFL Network|
|San Antonio at Birmingham||Sunday, March 3||4 p.m.||CBS Sports Network|
|Atlanta at Arizona||Sunday, March 3||8 p.m.||NFL Network|